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We have seen that the family was the basis of Bedouin society and how the tribes constituted themselves on descent to one single ancestor or line. No wonder that Bedouins also applied family nomenclature on their relations to groups of their social interactions. These brother laws were a main factor to stabilize the Bedouin world and to work against anarchistic tendencies.

the brother right

In the past the camel raising Bedouins imposed on the people of the villages adjoining the desert or on smaller tribes a kind of tax in return for the Bedouins´protection of or the lack of aggression against them, called khuwa/khuwwa/chuwe, pl. khuwara or “brother-right” (khuwa has the root akh/ach, brother) (Jabbur, Rasheed). This tribute was an economic arrangement with a social and political significance. The payment of the khuwa symbolized an arrangement between two unequal parties joined together in a brotherly relationship. In return for payment (cash, or sheep, dairy products, camels), the givers were guaranteed a number of rights. First they were entitled to encamp in the tribal territory of the receivers and share pasture land and wells. Secondly, the stronger partner had the obligation to protect and defend the weaker party in the relationship. Consequently, the khuwa established social and political relations. In the case of sedentary population the khuwa was an insurance token paid to cement the peaceful coexistence of the nomads and the settled people of the oases or villages adjoining the desert (Rasheed). Khuwa was also sometimes imposed on travelers crossing their territories. In order to safeguard themselves, their property, and their trade, people made a habit of paying this khuwa to the sheikh of the tribe or to one of its other influential members (Jabbur). Also the pilgrim caravan had to pay this protection money to those tribes that ruled the lands of their journey if the government was too weak to ensure their safety, called surra/surre (Oppenheim). Also gifts of clothing and supplies could be part of the khuwa. Such settlements therefore came to an agreement with a notable in the tribe whereby it made that notable the ach/akh (brother), and paid him the rightful due for this brotherhood, that is, the khuwa or brother-right . Even if this agreement was violated, the man receiving the khuwa was responsible for making good that insult, for example by returning the stolen good. After the end of Ottoman rule after World War One the brother right was put to an end by the new governments. 

Slave Brothers


Noble and rich families, like the sheikhs´or amirs´, had slaves, that belonged to their families. Their children were brought up in the family and it was common for a young son of a sheikh or an amir to have a slave brother assigned to him who was often of the same age. The bond between both was based on the practice of wet-nursing (ridaa) in which female slaves breast-fed the young umara together with their own children. The milk bond is recognized by Islam as a legitimate basis for the creation of kinship relations which are equal to those established as a result of blood (nasab) and affinity (musahara). Milk kinship is established when a woman (slave or non-slave) breast-feeds a child together with her own children (Rasheed). The milk-kinship allowed the umara to refer to their slave wet-nurse as umm (mother), and those slaves with whom they shared milk as akh (brother). The task of the slave brother would start in childhood and would be expected to continue in adult life. He accompanied his brother, looked after him, took his sides in disputes and defended his master in battle. Some slaves were so loyal to their masters that they were able to intervene in the internal power struggles of the Rasheedi family. The pseudo-kinship arrangement created a strong bond between the slave and his master and fostered the creation of obligations and loyalties. The slave carried the amir´s name next to his own and benefited from the amir´s patronage and favors. In return, the slave was expected to show undisputed loyalty towards his master, even to his own death. Also, for example when Mohammad Ibn Rasheed carried out the massacre of his brother´s sons in 1869, the young umara were assassinated together with their slave brothers (Rasheed). Also Raswan gives us some details on slave-brotherhood in his books on his adventures with the Rwala tribe.

Bedouin Hospitality


“The immense empty spaces of the desert and the toils and dangers to which travelers were exposed, made hospitality to the stranger and the wayfarer a sacred duty. Probably in the history of the world, no race has equaled the Arabs in hospitality - it is the Arab virtue par excellence.” (Glubb)


Badu values included hospitality and it was (and still is) regarded sacred. This virtue ranks so high that even an emergency with a sick animal has to wait until it is accordingly satisfied. First coffee is served to the veterinarian before he is shown the desperately sick animal, experienced by the author in the West Bank part of the Negev in 1985. Rasheed states that the badu thought of themselves as generous and capable of providing hospitality - to the extent of sacrificing their own animals to honor the guest. Generosity could be identified by the smoke coming out of his tent, indicating coffee and food preparations. Helping the poor and providing for them and extending protection to all those asking for it was a matter of honor. This hospitality, the open tent for the stranger, was maybe the first Bedouin value European travelers compared with the Biblical reports of the book of Genesis.


