Social History of Serabit el-Khadim

Very few journals have touched upon the lives of the Bedouins of Serabit; men and women alike. The focus is usually on the amazing inscriptions found throughout the valleys, caves and mountains.
The effect of modernity on the lives of the Bedouins who are currently in contact with tourists from different parts of the world will change the internal dynamics of the community; in the case of Serabit, the head family of Sheikh Saleem has been dealing with tourists since almost the 1960s based on photographs found in his house. However, the family is still steeped in tradition and the women still cover their faces. Another important facet would be the problems they face; illiteracy, health issues, marriage age and family hierarchy.

Bedouins of Serabit

The People of Serabit

This history of South Sinai is concurrent with the composition of the current inhabitants of Serabit el-Khadim, who are mainly of the Ulaykat tribe with some members of the Muzzeina. The tale of how these two tribes come to reside in the area is a popular tale told by old and young alike. Hajj Radwan, Abu Muhammad, of the Muhammads, of the Muzzeina tribe recalls the tale with relish,"… The Ulaykat were fighting vicious wars with other tribes, (mainly) Al-Sawalhah and Beni Said, trespassing on their land. Muzzeina (Bedouins) were moving from below (probably Dahab and Nuweiba) looking for a place to settle. Al-Sawalhah tried to form a pact with the Muzzeina, but the latter refused and instead formed an alliance with the Ulaykat, which allowed the latter to win the raging war and become kin ever since.” Hajj Radwan's wife described the alliance in one sentence: “The two tribes agreed; the land is one and the daughter is one", thus intermarrying and settling down together. This is also the case with the Barakat Family, one of the wealthier families in Serabit el-Khadim. They currently own “Camp Barakat.”

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Concepts Explored

The Tribe

Making of the traditional (Lebbah) bread

The family of Sheikh Saleem Barakat, the family elder, has been living in this area for a long time; the exact number of years and where they originally came from still need to be investigated.
Sheikh Saleem is the second of seven siblings. His mother, Um Saleem, is the first wife of Hajj Barakat.

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Women at Serabit

a) Women’s Daily Routine

The day starts early for Bedouin women. They wake up at 5 or 6am at the latest and start tending to their households.Young and old work together, with the seniority of the older women clear in the way they direct the younger ones.
Cattle are let out of a make-shift barn to feed along with the available poultry, dishes are washed, houses swept and tea is always on the stove, available for any passing guest. It is interesting to note that cattle seem to follow the voices and directions of the women.

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Activities for children in Serabit

As Serabit is still quite a primitive area, children devise their own methods of recreation, mainly soccer and hide and seek. What is quite interesting is their playful chanting, which is in their own dialect and is quite hard to understand.