Where to experience Bedouin culture in Jordan

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Few peoples have been over-romanticized in literature than the Bedouin, traditionally the nomadic people of the Arab world. Adventurers of English writers such as TE Lawrence and Wilfred Thesiger consciously sought them out, believing that their harsh lifestyle (the name Bedouin derives from the Arabic badawi, or ‘desert dweller’) would offer solace from the apparent corruption of modern life. In doing so, they shaped the cliché of the noble ascetic with a timeless culture that has endured to this day. Like all tropes, this is an unhelpful reduction; the truth is much more interesting than any visitor Jordan will discover.

Accurate census information does not exist, but an estimated 40% of Jordan’s 10 million residents claim to be of Bedouin descent. Today they are a thoroughly contemporary people, with the provision of schooling, housing and education leading to more and more sedentary people. But the Bedouin are no strangers to balancing sedentary and nomadic existence, and their culture, tied to a traditional lifestyle, remains as important as ever.

Raising sheep and goats remains the backbone of Jordan’s Bedouin culture, although many have moved with the times and largely replaced camels with four-wheel drive vehicles. But there is no Bedouin experience. In many places, families still follow their herds from summer to winter pastures, while others have largely traded their livestock for farming and farming.

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