Bedouin Sheikh of Palmyra (Tadmur, Syria)

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A Bedouin Sheikh of Palmyra (Tadmur) in Syria

Bedouin Sheikh of Palmyra (Tadmur in Syria), photochrom postcard dated between 1890 and 1900 from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

This image depicts a Bedouin Sheikh (a chief of the tribe, or tribal), as the title suggests, from Palmyra (Tadmur in present day Syria). As the image is over a century old, it is of the times when nomadic life of the Bedouins was unaffected by the problems faced by the tribes in the later part of the twentieth century.

The English word Bedouin has its roots in the Arabic word ‘badawī’ (or ‘badawiyyūn’), a word used to refer to the desert-dwelling Arabian genetic group of people who traditionally formed individual tribes or clans, each group having its own tribal chief or Sheikh.

From the second half of the twentieth century, Bedouins began to live in permanent settlements or cities, ending their nomadic lives, because of disappearance of semi-desert/ pastoral resources, and because of availability of easy employment and living conditions in the Middle East countries, after widespread exploration and export of oil and natural gas.

The Syrian Bedouins more or less ended their nomadic lifestyles because of the severe drought conditions of the period from 1958 to 1961 that ravaged the pastoral lands and other resources in the Syrian Desert, and forced most of the Bedouins to give up herding in favor of better settled jobs and living conditions.

Most of the Egyptian and Israeli Bedouins too ended nomadic life and opted for settled life, because of government policies and better employment opportunities in these countries, coupled with better standards of living brought in by faster economic development in the region.

These developments transformed the stateless Bedouins to citizens of several countries in the region. Still, many groups continue to live their nomadic lifestyles, either because of tribal loyalties or other reasons. Even today, in tribal interactions or on matters of an entire tribe, the writ of the tribal Sheikh runs as unassailable, and the members of the tribes obey their tribal chiefs more than they obey the state or government laws.

The picture above shows such a Bedouin Sheikh from Palmyra, which is now in or near the present day Tadmor located in Palmyra District of Homs Governorate in Syria.

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