Monday, 25 October 2010

I miss when the beduoin of Oman had tents... really I do

"If there wasn't enough water for everyone, we'd pour the water that we had into the sand"

I miss the days when Beduoin in Oman still had tents. Really I do. And I know that is selfish. You ask the men at the edge of Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) about the old days before government housing and they'll tell you when they had to drink camel throw-up because there wasn't enough water and the like, and your Orientalist longing for old black goathair tents will subside if you have an ounce of humanity and intelligence in you.

I guess I don't.

My sis and me went to Beduoin weddings as kids. We learned traditional dances and got gifts from the bride and the men fired off their rifles, and I got accustomed to goat's milk and meat and weaving mats and baskets and am rather good with camels. Which makes Omanis in Muscat laugh alot, and tease me.

I kind of fit in, in Sharqiyah, in a way I never have anywhere else, which is funny but, really I feel that.

Anyways, should you encounter a Beduoin tent these days (rather unlikely though an old work aquaintance G is a Beduoin and grew up without ACs) here is a fun article for you to read:

These black tents that seem so romantic on the landscape are called in Arabic "beit sha'ar" or "house of hair". They are familiarly referred to as a "beit" or "house" (the same word of course as a house in a village).

They are woven by the Bedouin women out of goats' hair, in separate sections; a woman will normally weave the sections for her own "house", and also prepare the fabric strips in advance in anticipation of future need by her family or perhaps her children later. Goats' hair shrinks when it is wet, so in winter the tent is protected by the closely woven fabric. When it is dry, this fabric often sags, seeming to have holes everywhere, and allowing a breeze to enter.
You might like to look at the page concerning Bedouin weaving for more details on the looms and techniques used. There are also some photos in the Photo Galley page on Bedouin.
In summer, you may notice that many tents are in poor condition and even eked out by cardboard boxes, bits of sacking or sheets of wood or metal. In fact, when it is warm, all that is required is shade from the sun, shelter from any wind and privacy from passers by. Hence the old tents are usually used in summer, and the "good" tents reserved for winter. One is tempted to think that the poor tents are a sign of poverty: absolutely not necessarily, just prudent management!
A normal tent is apt to be large: often 30 or 40 meters long. It is divided into 2 sections : the public area, usually left open to the world during the day, and the women's area on the right hand side (when you face the tent), which is usually kept closed when any strangers are likely to be around. Nobody from outside the family would ever venture to intrude upon the women, even other women do so upon invitation. The public area is normally arranged to receive guests, who sit, lounge or lie upon mattresses arranged around a small fire. The women are free to join in any talk, and usually do so. When it is cold, this area is closed at night by dropping the sections of cloth which are rolled up during the day.
No discussion of money or business, no bargaining will ever take place inside the tent which is "to be kept inviolate" from outside matters. A guest will be received inside, will sit and drink tea or coffee, but if he has come to discuss business, eventually, when the talk becomes serious, the whole party will move outside, taking mattresses and tea etc. with them. If the affair interests them, the women will often join the men here as well.
Coffee is prepared in advance, the beans are roasted at the end of a long shovel before being crushed in a mortar and the grounds solemnly dropped into hot water. Just enough cardamon is added, and the infusion is left to stand for several hours. When a visitor arrives, the coffee is boiled on the long spouted coffee pot and the coffee poured ceremoniously into small cups. The visitor drinks off the hot light coloured liquid in one gulp and will usually be offered a second.

Accepting a third cup of coffee means that you consider yourself one of the family and that you are ready to fight for it if necessary. Deliberately to refuse an offered third cup is a very serious thing to do.

Good manners are very important to the Bedouin. The worst sin is to cause a quarrel in somebody else's tent (or wherever could be considered somebody's home), and invariably people will go to great lengths to avoid this. A polite man will try to avoid visiting anywhere near to a meal time - there is no way his host cannot invite him to stay, however scarce the food supply.

The polite man will also arrive protesting he is in a great hurry and must leave as soon as possible, thus cutting off his host's offer to "kill a goat" in honour of the visit. Several minutes are always spent in enquiring after each other's health and family, before any mention is made of business.

Obviously non-Arabs are not expected to know the nuances of "Bedouin behaviour", all allowances are made for them - even for those who sit with their bare feet pointing directly at the host. (He also has a page on Beduoin customs and really, an informative page on basic Beduoin life). Though alot of this is fading out.

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