The Ammarin Of Wadi Araba & Beidah

The first time I met an Ammarin was in the desert near Wadi Al-Feenan. He was the sheikh (tribal elder, or leader) Salem Saleem Ali Sa'ad, known as Abou Nasser. At sixty six years of age, Abou Nasser was considered one of the most reliable authorities on Ammarin history. In his account of his people, transmitted to him by his forefathers, fact and fiction are inseparably intertwined; but no matter. The importance is not the historic accuracy of the narrative, but in what it reveals of how these people think, and how they view themselves and the world around them.

The Ammarin are derived from the tribe of Bani Atiyeh, a large tribe with branches in the Hijaz (in Saudi Arabia), Jordan, and Egypt. The Ammarin tribe consists of five branches: Eyal Awwad, Al-Shousheh, Eyal Hameed al-Gmour, al-Hasaseen, and al-Bakhaiseh.

The Ammarin claim descent from two brothers of Bani Atiteh, called Atiyeh and Nasser. The former of these two stayed in Hijaz while the latter came to Rakhm, in southern Palestine. From that deereh they travelled Gaza where they traded with a merchant called Abou Khadra, who sold to them on credit. In due course, their debts to him grew to the point where he asked for repayment, which they could not provide. He took seventy five of their horses, which were not sufficient to cover the total value of the debt, but they were a major loss for the tribe. Enraged, they burned his books of accounts by way of revenge. But Abou Khadra was a man of parts. He gathered his men and attacked the Ammarin. The battle developed into a major massacre of the tribe, after which they moved east, across to Wadi Araba into Jordan.

At some point in the early nineteenth century, Awwad, an ancestor of today's Ammarin of the Eyal Awwad, bought land in Beidah, close to Petra, for the price of ten goats and a gun. His estate, which was a plateau in the mountains, came to be known as Farsh Eyal Awwad (roughly, the estate of the sons of Awwad). Slowly, his cousins and their families joined him. As the tribe grew, competition, and later conflict, developed between them, and the neighbouring tribes, al Rafai'ah and al Saudiyin. After a bloody battle which the Ammarin won, the Saudiyin fled to Buseira (near Tafileh in southern Jordan), while the Rafai'ah were expelled to Khirbet al Rafai'ah, also near Tafileh.

Somewhere along their history, the Ammarin also controlled Petra, particularly the parts around the monastery (al Deir), Aaron's tomb and Qasr el Bint, but they were forcibly evicted from this land by the other competing bedouins, who were supported by the Turks.

The event took place in 1756. The Ottoman authorities used to give an annual stipend to the Bedouin tribes that controlled the routes of the pilgrims' caravans to Mecca.In return, the Bedouins refrained from raiding the caravans, and instead offered them protection and the use of their wells. In 1754, the Ottoman Governor, Ali Pasha refused to pay this annuity, so the Bedouins refused to let any caravans pass through. Ali Pasha then agreed to pay, and invited 25 of the rebellious sheikhs to a meeting in Ma'an to discuss arrangements for the following year. But this was a trap, for as soon as the Bedouins were gathered, he had them decapitated and sent their heads to Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Ghadban (meaning irate) and Jureibe'e ( meaning little gerbil) were among the Bedouins representing the Amarins.

Three years later, the Bedouins had their revenge. They attacked a Turkish caravan and killed all the soldiers, except those who escaped only to die of thirst in the desert. The Ammarin's casualties consisted of one man who was shot in the leg, as a result of which he developed a limp. The loot which the Bedouins gathered that day was sold for considerable profit in Acre, and the story is passed down from generation to generation in an epic poem about the Ammarin's valour.

Another evil for which the Ottomans are blamed is the loss of Ammarin land. Towards the end of the Empire, one of the administrative reforms introduced was to register property. In due course, a land tax was imposed, which rose in proportion to the size of the estate. The Ammarin, conscious of the tax but unaware of the significance of the register, sought to escape taxation by claiming less land than they owned in reality. The rest of the land was then registered as state land. When the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was created, the government inherited the records of the Ottoman administration, which allocated to the Ammarin only a small portion of their deereh. But the Jordanian authorities are more indulgent than their predecessors. They allow the Ammarin to graze their herds on this disputed land.

Eyal Awwad, The Fuqara branche

The branch of Eyal Awwad have another claim to fame, that of having supernatural abilities. According to tradition, when an Ammarin infant reaches the age of twenty days, he is taken to Beir Mathkour at Wadi Araba to visit the graves of his virtuous ancestors, and gain their blessing. 

In the ensuing ceremony, also observed by other tribes, animal sacrifices are made at these graves, and firearms are discharged in celebration, gifts of beads are presented to honour the ancestors and specially Awwad. Awwad ''The big renowned shaman, holy man and Judge.''

Howeemel and Eshtaian of Eyal Awwad they passed away in 1999.

(Below) Kadra ''meaning Green'', Howeemel and Eshtaian sister (Died, March 2000)

In 1993, I came across a woman and her daughter, who claimed to be Ammarin, although their features were different from the rest of the tribe's, and all other Bedouins for that matter. They had African rather than Semitic features. I asked Abou Nasser about her, and he told me the following story:

Many years ago, an ancestor of this woman was bought as a slave by the Abou Shousheh branch of the Ammarin. He was very strong, and of great help to the tribe, But a severe famine struck, which forced the tribe to sell their slave in Egypt where he would fetch a good price, in order to buy food. They explained the circumstances apologetically to him, and arranged that, after the sale and the purchase of food, he should escape from his new masters and meet them at a prearranged place so they could travel back to their deereh.

When they reached their meeting place, the slave was not there. Some members of the tribe suggested that the loss of the slave was a worthy sacrifice, since it would save the tribe from hunger, and that they ought to travel back without him. Others argued that they should go back to Egypt, return the goods and claim their slave back. In the end, the latter group won the day, and the Ammarin made ready for the trip back to Egypt. But the slave had escaped, in fact, and was hiding nearby to see how the Ammarin would react to his absence.

When he heard how attached to him they had become, he appeared before them. They were so grateful to him for saving the tribe from the famine that they made a promise to him: ever since that day, whenever a member of the tribe married, he would give a four-year old goat, estimated at forty Dinars (US $60) in value, as a gift to the slave, now to his descendants. Whenever an outsider married an Ammarin girl, he would give a four-year old camel, worth eighty Dinars as a gift to the descendants of the slave. Whether the story is true or not, the tradition of the gifts lives on.

*Written by Rami Sajdi, Copyright © Rami Sajdi All Rights Reserved