In his 46th chapter of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, "Lawrence of Arabia" describes in detail the hospitality of the Howeitat Bedouins: "Every morning, between eight and ten, a little group of blood mares under an assortment of imperfect saddlery would come to our camping place, and on them Nasir, Nesib, Zeki and I would mount, and with perhaps a dozen of men on foot would move solemnly across the valley by the sandy paths between the bushes. Our horses were led by our servants, since it would be immodest to ride free and fast. So eventually we would reach the tent which was to be our feast-hall for that time; each family claiming us in turn, and bitterly offended if Zaal, the adjudicator, preferred one out of just order. - As we arrived, the dogs would rush out at us, and we driven off by onlookers - always a crowd had collected round the chosen tent - and we stepped in under the ropes to its guest half, made very large for the occasion and carefully dressed with its wall-curtain on the sunny side to give us the shade. The bashful host would murmur and vanish again out of sight. The tribal rugs, lurid red things from Beyrout, were ready for us, arranged down the partition curtain, along a back wall and across the dropped end, so that we sat down on three sides of an open dusty space. We might be fifty men in all. - The host would appear, standing by the pole; our local fellow-guests, el Dheilan, Zaal and other sheiks, reluctantly let themselves be placed on the rugs between us, sharing our elbow-room on the pack-saddles, padded with folded felt rugs, over which we leaned. The front of the tent was cleared, and the dogs were frequently chased away by excited children, who ran across the empty space pulling yet smaller children after them. Their clothes were less as their years were less, and their pot-bodies rounder. The smallest infant of all, out of their fly-black eyes, would stare at the company, gravely balanced on spread legs, stark-naked, sucking their thumbs and pushing out expectant bellies towards us. - Then would follow an awkward pause, which our friends would try to cover, by showing us on its perch the household hawk (when possible a sea-bird taken young on the Red Sea coast) or their watch-cockerel, or their greyhound. Once a tame ibex was dragged in for us for admiration: another time an orynx. When these interests were exhausted they would try and find a small talk to distract us from household noises, and from noticing the urgent whispered cookery-directions wafted through the dividing curtain with a powerful smell of boiled fat and drifts of tasty meat-smoke. - After a silence the host or a deputy would come forward and whisper, "Black or white?" an invitation for us to choose coffee or tea. Nasir would always answer "Black", and a slave would be beckoned forward with a beaked coffee-pot in one hand, and three or four clinking cups of white ware in the other. He would dash a few drops of coffee into the uppermost cup, and proffer it to Nasir; then pour the second for me, and the third to Nesib; and pause while we turned the cups about in our hands, and sucked them carefully, to get appreciatively from them the last richest drop. - As soon as they were empty his hand was stretched to clap them noisily one above the other, and toss them out with a lesser flourish for the next guest in order, and so on round the assembly till all had drunk. Then back to Nasir again. This second cup would be tastier than the first, partly because the pot was yielding deeper from the brew, partly because of the heel-taps of so many previous drinkers present in the cups; whilst the third and fourth rounds, if the serving of the meat delayed so long, would be of surprising flavour. However, at last, two men came staggering through the thrilled crowd, carrying the rice and meat on a tinned copper tray or shallow bath, five feet across, set like a great brazier on a foot.... The bowl was now brim-full, ringed round its edge by white rice in an embarkment a foot wide and six inches deep, filled with legs and ribs of mutton till they toppled over. It needed two or three victims to make in the centre addressed pyramid of meat such as honour prescribed. The centre-pieces were boiled, upturned heads, propped on their severed stumps of necks, so that the ears, brown like old leaves, flapped out on the rice surface. The jaws gaped emptily upward, pulled open to show the hollow throat with the tongue, still pink, clinging to the lower teeth; and the long incisors whitely crowned the pile, very prominent above the nostrils´pricking hair and lips which sneeered away blackly from them. - This load was set down on the soil of the cleared space between us, where it steamed hotly, while a procession of minor helpers bore small cauldrons and copper vats in which the cooking had been done. From them, with much-bruised bowls of an enamelled iron, they ladled out over the main dish all the inside and outside of the sheep; little bits of yellow intestine, the white tailcushion of fat, brown muscles and meat and bristly skin, all swimming in the liquid butter and grease of the seething. The bystanders watched anxiously, muttering satisfactions when a very juicy scrap plopped out. - The fat was scalding. Every now or then a man would drop his baler with an exclamation, and plunge his burnt fingers, not reluctantly, in his mouth to cool them: but presevered till at last their scooping rang loudly on the bottoms of the pots; and, with a gesture of triumph, they fished out the intact livers from their hiding place in the gravy and topped the yawning jaws with them. - Two raised each smaller cauldron and tilted it, letting the liquid splash down upon the meat till the rice-crater was full, and loose grains at the edge swam in the abundance: and yet they poured, till amid cries of astonishmenfrom us, it was running over, and a little pool congealing in the dust. That was the final touch of splendour, and the host called us to come and eat." 

