Bedouins Forced from their Homes into Caves in Jordan

By Lujayn Al-HussayniCorrespondent

Being forced out of your home is heartbreaking, and for thousands of B’Doul people in Jordan, that is exactly what is happening.

A tribe of bedouins called the B’Doul live in caves in Petra, their ancient city. UNESCO began a mission to preserve Petra in the mid-1980s and turned it into a UNESCO heritage site, forcing the B’Doul to leave. The remaining B’Doul people who refused to accept UNESCO’s rules sought refuge in the caves.

While the caves’ harsh environment is too much for others to handle, it is home to the bedouins.“It is not an easy life, but they are happy, because this is the life that they like.” said Dalal Al-Dajani, who visited Petra. 

In 1980, King Hussein of Jordan visited Petra saying that the B’Doul had to leave the caves and live somewhere else. He proposed building the B’Doul houses and schools, with streets and concrete, and the B’Doul agreed. They started building the town Umm Sayhoun in 1986, but only half of it was finished. 

The people now living in it are only families, and no couples without children. “They did not give some families houses because they are too packed, like sardines” said Al-Dajani. People given houses moved to Umm Sayhoun. Those who were not, stayed in the caves.

Because they live in the middle of the desert there aren’t a lot of well paying jobs. Instead, they turn to tourism as there are many sites and ancient artifacts in Jordan that catch the attention of people. “They live off of tours and selling stuff.” said Al-Dajani. 

The previous Queen of Jordan, Noor Al-Hussein came to see the B’Douls with the government’s Chief of Protocol and asked them how they were living their lives. In response to her inquiry, one of the tribesmen said he was born there. “We were born and brought up here,” he said. 

Al-Hussein didn’t offer any help for the people and responded to the tribesmen with a bold statement. “So stay,” she said.

There are also environmental changes in Petra like erosion, drainage problems, and excessive tourism that are causing damage to the ancient city and changing its physical features.

The traditions of the B’Doul tribe have been passed down for thousands of years and they follow them to this day. One tradition is to marry inside the tribe. 

If men marry women outside the tribe, they might take their children. The last time someone married outside the tribe was 38 years ago when a man married a Dutch woman. 

Other times, they all just leave together. The ones that leave eventually come back but only for a few months and then they leave. “Western life is different from Arab life,” said one of the tribe members.

“There is only one Petra in the world. Home is dear to the heart. There’s no place like home.”

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