People

The name 'Bedouin' means 'people of the desert'. Modern day Bedouins are of Arab descent, speak Arabic and are Muslims. They define themselves through their hospitality, loyalty, pride, love for the desert, and the independence and freedom it offers.

The Bedouins are renowned for their great hospitality. The difficult conditions in the mountain deserts make care for the members of their community and guests a necessary means for survival.

The Bedouins of the South-Sinai are traditionally divided into seven tribes, descendants of the nomadic peoples who once roamed the peninsula. All have a distinct culture, based on different founding myths and special customs. For example the Gebaliya live in St. Catherine's and its surrounding areas. The three and a half thousand members of this tribe descend from a group of Eastern European Christians, commissioned by the monks of the St. Catherine's. They first helped build the Monastery, and then remained in the area assuring its protection from intruders. Over time the Gebaliya have mixed with members of surrounding tribes and by the end of seventh-century gradually converted to Islam. Their relationship with and allegiance to St. Catherine's monastery is still a very large part of their identity and tradition.

Tribal Structures and Governance

Bedouin tribes are organized by lines of descend. Each tribe is divided into several entities usually based on big family clans.

Tribes are lead by a sheikh, usually chosen from one of the more influential families. This man represents his people in regional meetings and matters of national governance giving him key economic opportunities. Therefore, beyond his role as representative, the sheikh redistributes his own wealth into the community, acting as the economic guarantor of the tribe, especially for the well being and survival of poorer members. Every tribe has its own legal advisors, chosen on the basis of personal wisdom or social position. Should community conflicts arise, these mediators arbitrate and resolve disagreements based on oral and traditional tribal laws.

Dress and Customs

One of the most distinct characteristics of a Bedouin man is the galabaia (robe) and the kuffyya (headscarf) held on by the 'agal (black rope/cord). In autumn this dress often accompanied by a baltu (jacket), or in winter by an 'abia, a coat made of wool or camel hair.

Bedouin women cover their hair with a black tarha (veil) lined with delicate beadwork, They always wear this covering, even while eating and talking. Their long colorful dresses are covered by a black tuba (light coat). Formerly they completely veiled their faces with an intricately embroidered cloth, leaving an opening for the eyes. Traditional dress and attire can be viewed in the visitor's information centre, located at the entrance of the Wadi El D'ir that leads to the Monastery.

Please do not take photos of women as this is considered culturally inappropriate.