Bedouin ethnobotany: Plant concepts and plant use in a desert pastoral world
AuthorMandaville, James Paul
AdvisorFish, Suzanne K.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractModern botanical folk classification theory developed from studies of small-scale agriculturists, secondarily of hunter-gatherers. This work explores the little-studied pastoral subsistence mode through an examination of plant classification and plant uses among nomadic, Najdi Arabic-speaking, camel-herding tribes of eastern Saudi Arabia based on data collected 1960-1975, before oil-related economic developments had significantly impacted rural life. Bedouins' use of wild plants is primarily for livestock grazing, secondarily for firewood, although 38 species are recognized as edibles, 30 as medicinals and 25 for other uses. The role of wild food plants for famine relief is ecologically limited. Bedouin folk classification generally fits Berlin's 1992 model but with some anomalous features. The basic life form split is between annuals and perennials rather than woody and herbaceous, reflecting highly perceptible plant adaptations in a hyper-arid habitat. This leads to two levels of life forms. Labeled intermediates include an important group based on camel nutritional needs and which can hardly be separated from the general purpose classification. Folk generics number 209, of which seven are unaffiliated to life form; 65 percent of 400 scientific species are labeled. Only three generics are polytypic. While the small number of generics reflects the limited species diversity of the environment, the minuscule degree of generic polytypy may be a general characteristic of the pastoral subsistence mode, which involves less plant manipulation even than among foragers. Data from North Africa show that Arabian plant names and concepts extend 5,500 kilometers to the west among Arabic-speaking tribes of the Sahara. A comparison of today's Bedouin plant terminology with that recorded from Bedouins in Arabic lexicographic works of the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. shows that little change has occurred over 1100 years. Bedouin life since about 1980 has seen increasing loss of schooled younger people to settled pursuits and the hiring of foreign help in herding. Camel herds are still large, but indigenous knowledge of plants is threatened despite growth in the numbers of Najdi Arabic speakers and the persistence of Bedouin lore in oral and written literature.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Arid Lands Resource Sciences