This volume provides an in-depth study of tribal life in the Near East in the 19th century, exploring how tribes shaped society, economy and politics in the desert, as well as in villages and towns. Until the First World War Near Eastern society was tribally organized. Particularly in the Levant and the Arabian peninsula, where the Ottoman empire was weak, large and powerful tribes such as Anaze, Beni Sakhr and Shammar interacted and competed for control of the land, the people and the economy. The main sources for this study are travel accounts of 19th century adventurers and explorers. Their travels, on horseback, on camel or on foot opened a fascinating window on a world with an ideology that was fundamentally different from their own, often Victorian background. One chapter is dedicated to oral traditions in the region, from heroic epics to short poems, which lets the tribes and tribe members themselves speak, giving a voice to the tribal frame of mind. Evidence of tribal organization as a driving force in society can be found in documents and sometimes in the archaeological record from the Bronze Age onwards. While a straight comparison between ancient and subrecent tribal communities is fraught with difficulties and must be treated with caution, a better understanding of 19th century tribal ethics and customs provides useful insights into the history and the power relations of a more distant past. At the same time it may help us understand some of the underlying causes for the present conflicts afflicting the region.
Table of Contents
1. What is a Tribe? 2. Travellers in the Levant in the Nineteenth Century. 3. The Dynamics of Territorial and Power Structures. 4. Oral Traditions. 5. Tribal Society and its Relation to the Landscape. 6. Tribal Institutions. 7. Relations Between the Tribe and the State. 8. From Tribe to Tribal State: Three Case Studies. 9. Economy of Tribal Societies. 10. Ethnicicty and the Sense of Belonging. 11. Women in Tribal Societies. 12. Religion and Folklore. 13. Back in Time: Historical Parallels.
Eveline van der Steen is an archaeologist who has worked extensively in the Near East, in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel. She studied at Leiden and Groningen universities in the Netherlands, and is honorary research fellow at the University of Liverpool. Her publications include books and articles on the archaeology of the Bronze and Iron Ages in Jordan and Palestine, and on 19th century travellers in the Near East and their interactions with the local tribes.