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Tribes

The migrations of the Bedouins are not arbitrary, aimless wanderings in the wilderness: well defined landmarks limit them.


"Tribes related by blood ties may frequently use the same districts together at certain seasons of the year. One tribe may conclude a treaty with strangers, permitting the latter to use its pastures and watering places for a specified period. Or else a powerful tribe, like the Ruala, may invade an enemy's territory without warning. In this case constant bickering, raiding, and skirmishing is the inevitable result.

A great northward shift of the Shammar and 'Aneze nomads took place during the first part of the seventeenth century, and the existing apportionment of the tribal areas was at that time roughly established. The boundaries which the various tribes now claim as their own and which are marked by water holes, variations in the desert surface (as between lava rock, gravel, red sand, etc.), dry watercourses, solitary hills, mountain ranges, cultivated tracts, and the like, have been definitely fixed since the beginning of the [19th] century…

"Since very early times three great natural features have borne a close relation to the territorial subdivision of the major nomadic nations of northern and central Arabia. The first is a well defined depression that cuts across the entire peninsula from the Red Sea at Al-Wejh to Basra and is marked by the irregular lines of Wadi Humdh to the west and of Wadi Ruma' and its continuation, Al-Baten, to the east. The watershed between these two systems of wadies lies east of Khaybar in Jebel Abyadh. The ancient Bedouin tribes occupying areas north of this depression are now represented also in Syria and Mesopotamia, but those with pastures south of the depression appear to have remained in central Arabia.

"The second great natural feature is the Nafud sand desert and its principal outliers, Al-Labbe and Ad Dhana. The sands of the last reach south across Wadi Ruma' and, extending between Hufhuf and Riyadh, finally connect with the boundless southern sands of the "Empty Quarter." These nafuds have always constituted natural limits for the migrating nomads and their herds. During winter and spring they are healthful country: out of the sands, moistened by the rains, springs up a fragrant pasture growth, and the bushes sprout forth life-giving leaves and flowers; but at other seasons all is a desolate waste. On rare occasions the nomad nations whose normal ranges lie far north in Syria return to this cradle of their race. The northern group of the Weld 'Ali, for instance, in certain winters wander with their powerful allies, the Ruala, southward to the neighborhood of Teyma', returning north again after their mares and camels have foaled.

"The third great natural feature is the chain of hills (Ar-Rawaq, Abu Rijmen, and Jebel Bishri) which stretches in an almost straight line from Damascus to Deyr az-Zor on the Euphrates. Sheep-breeding Bedouins are found north of these hills, camel breeders to the south. The sheep breeders occupy a steppe-like rolling country, rich in pasture which lasts into the beginning of summer. Settled areas are nowhere far distant to east and west, and the tribes occupying these steppes will undoubtedly be the first to establish permanent settlements... The Bedouins with the largest pasture circles (those bordering on the Nafud) will probably survive longest as true nomads. These are the great camel breeders, the Ruala and some of the Shammar, who hold the vast tracts of Al-Hamad and Al-Wudiyan between the Nafud and the northern line of hills."

— Carl Raswan


The following migratory, horse-breeding tribes of Bedouin provided ancestors of Al Khamsa Arabians: al-'Ajman, the Anazah Confederation (al-'Amarat, al-Fid'an, al-Ruwallah, al-Saba'ah, Wuld 'Ali and Wuld Sulayman), al-'Atayban, Banu Hajar, Banu Khalid, Banu Sakhr, al-Dhafir, al-Dawasir, Harb, al-Muntafiq, Mutayr, Qahtan and the Shammar.

Tribal Boundaries, c1875–c1920s

TribalMap_thThe essence of Bedouin culture historically was the nomadic lifestyle. The balance of power between tribes provided the impetus for tribal boundaries to change over time, depending on the most desirable grazing and political alliances. This tribal map, based on the work of Carl Raswan, represents the time span during which most Al Khamsa Foundation Horses left the tribes for Western ownership. Today, the tribes are settled and not always within their traditional areas.

For example, the Saba'ah are now in Saudi Arabia, settled in al-Hasa province and in the extreme northern area, just south of Iraq and west of Kuwait. The 'Amarat are also in the north of Saudi Arabia, as are most of the Fid'an. The rest of the Fid'an have remained in Syria. About half of the Shammar of Najd joined their brothers in Syria after the defeat of their leader Ibn Rashid by Ibn Saud in 1922. The Dhafir moved to northern Saudi Arabia after a disagreement with the Iraqi government starting in the 1920s.

Some of Harb moved to the extreme north of Syria and to the north of Iraq after the Ikhwan rebellion of 1931, of which they were a major part, and some of the Mutayr went to Kuwait for the same reason. Very few of the Ruwallah are left in Syria; most are in eastern Jordan and in northern Saudi Arabia. Both the Wuld Sulayman and Wuld Ali are split between Syria and Saudi Arabia.

~ Raswan, Carl: "Tribal Areas and Migration Lines of the North Arabian Bedouins," published in Geographical Review, Vol. 20, July 1930, pp 494-502.