Photo story: the nomadic Bedouins of Jordan

The nomadic Bedouins have roamed Jordan's valleys, mountains and deserts for centuries. In these harsh landscapes, warm hospitality and communion with the land are cultural hallmarks — all rooted in the practical wisdom of desert survival.

Thursday, July 25, 2019,
By Yulia Denisyuk
Photographs By Yulia Denisyuk
Resting with the camels.

Resting with the camels.

Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk

Many travellers come to Jordan in search of its remarkable ancient and cultural heritage, best admired at sites such as Petra or Madaba. Straying into the countryside, however, where deserts are red and rugged beneath the Levantine sun, offers a glimpse into the local way of life. Having roamed this land for centuries, Bedouins make excellent guides — offering travellers an opportunity to explore a landscape that’s shaped an entire culture.

The countryside in Jordan.
Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk

A local girl holds a goat in Wadi Rum, southern Jordan. Tribes have lived in this stark land for generations, and are renowned for their accommodating hospitality.

Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk
Bedouins make excellent local guides.
Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk

The way of the desert

Southern Jordan is home to Wadi Rum, a Mars-red desert of vast sandstone formations that rise from the sand like the humps of a camel. Tribes have lived in this stark land for generations, and are renowned for their accommodating hospitality. Guests can stay for up to three days with no questions asked — only on the fourth day is the host allowed to inquire about the visitor’s name and their intentions. 

Sandstone formations in Wadi Rum.
Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk

In Bedouin culture, guests can stay for up to three days with no questions asked — only on the fourth day is the host allowed to inquire about the visitor’s name and their intentions. 

Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk

Three cups of coffee

Despite Wadi Rum’s hostile environment, the desert is home to more than 100 species of plant, including sage, which is used to make strong tea. But it’s coffee that forms the foundation of Bedouin hospitality — no casual visit, marriage negotiation or conflict resolution happens without it. Three cups are served in a row: one for the guest, honouring their arrival; one for the sword, honouring bravery; and one for the soul, celebrating good spirit. 

Serving coffee.
Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk

The original nomads

Bedouin tribes are thought to have come to Jordan from the Arabian Peninsula as early as the 14th century. For hundreds of years, they’ve wandered the lands between what’s now Iraq and Saudi Arabia, herding camels and goats through the desert. Over time, modernisation has slowly crept in; today, most Bedouins are no longer fully nomadic and live in houses in towns and villages. However, many maintain a traditional tent so they can still move around with the seasons in search of better grazing.

Inside a tent.
Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk
Many Bedouins maintain a tent.
Photograph by Yulia Denisyuk

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Published in the July/August 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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