American Univesity of Beirut

Preserving the Bedouin culture: a project, exhibition, and cultural center

​​​​​​​​​Sally Abou Melhem, ​Office of Communications, communications@aub.edu.lb​​

Cultural Corridors of Peace is an 18-month project that aims to support the Bedouin communities in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley to document, archive, and safeguard their living memory and intangible cultural heritage. Part of this project was the free exhibition “Arab Bedouin: No Future without Past” that was held in London on January 15, 2020 for ten days. Some members of the Bedouin communities participating in the project were present at this exhibition.

“What Lebanon needs in its current turmoil is to build social solidarity for the preservation of what is dearest to the human soul: culture, heritage, and a dignified livelihood. This is what this project intends to provide,” said Professor Rami Zurayk​, one of the partners of the Cultural Corridors of Peace project, and chairperson of the Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management (LDEM) at AUB’s Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS).

The project
The purpose of this project is to help these communities tackle prejudices and discrimination against them, and to raise awareness of their socio-cultural identity and the ecological and economic value of their traditional practices and their cultural heritage which are threatened by current socio-economic circumstances and restrictions of movement across the Syro-Lebanese border. The project is also expected to ensure that the Bedouin community of the Beqaa have the means to stay connected with other Bedouin communities living in various parts of the Middle East, such as Jordan and Palestine.

The project is led by the Institute for Heritage and Sustainable Human Development (part of York Archaeological Trust), in collaboration with LDEM at AUB, and funded by the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, in partnership with the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. The exhibition was curated by Aphrodite Sorotou, Stamos Abatis, Nikitas Gryspos, Hamra Abou Eid, and Nour El Houda Amhez.

A Bedouin statement
“A question always comes to my mind: what is the purpose of digging into the past and documenting it especially that we are in a period that we look forward to the future and to rise to the top?,” said Hamra Abou Eid, one of the members of the Bedouin community active in the project. “I say that a person that has no past has no future, what if the past that he has is ancient and honorable? Some people look at life as it is trivial and simple, but the opposite is true.”

She then describes a Bedouin person, as “full of wide knowledge related to the nature, the stars, medical treatment, and poetry.” She describes the influence that the way of life and environment has on this person. “The harshness of life gave him the power of endurance, and the braveness to defend himself. He learnt generosity from the level of hunger he sometimes felt in the desert as the desert also taught him promptitude and wide imagination. He learnt the directions and the mental clarity from sky and the stars. From the fear, he learnt protection, from self-pride he learnt equestrianism, and from his kind morals he learnt to love sincerely. The Bedouin, in his nature, is free.”

Moving forward: a Bedouin cultural center
A new phase of the project, to build a cultural center, run by the community itself, has been proposed and is currently being taken into consideration for funding.

In her letter endorsing the project, Abou Eid mentions that she asked Aphrodite Sorotou, project director of Cultural Corridors of Peace, after consulting the elders in the village of Haoush al-Arab, to build a center for teaching good customs and traditions, and trying to establish them in the minds of the new generation, while at the same time, keeping them away from the bad traditions such as murder and revenge. The center also aims to teach the Bedouin dialect that is no longer spoken, the traditional dress, the healthy traditional diet and preserved food (mouneh), handicrafts that express the Bedouin heritage, and literacy.

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