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  • Ahmed Saleh

"Bayt al-sha'ar" or Bedouin tent, a symbol of Arabic heritage

Sakaka, January 28, 2024, In the expansive desert landscape, the Bedouin tent, locally known as "Bayt al-sha'ar" or the house of hair, stands as a remarkable symbol of Arabic heritage. Even today, these nomadic abodes continue to grace the courtyards of many houses in Saudi Arabia, serving as sanctuaries for those seeking kinship and connection, and becoming a favored choice for outdoor activities and social gatherings.

Um Najeh, a specialist in weaving and maintaining Bedouin tents at the King Abdulaziz Women's Society for Social Development in Al-Jouf Region, notes a recent surge in demand for these traditional dwellings, particularly during the winter season. Prices vary depending on factors such as the type of material used for the interior and exterior, as well as additional furnishings, fireplaces, and accessories.

Woven from domesticated goat and sheep hair, using the Al Sadu weaving technique—inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020—the house of hair serves as a protective shield against the harsh elements of the desert, including cold, rain, sandstorms, and the scorching sun.

Um Najeh highlights the diversity in the forms that Bedouin tents can take. Some are closed on four sides, while others have one or more sides open to welcome gentle breezes. The roofs, either triangular or square, are supported by sturdy wooden poles, with wooden or iron pegs anchoring the tents firmly to the earth.

The crafting of these tents is a skill passed down through generations of Bedouin women. They adeptly transform raw materials from their surroundings using traditional tools, including a spindle for spinning hair into thread, a stick for cleaning fibers, a large-sized sewing needle for stitching fabric, and tightly pulled ropes to secure the tent.

Whether supported by a single pole or multiple, each Bedouin tent carries the rich heritage of the desert's dwellers and reflects their timeless bond with the environment that has shaped their way of life for generations.

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