Photos Carl Raswan

Bedouin Character


Finally we take a look at the badu character. It would be more appropriate to speak of badu virtues, and some of them have already been mentioned in the pages above. Jabbur gives us the following aspects: Endurance and patience (sabr) was a quality endowed with one of the greatest descriptive epithets in the Arabic language. Just as the word for beauty (jamaal/jamil) was derived from the name of the camel (jamal), the quality for superlative endurance was called sabr jamil, “fair patience” (Jabbur). The Bedouin was a reckless and brave man who was raised to love looting and plunder and the undertaking of raids. Building of courage in a man was one of the aims of Bedouin life (Jabbur). The Bedouin loved to be free. He accepted no regulating systems over him, except for the unwritten laws of the desert and public opinion. He cherished his independence so much that even his sheikh held no authority over him (Jabbur, Oppenheim). Badu individuality cannot be compared with modern western individuality as it was embedded in his family- and tribal structure. Generosity was an important badu virtue. The Bedouin loved to entertain guests and prided himself in doing so and loathed stinginess and extols generosity in people. This trait probably originated in an environment shaped by want and deprivation. Hospitality was a reciprocal practice, as travelers were not able to carry enough to sustain them and it was therefore necessary to stop as the guest of others (Jabbur). The Bedouin cared for those close to him, be it his family or anyone seeking refuge with him. Jabbur maintains that no other nation acknowledges the sanctity of the covenant of protection (jira) as did the Arabs and the Bedouins in particular. Thus the weak was protected from the strong and a limit was put on the exercise of violence and acts of vengeance.


The Bedouin was an eloquent man who loved to talk, was stimulated by discussion, and spoke very well. The Bedouin was known for his loyalty, but before all else it was to his tribe or to his tribal leaders, or to someone he esteemed. His devotion to family and tribe was an utmost one. He grew deep affections to people who treated him well. In political affairs he was capricious and sided with the strong as long as he remained strong (Jabbur, Oppenheim). The Bedouin was circumspect and reserved. The badu passion for vengeance and the fiery zeal with which he rushed forth to avenge himself upon one who had wronged him, especially if one of his kinsmen or family had been killed, is well known. “The spirit of retaliation and vengeance has manifested itself in the souls of the Semitic peoples”, so Jabbur, “since remotest antiquity, and this had its influence on the laws that had been established in the Old Testament and in Islam: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and killing for a killer. In the law of the desert, known through tradition and custom, the vengeance period lasts for three full days and the first third of the fourth. In this period one saw the seeker of vengeance trying to kill any relative of the killer who fell into his hands, or any camels or horses of theirs - but only if mediators did not intercede and gained the avenger satisfaction through the payment of wergild (diya) or the surrender of the killer in order to spare the blood of the others. If no kind of agreement was reached and none of the slain man´s relatives was able to avenge his death, then they felt shamed and disgraced for not having exacted vengeance and a hateful yearning to do so persisted in their hearts.” Thus the battle-days (ayyam) of the pre-Islamic times with wars lasting up to 40 years can be understood.


