Family Structure, Marriage and Kinship


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Bedouin Families

Three-generational families often dwell under the same tent at a single time. Bedouin homes consist of roughly nine to fifteen individuals. In addition to the frequent co-habitation of parents, grandparents, and children, married sons introduce their wives into the home, and any of their future offspring reside there as well. This addition is made possible by the Bedouin custom of daughters leaving their family home once married, and moving into the home of their husbands. Divorces, which occur frequently, also alter the living situation of a Bedouin family. Once divorced, daughters return to the homes of their fathers with their children. Due to this very family oriented style of living, Bedouin childrearing is a communal effort. By age 6, children are expected to take up tasks and assist the rest of the family with gender specific chores. For the Bedouin, the concept of adolescence is nonexistent. If members of a family pass away, in accordance with the Quran. the wealth is distributed amongst the remaining children. Sons receive 50% of the inheritance daughters 25%. Other close relatives may also receive a portion based on the circumstances. If women inherit large animals such as camals, they are given instead to the brother under the notion that women will not be able to care for large beasts.To watch a brief video on Bedouin family life and cultural customs click here.

Bedouin Homes

The Bedouins reside in tent-like structures. These are rectangular spaces canvased with either light cloths in the warmer months to provide for maximum ventilation, or a compact covering of black goat hair in the wintertime.
Bedouin tent woven with goat hair and used during the winter time
Bedouin tent woven with goat hair and used during the winter time

Bedouin tents usually contain two parts. One part consists of the women’s quarters; household utensils, bedding, and food supplies are generally stored here. It is also where women make the food and care for the children, often accompanied by other women. The only men that are allowed to enter this part of the home are immediate family members. The second part of the home belongs to the men of the family. Women are allowed to occupy this part of the house but must exit directly if ever a stranger or non-relation comes to call. The main feature of this section is the coffee mangal. The head of the household will spend much of his time warming coffee for visitors here. Guests who stay for dinner are served on aluminum trays. Males will dine in groups of four and eat their fill before giving their spots to the next male who waits to eat. Whatever is left after the men have had their share is then distributed among the women and children in the female part of the house. Often, women that are too old to have children are permitted to eat with the males and their guests in the male section of the home.If tents have a third section, it is usually used by the women as a place to take care of sick animals and small children. During the warmer months poultry is sometimes kept there as well. Bedouin tents are usually located within close proximity to others based on marriage or patrilineal kinship ties. The word beit has become a term used to describe a kin group sharing living quarters.
Bedouin tent used during periods of warmer weather
Bedouin tent used during periods of warmer weather


Kinship

The Bedouin people follow a patrilineal kinship system. Bedouin names are made up of an individuals first name, there fathers name and their father's father's, or great grandfather's name. Women throughout their lifetime keep their fathers last names,and they do not adopt the family name of their husband once married. This is one of the reasons that fathers are so eager to have their sons marry their parallel cousins who already share their name. This practice of endogamy and intermarriage has had the effect of introducing gene mutations into the Bedouin culture. The Bedouins make distinctions between their matrilineal and patrilineal relatives by name their cousins differently depending on whether the cousin is on their fathers or mother's side. This system of naming seems to be in accordance with the Omaha kinship structure, association with ones patrilineal lineage. The term bayt is used to describe the oldest male resident of a Bedouin camp. It is he who holds the most power solidifying this notion of male importance within Bedouin families.
diagram of a patrilineal descent pattern with the partilateral parallel cousins highlighted
diagram of a patrilineal descent pattern with the partilateral parallel cousins highlighted

Bedouin Marriage

The Bedouin people abide by the Quran and structure their lives accordingly. This cannon and Muslim holy text is the basis for the ways in which they choose to thrive. They consider an ideal ideal marriage to be union between themselves and the closest possible relation allowed by the Quran. Bintʿamm is the term used to describe marriage man and his female parallel cousin (his dads brothers daughter). Conversely ibnʿamm is the term used to describe a daughters marriage to her male parallel cousin (her dads brothers son). This union is ideal because it models the union of Rebecca and Issac (who were first cousins) within the bible. Both males and females are permitted to disagree to a union with their parallel cousins but female must have the express permission of their fathers to marry someone else. Marriage between second and third cousins on the male lineage is also very common, and polygamy is acceptable but not common. Normally polygamists are wealthy older men who own several homes, one for each wife. Divorces are also common, and can be sought by both men and women. During the process of a divorce wives will often live in their fathers homes for protection until the terms of their divorce have been sorted out.
A Bedouin couple
A Bedouin couple


Traditional Bedouin marriage ceremonies are joyous affairs that can last as long as a week. A prospective male groom and his father go together to ask for the females hand in marriage. It is the fathers who discuss the union of their children rather than the children themselves. Once an agreement is made, the preparation begins. Bedouin weddings usually take place during a full moon at nighttime. The bride is decorated with henna tattoos on the hands and feet symbolizing heath and good fortune. A big feast is held and there is much singing and dancing. It becomes a celebration of not only the union between two individuals but also of their families.
Bedouin Henna symbolizing luck and good fortune
Bedouin Henna symbolizing luck and good fortune

Bedouin wedding procession
Bedouin wedding procession