Bedu, the Arabic word from which the name bedouin is derived, is a simple, straightforward tag. It means "inhabitant of the desert," and refers generally to the desert-dwelling nomads of Arabia, the Negev, and the Sinai. For most people, however, the word "bedouin" conjures up a much richer and more evocative image--of lyrical, shifting sands, flowing robes, and the long, loping strides of camels.

For several centuries, such images were not far from the truth. In the vast, arid expanses of the Sinai, as in the Negev and the deserts of Arabia, the many tribes of the bedouin journeyed by camel from oasis to oasis, following a traditional way of life and maintaining a pastoral culture of exceptional grace, honor, and beauty.

Most of the bedouin tribes of the Sinai are descended from peoples who migrated from the Arabian peninsula between the 14th and 18th centuries, making the bedouin themselves relatively recent arrivals in this ancient land. Today, many of the bedouin of the Sinai have traded their traditional existence for the pursuits and the conventions of the modern world, as startling changes over the last two decades have irrevocably altered the nature of life for the bedouin and for the land they inhabit. Nonetheless, bedouin culture still survives in the Sinai, where there is a growing appreciation of its value and its fragility.

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