Many travelers give us stories of the naive and childlike understanding of Bedouin. For example Palgrave:” “What will you do on coming into God´s presence for judgement after so graceless a life?” said I one day to a spirited young Sherarat, whose long matted lovelocks, and some pretension to dandihood, for the desert has its dandies too, amid all his ragged accoutrements, accorded very well with his conversation, which was nowise of the edifiying description. “What will we do?” was his unhesitating answer, “why , we will go up to God and salute him, and if he proves hospitable (gives us meat and tobacco), we will stay with him; if otherwise, we will mount our horses and ride off.” This is a fair specimen of Bedouin ideas touching another world, and were I not afraid of an indictment for profaneness, I might relate fifty similar anecdotes at least.” The picture of badu character painted in many historic records of the past may probably be quite one sided. Therefore the following chapter will show the example of one man, Mutlak Batal, that may counteract this. 

Mutlak Batal of the Mutair


Sheikh Mutlak Batal from the Mutair/Muteyr tribe of Nejd came to Egypt after having been seriously wounded in a battle in his home country. He worked at Ali Pasha Sherif´s stud-farm for years, the place where most of the legendary Abbas Pasha horses from Nejd were gathered. In spring 1890 Mutlak became the stud master of Sheykh Obeyd, the stud-farm of Lady Anne Blunt in Egypt. That year a long relationship started between two persons, coming from different worlds, but sharing a deep love for Arabian horses: an elderly Bedouin sheikh from Nejd and a British aristocratic woman.


Mutlak Batal with stallion Saadun at Sheikh Obeyd (from Greely, Arabian Exodus) and with Jauza (from Pearson: The Arabian Horse Families of Egypt). Lady Anne Blunt in Arab costume (right).


Lady Anne´s first notice about Mutlak (April 11th 1890, Sheykh Obeyd): "We could not well leave mares and foals in charge of Mutlak, whom we do not know yet well enough to have confidence in his capacity - in fact there is risk enough in leaving four (horses) already at the garden in his charge (although I hope with Mohammed effendi over him all will go well)." But Mutlak was to gain the fullest confidence of Lady Blunt and became her closest advisor and confidant in all matters of Arabian horses and even beyond. To show his impact on her, we will quote from her journals:


February 26th. 1897: "Ahmed to Cairo at 2 returned 6. Reports met crowds and police and soldiers, was told Ali Pasha dead and being buried. Poor Ali Pasha. Mutlak has a good heart and grieved for his old master." February 8th. 1903: "Good for Mutlak to come away. Ever since the night of Jan.31st - Feb.1st he had been nursing poor Wujra. Never was a kinder nurse or a more patient patient."


January 22nd. 1905: "Rode Fasiha to Matarieh 7 a.m. Mass after which on returning was met by message that Mutlak was bringing B. Fereyha from bersim in order to take her to Jamil here when she lay down at the Khedive´s bridge, and will not move - there must be something seriously wrong - and Mutlak had sent to ask me to come. Went home.... Found B. Fereyha lying on her offside, legs stretched out, nostrils open as if in pain, and teeth chewing as with horses about to die. She fell in the evening yesterday and Mutlak had been there all night. Mutlak wanted me to write and ask for a chart from the Khedive´s taftieh - wether she lived or died he said she ought to be taken home, to which I agreed. I went over about 4 first looking to see if poor B. Fereyha had been brought which she had. The Khedive´s chart with a large mule had just arrived and she had been placed near the gate by the row of lebbakhs next the wall. Mutlak and Salim Oreyme and others had arranged to camp beside her. There seems no hope but Mutlak will not give up, which I like in him."


