Local Tribes Ras AL Khaimah

Date 21 Dec 2021

Bedouins have been an intrinsic part of the United Arab Emirates life and simplistic living since around 3000 BC. For centuries, they would move around the region in nomadic cycles to find cooler weather, water and fertile land for their animals. Even though they were constantly moving, they would ensure comfortable accommodation, plentiful food, and entertainment. The Bedouins created simple yet beautiful traditions that continue in parts of the Emirate today.

Home sweet home

When the Bedouins found somewhere that they could call home, they would erect tents in the desert and stay for a while. They made their tents from goat or camel hair or sheep wool. The women would weave the fibres into tight shiqaq, strips of fabric that would make walls and the tent’s roof to protect them and their animals from the extreme heat, sun and wind. Bedouins are known for their keen sense of loyalty. This is still evident today by treating their guests with friendly respect and sharing their food, coffee, dates, and dried fruits. This tradition is strongly revered and upheld in Emirati life today.

Hospitable tribes 

The Bedouins are very social and would chant Taghrouda, a hypnotic form of poetry composed and narrated by men as they travelled through the desert on camels. They believed that the beat or rhythm would encourage the camels to walk in step. The poems are linguistically creative, with improvised praise and parody sung at celebrations and around campfires. Nabati is another form of poetry spoken by non-Arabic natives. 

As time progressed, Bedouins introduced belly dancing and folkloric tanoura into their campfire entertainment. The traditional tanoura dance originates from Syria; the swirling motion of the tanoura dance depicts the movement of the universe and the philosophy of life. Tanoura dancers represent the planets, and the various stories connect the men to the divine, which nod to the relationship of the land and the sky, man and Allah. Belly dancing became popular as the Bedouins moved across the Middle East. 

Diet

The Bedouins have a staple diet of goat meat, rice, flour, nuts and dried fruit. They still cook their food on campfires or buried in the sand. Goat and camel milk, tea, qahwa sada and qahwa helwe coffee are popular drinks. The Bedouins would make zibdeh (butter) and laban (buttermilk), jubnuh (cheese) and samn (clarified butter) by churning milk in a bag made from animal skin. The Ras Al Khaimah Bedouins would eat lots of seafood and fish because they were so close to the fishing villages and coastline. 

Daily life

Throughout Ras Al Khaimah, you’ll find Bedouins going about their daily life. Visit Digdaga and Hamraniya early on a Friday morning, and you can happily meet Bedouins tending to their highly revered camels. The camel races are the epitome of their heritage, and it’s a sight to behold. The race track is in an authentic area of the Emirate and peppered with ghaff trees and impressive dunes. Be there early to experience the electrifying energy and excitement as owners and trainers compete for first place. Each camel will be saddled with a colourful tribal blanket. Times have changed considerably; you’ll see that small robots have replaced youthful jockeys. 

Modern-day 

There are two Bedouin-inspired camps in Ras Al Khaimah, Bassatta Bedouin Camp and Bedouin Oasis. Both allow you to experience a day in the life of a Bedouin and learn more about their traditions. Enjoy walking through the vast plains of desert and ride atop a leggy camel in a caravan. Take in the breathtaking scenery and wander through the acacia trees that pepper the landscapes. You’ll notice that the underneath of the trees has been ‘flattened’ by hungry camels enjoying the leaves and seed pods.

 A local Bedu woman can paint an exquisite henna tattoo on your hands or your feet. Henna designs differ from tribe to tribe; a Bedouin will know which tribal matriarch has painted yours. Henna is very popular during celebrations such as weddings. The timely process involves henna paste pushed through a conical tube using pressure onto the skin. It can take up to three hours to dry. When washed away, the henna leaves an orange stain on your skin, and over a few days, gets darker. It’s thought that henna has been practised across the region for 5,000 years and was also used to treat ailments such as stomach aches, burns, headaches, and open wounds.

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