Bedul Bedouin Child. Petra Archaeological Park. Jordan 2010 © Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.com
The Bedul Bedouin inhabit the region around Petra, (UNESCO Heritage Site since 1985).
Bedouin culture is the root and origin of all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula (with the exception of Israel) and pre-dates Islam. The five tribes of Bedouin in Petra are named the Bedul.
Ethnohistoric study secures the presence of the Bedul to the Valley of Petra to at least the beginning of the 19th century. Numbering only about 1,000 people, the Bedul, nevertheless, represent a distinct case of an indigenous people encountering the benefits as well as the threats of rapid modernization.
Traditional Bedul Habitation in and around Petra included black tents of woven goat hair, numerous masonry structures in natural rockshelters, and the occupation of empty Nabataean tombs.
The latter has received the most attention in recent years due to its visibility to the tourist trade. However, habitation in tombs within Petra itself is but one form of a diverse and extensive settlement pattern likely employed for centuries. In light of this, the direct impact from Bedul habitation upon the archaeological resources is relatively low when compared to the impacts of development and planned increases in the numbers of tourists.
While international interest in Petra, exemplified by tourism, increased throughout the 20th century, the Bedul continued their traditional activities of goat pastoralism and rainfall farming of wheat and barley. Even in the late 1980s, most of the farming was done without mechanization, the fields tilled with ards, and even harvested by hand. Dairy products are well represented by goat milk taken daily for the manufacture of a "yoghurt," known as laban, typically processed into a highly storable dried form.
By the late 1960s, a formal development plan for Petra National Park was funded by USAID, and U. S. National Park Service was enlisted to advise on the future of Petra. Relocation of the Bedul away from the most significant Nabataean monuments was advised at that time, but a government-built settlement was not constructed until 1985. Now named Umm Siehoun, the village was a mixed blessing for the Bedul, bringing access to better education and health care, but decreasing their access to traditional pastoral and agricultural lands and the cash economy of tourism. Thus, many resisted the move and continued to live in caves, rockshelters, and black tents in 1988, adhering to the traditional life.
Bedul hospitality and their knowledge of traditional values of past populations could be well used for the promotion and welfare of tourism.