Bedouins (Arab. Bedawi, pi. Bedwan, dweller in the desert), the nomadic tribes of Arabia, Irak, and the eastern and southeastern parts of Syria. They live in tribes of from 200 to 20,-000 or 80,000 men, moving from place to place as the exigencies of their flocks and herds require. From the earliest ages they have led a pastoral life, dwelling in tents and rearing cattle, with which they supplied the cities, going out on plundering excursions or spending their leisure time in horse-racing, athletic sports, story-telling, and, since the introduction of tobacco, in smoking. All domestic labor except milking and spinning is left to the women and slaves; the arable land is cultivated by the neighboring peasantry, who receive one third of the produce and are maintained at the expense of the proprietor during their stay, as a reward for their service. The women also perform the part of hairdressers to their husbands in curling their locks. The tending of the flocks is left to the boys and girls. The Bedouin considers agriculture beneath his dignity; he despises alike all labor and engagements in commerce, proud of his liberty and genealogy, which he traces back to Mohammed, Ishmael, or Joktan. He is fierce and warlike, not out of patriotism, for he has no country, but for the sake of plunder.
The Bedouins are passionately fond of poetry; nearly every tribe has a poet, who recites the deeds of their heroes and adventures of lovers, accompanying his songs with the rababa, a kind of one-stringed fiddle. They are among the most expert riders in the world, and are greatly attached to their horses. Their diet is simple, consisting of the flesh and milk of their herds, rice, and coffee. They dislike sleeping in buildings, and when obliged to visit the towns for the sale of their cattle, wool, and grain, their stay there is as brief as possible. The Bedouins are of middle size, spare and sinewy, capable of enduring great fatigue and exposure to the fiery sun and hot winds of the desert. In complexion they are dark brown, have regular features, with deep-set, piercing, and intelligent eyes. Their clothing, especially during predatory excursions, is often reduced to a single cotton shirt bound round the waist with a leathern girdle, into which the Bedouin sticks his arms with a pipe and lighting apparatus. The wealthy Bedouin or the sheikh wears over his shirt a long gown, often of scarlet cloth, with the usual arms, pistols and short dagger, in his girdle, while a silver-mounted sword is swung across his shoulder, and a flowing mantle of cashmere covers the whole.
The head dress consists of a keffiye or shawl of wool or silk interwoven with gold lace, with fringes of the same material, folded cornerwise and tied round the head with a cord. He wears clumsy boots of red or yellow leather. The Bedouins practise polygamy and hold slaves. They are ignorant, superstitious, fierce, revengeful, and of depraved morals. Their greatest virtue is hospitality to their guests; but even this is questionable, and the sanctity of the asylum (dakhil) has often been violated. Instances, however, are not rare of magnanimous conduct, where the dakhil has been faithfully observed even at great danger to the protector. Unlike the Turkomans or other robbers in civilized countries, the Bedouin is averse to shedding blood, and will have recourse to extreme measures only when others have failed. This may be partly attributed to their fear of causing a blood feud. The Bedouins have no criminal code except for murder, when the blood feud is rigidly enforced, and the murderer and sometimes one of his relations is liable to be killed at any moment by the survivors of the victim. But even here a compensation can be made and accepted. (See Blood Money ) The general government of Arabia is patriarchal, each tribe having its sheikh or chief.
The sheikh-ship is hereditary, the next oldest, whether son or brother, succeeding. The sheikh leads the men to battle, represents the tribe, and acts as arbitrator in differences which may arise between them. - The Bedouins seem never to have been conquered. Retiring to their deserts when danger threatens, it is almost impossible for their enemies to follow, where the wells are only known to themselves. But they have not unfrequently suffered terrible retaliation for their robberies. Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Mehemet Ali, in his campaigns against the Wa-habees, was perhaps their most successful assailant. The Bedouins have been marauders and scourges over the neighboring territories from the earliest ages; and in the 7th century, when stirred up to the highest degree of excitement by the preaching of Mohammed, they became the terror of both Asia and Europe.