The Cultural Space of the Bedu
in Petra and Wadi Rum
 

The Bedu are semi-settled pastoralists who live in the southern part of Jordan, particularly near the sites of Petra and Wadi Rum within a region of semi-arid highlands and deserts. These conditions have allowed for the co-existence of settled and nomadic communities maintaining a complementary relationship.

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Several Bedu tribes (namely the Bdul, the Ammarin and the Sa’idiyyin) continue to use the Nabatean water-collecting cisterns and caves near Petra. To the southeast of Petra, Wadi Rum is situated amidst vast semi-arid pasturelands. Today, several semi-settled Bedu communities inhabit this area, keeping alive the traditional pastoral culture and the knowledge and skills related to it. While these are common to most Bedu communities across the Arab world, the Bedu of Petra and Wadi Rum, as a result of specific climatic and geographic conditions and the contacts with settled communities, have preserved a specific knowledge related to the flora and fauna of the area, to traditional medicine, camel husbandry and tent-making craftsmanship, tracking and climbing skills, and rituals of coffee-making and hospitality. The Bedu have developed a profound knowledge of their environment, a great cultural creativity, a complex moral and social code, all of which is expressed and transmitted orally.

Growing out of the very intimate relationship that the Bedu have developed with this region, their rich mythology manifests itself in various forms of oral expression. These comprise poetry, folktales and place-naming, songs as well as the art of story-telling. Here too, several forms of oral expressions belong to the Bedu world at large. Yet what makes those of the Bedu of Petra and Wadi Rum specific is the fact that they are related to particular places and their history.

Over the last fifty years, more and more Bedu groups settled down permanently or temporarily. The provision of education, housing, health care and sanitation has made a settled existence more attractive for many Bedu groups, leading, however, to the erosion of skills that the Beduhad developed over generations. Due to decreasing job opportunities in settled communities, many Bedu return to their former nomadic existence. However, the increase of desert tourism and its demand for “authentic Bedu culture” may lead to its distortion.