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Bedouin Arabs

George Peter Murdock (1897-1985)
Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.

Part Eleven: North and West African Pastoralism
— 52 —
Bedouin Arabs

Within less than a decade after the death of Mohammed, the disciplined forces of the Abbassid caliphate at Baghdad embarked on a career of conquest in North Africa. Egypt fell before them in 639, Cyrenaica and Fezzan in 642, Tripolitania in 647, and then successively Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. By the end of the century the Arabs had achieved political hegemony over all the former Greco-Roman territory and over nearly all the Berber homeland. Islamization and Arabization proceeded apace.
Within a generation Christianity had disappeared completely except for the Copts of Egypt, who survive as a small sect to the present day, and for a few Berber Christians who held out briefly through flight into the desert. Only the Jews withstood this onslaught. Though subjected to severe restrictions, they have persisted in this area until the present century in such surprisingly large numbers as to arouse suspicion that they may have been joined by numerous Christians and perhaps, even earlier, by Carthaginians who preferred the faith of their Semitic cousins to the alien religion of Rome.
This Arab conquest introduced Islam, the Arabic language, and many features of Arab culture, but it was primarily political in character and did not involve any large-scale immigration from Arabia. Before long the Arabized Berbers revolted and established independent dynasties of their own- in Morocco in 788, in Algeria in 761, and in Tunisia in 800. Only Libya and Egypt continued, at least nominally, to acknowledge the

In accordance with the practice followed elsewhere in this volume, we have attempted to group tribes into units on the basis of cultural similarities and geographical contiguity. The resulting classification, as a highly tentative pioneer effort, will satisfy few. Nor will the names which we have chosen for these clusters—sometimes that of a region, sometimes that of a single particularly well-known tribe, and in one case, the Sanusi, the name of an indigenous religious movement. The groups which we have distinguished are listed below and may be located on Map 17 in the pocket at the back of the book.

