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A Bedouin man and his children
A Bedouin man and his children
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A Brief History of the UAE’s Bedouin People

Picture of Jessica Harn
Updated: 28 December 2017
Having a deep and colorful history and tradition stretching back thousands of years, the ethnic Bedouin of the UAE are among the country’s most interesting peoples. Considered as the native peoples of the region, the Bedouin originally got their name from the Arabic word “badawiyin”, which means “people of the desert”. Although the Bedouin peoples are not confined to the regions of the UAE and in fact stretch all the way to North Africa, here we focus on the Bedouin peoples of what is now known as the country of the UAE .

The Bedouin people who resided in the UAE were primarily nomadic camel herders, who used the camels for transport, meat, and milk, but were also fishermen and most famously, pearl divers. They were therefore quite dynamic and had many trades that made them a powerful force for both the growth of culture and industry in the early days of the UAE. The wooden dhow boats, now most commonly associated with Emirati tradition, are originally products of the Bedouin peoples, who built them to go fishing and pearl diving off the coasts of what is now Dubai and other northern emirates. While the industry of the UAE is now heavily dependent on oil and tourism, the country would have never have become what it is today without the history of its Bedouin peoples’ herding, fishing, and pearl diving. Unfortunately however, the Bedouin remain one of the poorest groups of people in the UAE as many of them continue to live in tents and communities in the desert without moving into the cities for more urbanized work.

Bedouin women and children, many of whom still live in the desert of the UAE
Bedouin women and children, many of whom still live in the desert of the UAE | ©Tribes of the World/flickr

Today, most Bedouin tribes have successfully kept their traditional cultures and heritage alive even amongst the growing modernity of the UAE. Most will still speak their ethnic Badawi language in addition to Arabic, which is admirable as many other native peoples struggle to keep their native languages alive. Each Bedouin tribe has a leader or head of the tribe, called a Sheikh, who runs the social rules and roles. Because of their history of tight-knit families and deep loyal and honor traditions among tribes, most Bedouin, even today, will not marry outside of their Bedouin tribe. While this is changing as more and more Bedouin mingle with other Emiratis and people from abroad who settle in the UAE, it is still a highly traditional society where pre-arranged marriages are still common. The Bedouin people are also Sunni Muslim, and are highly unlikely to marry outside of this particular Islamic tradition.

Bedouin children showcasing hospitality
Bedouin children showcasing hospitality | ©Tribes of the World/flickr

Their hospitality, however, is one of the most famous and wonderful traits of the Bedouin people that has captivated people from all corners of the globe. They continue to play an integral part in the culture, heritage, and traditions of the UAE as more and more people are paying homage to the strength of the UAE Bedouin peoples; and many see a bright future for the Bedouin with more recognition and appreciation.