The Bedouin people (“desert dwellers” in Arabic) originated in the Arabian Peninsula and spread across North Africa and the Levant, moving from place to place in the harsh deserts of the region.
Historically, Bedouins staked their livelihoods on the herding of camels and goats, as well as the occasional raid or extraction of tribute from settlements.
As modern governments projected their power into previously ungovernable tracts of the desert, many Bedouins chose or were forced to abandon a purely nomadic lifestyle and transitioned to a semi-nomadic or sedentary urban way of life.
Today, even Bedouins who have settled into cities maintain distinctive cultural traditions, from poetry and dance to tenting and camel riding.
These photos from the end of the 19th century capture a range of Bedouins at a time of change.
Local people gained notoriety more recently when they joined the arab revolt forces under the leadership of king Faisal and fought along with Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab Revolt (1917/18) to fight the occupying Turkish and German armies. Lawrence himself makes many references to Wadi Rum in his book ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’, a title apparently inspired by one of Rum’s imposing mountains. The exploits of Lawrence have become part of local folklore, and some popular tourist sites are named after him, although whether he used these exact sites is open to debate.
Virtually all the people living in and around Wadi Rum today are of Bedouin origin and, until recently, led nomadic lives, relying on their goat herds. They are resourceful, hospitable people who are largely responsible for developing Wadi Rum as a tourist destination.
Recognizing the unique natural and cultural history of Wadi Rum and the vital importance of tourism to the local economy, the government of Jordan declared Wadi Rum a protected area in 1998. With support from the World Bank they commissioned the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, a national NGO, to prepare a conservation plan and build a team of local people to manage the area. This team is now under the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and is pioneering ways to restore and safeguard Rum’s sensitive desert habitats from ever-increasing human pressure.