United Arab Emirates is today a modern country with glamorous metropolitan areas filled with some of the world’s most iconic buildings, so it’s easy to forget about Bedouin life in the UAE. Bedouin, which comes from the Arabic word ‘badawiyin’ means “people of the desert,” and comprised of a general population (desert-dwellers, fishermen, pearl divers, farmers) found in the early days in the UAE. They lead a rural or nomadic life but had integrated into the urban society as time evolved. However, many Bedouins continue to live in tents and communities in the desert, without moving into the cities, keeping their traditions alive in contrast with the modernity of today’s UAE.
Did you know that Abu Dhabi and Dubai once consisted of several hundred barasti huts made with areesh (palm leaves called fronds), soaked and tied side-by-side using palm fibre rope? The palm-leaf house, the arish, was constructed out of neatly cut branches – a traditional arish or barasti was the standard building technique in the Bedouin era; with their nomadic lifestyle they used date palms for building materials and supported structures with vertical palm tree trunks or planks cut from date palms, while the roofs were flat and thatched with palm fronds. Others had mangrove poles and used Jazu’a (roof beams) and Marazib (roof gutters) plus had enclosed rooms with associated courtyards which covers a considerably larger space. Inside the Arish house there was a Hhaseer, a popular floor mat.
Shindagha, one of the oldest areas of Dubai, had large areas of palm frond (arish) houses with a barajeel (wind tower) made of burlap (a course cloth made of jute or hemp) that served to air out the residence where ventilation in the summer is paramount while settlers in the Liwa Oases, Abu Dhabi, stayed in a Bedouin-style tent made out of animal hide during the winter. These palm frond shelters were then used in two different ways.
UAE’s Bedouin People are among the country’s most interesting natives of the region. They continue to play an integral part in the culture, heritage, and traditions of the UAE. Tourists often enjoy a visit to Bedouin-style camps while taking a safari for an adventure that gives them the opportunity to experience the Bedouin style of living with a rich history to discover that plays an integral part in the Emirati national identity. They can also visit the Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood to better understand the life of Bedouins (or Bedawi in Arabic). You will not want to miss the chance to interact with these kind and generous people.
Bedouin society is important in the UAE; the country’s roots are grounded in the Bedouin culture and it makes it even more vital to preserve its heritage.