North African and Middle Eastern Nomads

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Arabia here is perhaps better defined as the Arab speaking nations, which span across North Africa and into the Arabian Peninsular. Around 620-750AD there was a major expansion of the Islamic world as the Arab Caliphate. Arabs in modern times live in the Arab world, which comprises 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. They are all modern states and became significant as distinct political entities after the fall and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908–1918).


Arab Caliphate c. 750 AD

Bedouin Tent


There are a number of Bedouin tribes, but the total population is often difficult to determine, especially as many Bedouin have ceased to lead nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyles … and joined the general population. Some of the tribes and their historical population:
Al-massaed tribe found in Jordan.
Abbadi tribe found in Jordan.
Al-Murrah in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Ajman, eastern Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
Alataway tribe (also; known as beny ateyah), live in northwestern part of Saudi Arabia; Tabuk province.
Al-Duwasir, south of Riyadh, and Kuwait.
Aniza, Some Anizes are of Bedouin tribes that lives in southern Saudi Arabia, western Iraq, the Gulf States, and the Syrian steppe. Descendents include the A-Sabbah, the Al-Saud and the Al Khalifa royal families.
Bani Hajer (AlHajri) large tribe in Saudi Arabia and the eastern Gulf States.
Banu Khalid in Iraq, eastern and western Saudi Arabia (the Saudi Arabian air force base near Riyad is named after this tribe – Khalid).
Banu Yam centered in Najran Province, Saudi Arabia.
Beni Sakhr in Syria and Jordan.
Al-Da’ajah Bedouin of Balqawi Amman in Jordan.
Ghamid, large tribe from Al-Bahah Province, Saudi Arabia.
Harb, a large tribe, centered around Medina, but also extending northwards towards Tabuk and eastwards towards Qassim and Hail in northern Najd.
Howeitat in Wadi Araba, and Wadi Rum, Jordan.
Juhayna, a large tribe, many of its warriors were recruited as mercenaries during World War I by Prince Faisal. It surrounds the area of Mecca, and extends to Southern Medina.
Khawalid in Jordan, Israel, Palestinian territories, and Syria.
Mutair, estimated at about 1,200,000 members, they live in the Nejd plateau, also, many small families from the Mutair tribe live in the Gulf States.
Muzziena in Dahab and South Sinai.
Rwala, a large clan from the Anza tribe, live in Saudi Arabia, but extend through Jordan into Syria and Iraq, in the 1970s, according to Lancaster, there were 250,000-500,000 Rwala.
Subai’a, central Nejd, and Kuwait.
Sudair, southern Nejd, around the Sudair region of Saudi Arabia.
Utaybah, large tribe in western and central Saudi Arabia.
Zahran, large tribe from Al-Bahah Province, Saudi Arabia.


Most of the Bedouin tribes of the Sinai are descended from peoples who migrated from the Arabian Peninsula between the 14th and 18th centuries, making the Bedouin recent newcomers in the ancient land of Arabia. The Bedouins of Sinai, overall, may up about 10% of the entire population of the central Middle East. Bedouin speak their own form of Arabic and are predominately Muslims, while small groups are Christian who live in Palestine and Syria. The Bedouins sell and barter products, such as their handicraft. The Bedouin tent is normally black in color and sometimes temporary homes are built made from mud and stone.

Historically, the limited arable land and the near absence of grassland forced those raising livestock into a nomadic pattern to take advantage of what forage was available. Only in summer, the year's driest time, did the nomad keep his animals around an oasis or well for water and forage. The beduin developed special skills knowing where rain had fallen and forage was available to feed their animals and where they could find water en route to various forage areas.

Traditionally, beduin were not self-sufficient but needed some food and materials from agricultural settlements. The near constant movement required to feed their animals limited other activities, such as weaving. The settled farmers and traders needed the nomads to tend this camels. Nomads would graze and breed animals belonging to sedentary farmers in return for portions of the farmers' produce. Beduin groups contracted to provide protection to the agricultural and market areas they frequented in return for such provisions as dates, cloth, and equipment. Beduin further supplemented their income by taxing caravans for passage and protection through their territory.