January 24th: "First visited the poor mare still lying as before. No hope but Mutlak with tearful eyes cannot bear to give up. While she lives he said she should have every effort made to save her. He went off for a short time to market, otherwise did not leave her."


January 25th: "Rode out soon after 8 to stable, found that poor B. Fereyha had died yesterday at sunset. She is buried by the wall between the new stable, and the El Keyshi gate. A tree is to be planted in memory of her and to mark the grave. We lost her beautiful daughter Wujra last year. So now have here only Fasiha and Ferida. In England there is Fulana and descendants. Hope Fashia will have some."


May 14th. 1906: "Saw Mutlak for some time going through old list I had of families in various tribes, owners of special strains of blood. Found most of them correct. It is interesting that, also, as to Abbas Pasha interpretation of a mare of the Dahman Nejib strain called "the mare of Khalil el Hajy", he says that would mean of the Hajer tribe (a S.E. Nejd tribe) who have Dahman Nejibs."


December 31st. 1907: " Mutlak asked me if there had been a horse within my knowledge named Harkan at A.P.S.´s and I told him "yes". He explained that long ago the Sherif had come with Abbas Pasha´s agent an agha to the Ajman and had also met ed Duish (Muteyr Sheykh) asking for a stallion, and for a Krushieh. The Ajman Sheykh brought a Kehilan Harkan horse and a bay mare came from the Dushan but not a Krushieh for that they would never give. I must go through the Ali Pasha Sherif Memoranda that I have with Mutlak, he will be able to clear up several points."


December 11th 1911: "Hurra! The five from Arabia have come! All well and they are good. Abeyan Sherrak bay 6 years, Kehilan el Krush grey 4 years, Hamdanieh Simrieh 2 years grey, Kehilet Ibn Aafaz about 2 years bay, Kehilet el Krush bay 1yr 1/2. I feel as if I were standing on my head with the joy and excitement of this much hoped for arrival, really it seems miraculous, I keep making acts of thanksgiving. I shall not let anyone see them till they are in better condition." The horses Lady Anne was such enthusiastic about were named respectively: Abeyan (changed in 1912 to Saadun), Krush, Dohayya, Saade and Aida. They were purchased through Ali el Abdallah el Bassam and came a long way via Baghdad and Damascus to Cairo. Without Mutlak Lady Blunt would not have received those horses.

April 30th. 1913: "In the afternoon I did a good deal more of the Nejd chapters with Mutlak. I must say it is wonderfully interesting to get such vivid pictures through him - I wish I could give them as I got them." - Lady Anne refers to her manuscript of a book she was writing about the Arabian horse. Unfortunately it was never published, but her daughter, Lady Wentworth, who had access to her mother´s manuscript, made use of it in her own book.


Mutlak died February 16th. 1916. "The end has come as I feared and knew must be. A preparation for myself. Without Mutlak "the place is no longer a place". However expected the blow is very stunning. But his poor soul is released from suffering." Letter from Lady Anne to Wilfrid Blunt, February 22nd 1916. Sheykh Obeyd: "...But in the last few weeks it became impossible to keep up his strength, otherwise perhaps he might have lived on though reduced to half the breathing apparatus. The right lung was damaged & originally in 1900 when he was breaking in Wujra - you will remember her the grey daughter of B. Fereyha & Ibn Nura - she fell cantering in the desert and rolled on him. He never mentioned the injury - a rib stove in on the lung - till some years afterwards. Ever after he was subject to lung attacks .... he for years past, has seemed to me one of the few people who are more soul than body, and cling but slightly to this world - Nor could I discover any mean thought in his mind. In youth very impetuous, easily roused to anger, but all that became under control, and his influence on subordinates was good. Of extraordinary interest to me was the view of interior Arabian Nomad mind regarding so much which it has retained apart from Islamic influences. Not so long ago - for ex. - there was one from Bereyda, true Arab but not Nomad, sitting by while I was there - the 3 of us talking about horses and their origin, and our Bereyda friend began about the Khamsa at which Mutlak with a smile, signed to me "don´t say anything". For the Five are Islamic of origin." 

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