Traditional Experiences with the Bedouin tribes of the Negev Highlands

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Wadi Aricha (Wadi Rayer) Community

The community of Wadi Aricha is a community of shepherds located about 5 km north of Mitzpe Ramon, which lies in the channel of the Aricha stream, west of Route 40. The village was founded in the late 1970's by several families from the Sarahin tribe. Before settling down there, the families would come to Wadi Aricha every year for the harvest and would stay there until the winter.

About 32 different families live within this community, which are 200 people approximately, all of whom belong to the Sarahin tribe of the Azzama tribe. There are 4 extended families in the community: Al-Abis, Sidan, Krinig and Ratimat. There are marriages relations between the different families and their representatives work in excellent cooperation to maintain an inviting space for tourists.

Some residents own herds of camels, goats and sheep, some in pasture and some in served food (non grazing). All men work outside the community, mainly in Mitzpe Ramon, and some of the students study in Mitzpe Ramon. Members of the community have a close relationship with the residents and public institutions in Mitzpe Ramon. Until recently, members of the community cultivated large and wide areas near and far from their location, growing mainly wheat and barley. In the fall, the inhabitants would sow along the river channels, and leading up to the winter they would go down into the Ramon Crater, in search of warmer places, and reach as far as the Faran Channel in their wanderings, in search of pasture for sheep and camels.

A herd of camels in Nahal Aricha

This community has created over the years, in cooperation with various parties from the region, a tourist center in which most families take part in maintaining. More than any other community in the region, This community realizes the vision of Bedouin tourism in the Negev Mountains, promoted as part of the “Land of Tents” site, which seeks to base the residents’ source of income as a host community, honouring its unique way of life.

The land of Wadi Aricha, interwoven with terraces, is used to grow barley and wheat, and the residences, along with the sheep and camel pens, are located nearby, at a reasonable height above the river channel to protect all from possible floods. In the event that families from different groups share the same channel, a space of about 200 meters is kept between them, which allows the privacy of each group of family compounds to be preserved. Within the compound of the extended family the women move freely, busy with their variety of work which includes preparing the mixture for the sheep’s food and spreading it in the troughs, supervising the herd when it is near the house, milking and cleaning the compound in addition to cooking and cleaning the house.

It is important to state that it would be impossible to imagine the work of hospitality without the contribution of the community’s women, although not always visible, it is them who enable the entire hospitality to take place. The women are the ones who clean and cook, they are the ones who weave carpets and prepare hospitality trays, bags and various ornaments, including home decorations that were and still are used for a wedding tent and ceremony, due to their mastery of the craft of weaving. They are the ones who, in practice, take care of the animals, own and manage the domestic space. Even during the spring, it is the women who manage the herd in the “Izbe”, milking and shepherding, making butter and cheese for their homes. The developing tourism and the revival of traditional crafts, is an opportunity for women’s employment within this traditional society, and they are very enthusiastic to develop this field which will bring with it a degree of autonomy and the ability to choose for themselves.

A ground loom for weaving traditional carpets in the village of Aricha (Photography: Daniel Bar)

Today there are hosting tents, guides and trips organized and marketed by residents. Various hospitality customs exist in the place, as well as pioneering cooperation with various parties from the region, which indicates that there is plenty of touristic potential in the place. The different families each specialize in different aspects of Bedouin life and their traditions, and thus visitors are directed to host families according to their interests. The population is very cohesive and unified compared to the rest of the Bedouin population in the Negev Mountains, and is considered “extreme” in maintaining a traditional Bedouin lifestyle. The tourist center created by the Wadi Aricha community over the years has become its main source of income. It allows it to continue preserving its unique lifestyle and form a host community according to the Bedouin tradition.

Source: Document from the Shepherds’ Shelters in the Negev Mountains by “Bimkom” NGO