Beduin themselves needed protection. Operating in small independent groups of a few households, they were vulnerable to raids by other nomads and therefore formed larger groups, such as tribes. The tribe was responsible for avenging attacks on any of its members. Tribes established territories that they defended vigorously. Within the tribal area, wells and springs were found and developed. Generally, the developers of a water source, such as a well, retained rights to it unless they abandoned it. This system created problems for nomads because many years might elapse between visits to a well they had dug. If people from another tribe just used the well, the first tribe could frequently establish that the well was in territory where they had primary rights; but if another tribe improved the well, primary rights became difficult to establish. By the early twentieth century, control over land, water rights, and intertribal and intratribal relationships were highly developed and complex (see Beduin Economy in Tradition and Change , ch. 2).




Berber Tent


Berbers (Berberⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⴻⵏ Imazighen / Imaziɣen) are the indigenous ethnic group of North Africawest of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language and local varieties of it, which together form the "Berber branch" of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Today, varieties of Maghrebi colloquial Arabic are spoken by a large portion of Berbers besides the Berber language itself. Foreign languages like French and Spanish, inherited from European occupation, are used by some educated Berbers in MoroccoTunisia and Algeria in some formal contexts such as higher education or business.

Most berbers are settled, and traditionally have been so, or practice transhumance. Only a few, typically those dwelling on the edges of the Sahara, are fully nomadic.



Moorish Tents


Mauritania and other parts of Northwest Africa

The Moors are predominantly a Muslim people of mixed Arab and Berber origin. They dwell mostly in Mauritania, a vast country consisting mostly of desert, and make up the majority of the population of around 2 million. However they also inhabit parts of Algeria, Western Sahara, Tunisia, Morocco, Niger and Mali.
Their culture remains largely unchanged by modern society although factors such as drought and the desire to educate their children have caused some families to settle.

Moorish culture is divided into two main classes; the upper class, consisting of the Berber-Arab ‘white Moors’ and the lower consisting of the black moors of sub-Saharan descent who are treated as slaves despite the abolition of slavery.

The moors are a culture of herders and traders. They move in accordance with their animals needs, making their route according to the availability of pasture and water. In the cool dry period between October and December they tend to inhabit the Akwer region in the north as there are often excellent grazing pastures to be found there. However, there are few wells in this region and they are often more than a day’s ride away. Towards the end of this season they begin to move through the region they call Baten which consists of sandy dunes and is the most fertile area of Mauritania.

Perhaps the most fascinating art of the Moorish nomads is the making of kiffa beads. The classical wet powder glass bead is made by the Nomadic women in the Western Sahara country of Mauritania. The beads are meticulously made using the most primitive tools. Different colours of glass are ground to a fine powder and kept separate from one another. Principally the colours used are white, yellow, red, blue and black. These beads are still made today but the Quality is by no means anywhere near the fine workmanship and delicate designs of the early beads.

Peter Carmichael – Nomads – pages 29, 54 and 56.


Tuareg Mat tentTuareg Mat tentTuareg Mat tent


North Africa – Saharan interior.


The Tuareg are a pastoralist people who inhabit the Saharan regions of North Africa. The word ‘Tuareg’means ‘abandoned by God’ but they call themselves ‘Imohag,’ or ‘free men.’ No one knows the true origin of the Tuareg, where they came from or when they arrived in the Sahara. Reputedly of Berber descent, the language of the Tuareg is Tamachek, with their own script known as Tifinagh, thought to have ancient Libyan roots. Their numbers are unclear, but estimates run between 300,000 and 1 million.


Traditionally, Tuareg society is hierarchical, with nobility and vassals. Historically the lower classes tended the land while the upper classes reaped the benefits of the trading.
Among the Tuareg the women have always had a relatively high status. Most women could read and write, while most men were illiterate, concerning themselves mainly with herding livestock and other male activities. They have the freedom to participate in family and tribal decisions, and descent and inheritance are both through the maternal line.
Although traditionally herders and merchants many Tuareg today are either settled agriculturalists or nomadic cattle breeders, though there are also blacksmiths and  caravan leaders.

The Tuareg religion is predominantly Islam although aspects of their old religion are still practiced.




kuchi nomads Kuchi people on the move in Panjshir Province ofAfghanistan.




