The Bedouin tribes of Northern Arabia have lived thousands of years as pastoralists, migrating across the semi-arid badia in search of graze and browse for their herds. Romantic images of Bedouin – black tents, robed Arabs and camels – still persist. However, mobile pastoral livelihoods have come under pressure to change in recent years. The modern nation-states of the Middle East view pastoralism as anachronistic and encourage Bedouin to become settled cultivators. An even more dramatic shift has taken place within the last few decades: the Bedouin have traded in their camels as beasts of burden in favour of the half-ton truck. The ship of the desert is now a Toyota, Datsun, Nissan or General Motors pick-up. Nevertheless, many Bedouin continue to herd livestock – sheep, goat and camel – at the same time as engaging in new economic activities. They have been open to remarkable change whilst firmly holding onto their culture, and their traditional moral and value systems. The truck has allowed many the possibility of interacting with the region’s modern economy while still pursuing their mobile pastoral livelihoods. Extensive field research underlies anthropologist Dawn Chatty’s comprehensive study. She examines contemporary Bedouin society of Lebanon and Syria in the contexts of history, economy and political and moral culture. She details the consequences of motorized transport for this community – and she draws some surprising conclusions about its future viability.
White Horse Press