  1. Algerians, embracing the Arabized Berber inhabitants of the coastal zone of Algeria with the Angad and related tribes of adjacent Morocco. They are sedentary and in 1936 numbered approximately 4 million.
  2. Arad, including the sedentary inhabitants of Gabes (population about 20,000) and the outlying tribes of southern Tunisia, e.g., the Atria, Gumrage (Ghoumrage), Hamerna, Hazzem, Yakub (Uled Yacoub), and Zid (Beni Zid).
  3. Bahariya (Beharia), embracing the sedentary inhabitants of the oases of Bahariya and Frafra in western Egypt. They number about 7,000.
  4. Berabish. This nomadic tribe, inhabiting the Sahara northwest of Timbuktu, numbers about 35,000 together with the adjacent Kuma.
  5. Chaamba (Shaanba), with other Bedouin tribes of the Algerian Sahara between the Atlas Moumains and the Tuareg country. They number about 25,000.
  6. Cyrenaicans, embracing the sedentary population of the coastal fringe of Cyrenaica in Libya. They number about 50,000.
  7. Dakhla (Dachel), embracing the sedentary inhabitants of the oasis of Dakhla in western Egypt. They number about 10,000.
  8. Delim (Oulad Delim), embracing the Amar (Ulad ba Amar), Seba (Bouba, Oulad Bu-Seba), Sheukh (Oulad Chouekh, Ulad Chouick), and other subtribes in Mauritania. They number about 70,000.
  9. Dui-Menia (Doui-Menia), with the Atauna (Uled Atauna), Jerir (Uled Djerir), and Nacem (Uled Nacem) tribes and the sedentary oasis dwellers along the Kanatsa, Saura, and lower Zusfana Rivers in southeastern Morocco and adjacent Algeria.
  10. Egyptians, embracing the sedentary inhabitants of the Nile Valley in Egypt. They number about 20 million.
  11. Fezzan, ineluding the Murahidya tribe and other inhabitants of the oases of Fezzan in Libya. They number about 40,000, of whom 10,000 inhabit the town of Murzuk.
  12. Gafsa, embracing the sedentary inhabitants of the oases of El Ksar, Gafsa, and Lala in central Tunisia. They number about 15,000.
  13. Gil (Beni Guil), with the Lhadj (Uled Lhaddj) and other Bedouin tribes of the steppe region of eastern Morocco.
  14. Hamama, with the kindred Aun (Uled Aoun, Uled Sidi ben Aoun), Fraichich (Frechich), Majeur (Majer), Mehadba, Methellith (Metellit), Neffet, Swassi (Souassi), and Zlass (Djelass, Jlass) tribes of the interior steppe region of Tunisia. They number about 150,000.
  15. Hamyan (Hamian), embracing the Hamyan proper and numerous other Bedouin tribes of the steppe zone of Algeria. They number nearly a million.
  16. Imragen (Imeragen), with the Aita (Ulad bu Aita), Foikat, and Lammiar. These people lead a precarious existenee by fishing along the Atlantic coast.
  17. Jebala (Djebala), embracing the Anjera (Endjra), Arus (Beni Arous), Gorfet (Beni Gorfet), Mesgilda (Beni Mesguilda), Mestara (Beni Mestara), Rhuna (Rehouna, Rhona), Serif (Ahal Srif, Ehl Serif), Serra, Sless (Slass), Tzul (Dsoul, Tsoul), Zerwal (Beni Zeroual), and other Arabized Berber tribes of the mountainous Rif region of northern Morocco, together with the towns of Ceuta and Tetuan. They number about 600,000.
  18. Jerid (Djerid), embracing the sedentary inhabitants of the oases of El Guettar, El Hamma, El Udian (El Oudian), Kriz, Nefta, and Tozeur in southern Tunisia, as well as the Nefzawa tribe to the east. They number about 40,000.
  19. Kharga, embracing the inhabitants of the Egyptian oases of Kharga and Selima. They number about 10,000.
  20. Kufra (Cufra), embracing the inhabitants of the Libyan oases of Kufra and Manyanga. They number about 6,000. Prior to 1813 these oases were occupied by Sahar an Tegroes uf the Teda group.
  21. Kunta (Kounta). This Bedouin tribe inhabits the Sahara north of Timbuktu.
  22. Laguat (Aruat, Laghouat), embracing the inhabitants of the Algerian oases of in Madhi and Laguat. They number about 10,000.
  23. Maaza, with the Haweitat and a few other Bedouin tribes who extend from the Sinai Peninsula into Egypt along the Gulf of Suez.
  24. Moroccans, embracing the Ahsen, Cherarda, Chiadma, Dukkala (Doukkala), Fahsya, Gharbya (Rharbya), Khlot, Rehamna, Shawia (Chaouia), Sragna, Tadla, Tliq, and other sedentary tribes of the plains region of western Morocco, together with the inhabitants of the cities of Casablanea, Fez, Marrakech, Mazagan, Meknes, Rabat, Sali, Soli, and Tangier. They numbered over 3 million in 1936.
  25. Nail (Uled Nail). The nomadic inhabitants of the central Atlas region of Algeria between Biskra and Laguat.
  26. Regeibat (Ergeibat, Rgibat), embracing the Ajur (Ahel Ajur), Daud (Uled Daued), Elguasem (Guassem), Mussa (Oulad Moussa), Othman (Ahel Othman, Oulad Iahia ben Othman, Yaya-ben-Othman), Rehalat, Reilane (Oulad Reilane), Shej (Oulad Cheikh, Ulad Sej), Suaad, and Taleb (Oulad Talet) tribes of interior Mauritania. They are nomads and number about 35,000.
  27. Riyah (Riah), with the Busaif (Uled Busaif), Hasauna, Hurman (Hotma), Maqarha (Megarha), Mozda, Urfilla (Ourfellah) , Ziman, and other Bedouin tribes and small oasis populations in the desert region of western Libya.
  28. Ruarha, embracing the sedentary inhabitants of the oases of Chema (Dahema), Megharin, Mraier, Sidi Khelil, Tamerna, Temassin, Tinedla, Tuggurt (Touggourt), and Urhlana on the Oued Rir in the northeastern Algerian Sahara. They number about 60,000 and include a few Berber-speaking remnants.
  29. Saadi, with the tributary Murabirin and lesser Bedouin tribes of western Egypt.
  30. Sanusi, including the sedentary Arafa and Darsa, the seminomadic Abaidat, Awaqir, and Hasa, the nomadic Abid, Baraasa, Fayid, and Magharba, and various smaller client tribes in interior Cyrenaica. They number about 150,000 and were united by the Sanusiya movement in the nineteenth century.
  31. Sahel, embracing the now sedentary Riyah (Riah), Said (Uled Said), and Urazla (Ourazla) tribes and the inhabitants of the towns of Kairouan, Sfax, and Sousse and of some fifty smaller villages in the Sahel or eastern coastal zone of Tunisia, together with the people of the Kerkena Islands. They number over a million.
  32. Sidi (Uled Sidi Sheikh), with the Aissa (Uled Aissa), Jagub (Uled Jagub), Mahiyan, and Trafi tribes of Bedouins in the region south of Ceryville in Algeria, together with the sedentary inhabitants of Brezina, El Abiod, and neighboring oases.
  33. Sirticans, including the Jamaat, Qadharhfa, Soliman (Uled Soliman), and other Bedouin tribes of the arid coast of Sirtica in Libya.
  34. Soliman (Uled Sliman). This branch of the Sirtican tribe of the same name, numbering about 5,000, migrated to Kanem in the early nineteenth century.
  35. Suafa, embracing the sedentary inhabitants of El Oued and other oases on the Oued Souf in the northeastern Algerian Sahara, together with the neighboring pastoral Acheche, Ftaiet, and Messaaba. They number about 40,000.
  36. Tajakant (Ojakana, Tazzerkant, Tenakee), with the Arib, Aruisin (Arosien, Arouissiin, Arusin), Blat (Daublal, Dui Belal, Ida u Blal), and Meribda (Ait u Mribet). These nomads inhabit northern Mauritania and number about 30,000.
  37. Traza, with the kindred Brakna of southwestern Mauritania. They were reported in 1912 to number about 75,000.
  38. Tripolitanians, embracing the inhabitants of coastal Tripolitania in Libya. They numbered about 525,000 in 1931.
  39. Tunisians, including the inhabitants of northern Tunisia and a small strip of adjacent Algeria. They number over a million.
  40. Yahi (Beni Bou Yahi), with the Settut (Uled Stut). They inhabit the valley of the lower Moulouva River in eastern Morocco and number about 40,000.
  41. Zenaga, embracing the Allush (Allouch), Girganke (Massin), Mbarek (Oulad Mbarek), Meshduf, Nasser (Oulad Nasser), Sirifou (Chorfa), and Tichit (Ahl Tichit).
    These Arabized Berbers occupy the Hodh region of the French Sudan and number more than 100,000.
  42. Ziban, embracing the inhabitants of the oases of the Ziban and Zab Chergui districts of the Algerian Sahara. The town of Biskra alone had a population of 22,000 in 1936.