Kuchis (from the Persian word Persian: کوچ‎ koch meaning "migration"), areAfghan Pashtun nomads, primarily from the GhilzaiKakarLodiAhmadzai as well as some Durrani tribes, but occasionally there may also be some Baloch people among them that live a nomadic life travelling between pastoral lands in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.[1] In the local native Pashto language the terms are Kochai (singular) and Kuchan (plural).


"The nomads and semi-nomads, generally called Kuchi in Afghanistan, mostly keep sheep and goats. The produce of the animals (meat, dairy products, hair and wool) is exchanged or sold in order to purchase grain, vegetables, fruit and other products of settled life. In this way an extensive network of exchange has developed along the main routes annually followed by the nomads. The merchant Powindah (Ghilji) [or Ghilzai] Pashtuns used to move annually from the Afghanistan mountains to the valley of the Indus. These long-distance migrations were stopped in the early 1960s when the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan were closed, but many Kuchis are still allowed to cross as border officials recognize the Kuchi migrations which occur seasonally and allow them to pass even in times of political turmoil. In recent decades, migrations inside Afghanistan continue, although trucks are now often being used to transport livestock and family from one place to another."[3]

Kuchis historically abstained from politics, because they are nomadic, but under Afghanistan's constitution, they were given ten seats in parliament.[4] Provisions are written into the Afghanistan Constitution (Article 14) aimed at improving the welfare of Kuchis, including provisions for housing, representation, and education.[5] According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, before the 30 years of war, Kuchis owned 30 per cent of the country's goats and sheep and most of the camels for years, and they were largely responsible for the supply of slaughter animalswoolghee and quroot to the national economy.[6]


The National Multi-sectoral Assessment of Kuchi in 2004, estimated that there are about 2.4 million Kuchis in Afghanistan, with around 1.5 million (60%) remaining fully nomadic, and over 100,000 have been displaced due to natural disasters such as flood and drought in the past few years.

The Kuchis have been identified by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as one of the largest vulnerable populations in the country. As Afghanistan's population grows, competing claims over summer pastures, both for rainfed cultivation and for grazing of the settled communities' livestock, have created conflict over land across central and northern Afghanistan. Paying head-count fees for each animal crossing someone else's property is exacting a harsh economic toll on the Kuchi way of life, one that is already having to contend with recurrent droughts that are now occurring with increasing frequency.

Shasavan Yurt




The Shahsavan are a nomadic pastoralist tribe located in northwest Iran near the Soviet frontier. These Azeri-Turkish speaking pastoralists migrate between their winter quarters, qishlaq, in the Mughan steppe of Azerbaijan, and their summer quarters, yeylaq, around Mount Sabalan, approximately one hundred fifty miles to the south.



Seasonal Migration

The Shahsavan begin their migration southward to Mount Sabalan (15,816 ft.) approximately 45 days after the spring equinox. The weather determines the exact timing of departure. The nomads usually spend three to four weeks covering the 150 miles between the winter and summer quarters. For the migration, several camps form a caravan consisting of 30-60 tents. A recognized leader organizes the migration of different groups in accordance with the movement of other sections of the tribe. Daily migration starts soon after midnight and continues until midday, when sun and heat prevent further travel. The flocks begin to move several hours before the caravan of camels and other pack animals. Camels transport the women, children, lambs, chickens, the wooden frame of the tent, and the colorfully woven luggage containers. The men ride horses or walk. By late morning, the caravans catch up with the flocks. Several men ride ahead to locate appropriate pastures and a camping site where the tribe will settle for the night. A day's travel covers between six and ten miles.

Pack animals are unloaded upon arrival. The dome-shaped tents take only 15 minutes to set up. A circular crown is held up by a man, while 24 to 32 bent wooden rods are inserted into it; the frame stands like a giant spider. To give the tent lateral strength, woolen bands are wrapped around the frame, and a large wooden peg is driven into the ground under the crown to tie the tent down. Once assembled, the frame is covered by several sheets of thick felt, ketcha, which are tied to the frame and the ground. A lighter tent is set up by shepherds or families who do not have a larger one. Everyone is involved in setting up camp. Afterward women fetch water, prepare food, and shortly after sunset everyone goes to sleep. The next day begins soon after midnight.



Yoruk Tent