A Culture of Desert Survival: Bedouin Proverbs from Sinai and the Negev

Clinton Bailey, Author Yale University Press $85 (512p) ISBN 978-0-300-09844-0
Gathered over 30 years by author Bailey (Bedoin Poetry), these one-line adages reflect the communal knowledge accumulated by Bedouins over centuries of nomadic living. From camel care to the art of hospitality, the proverbs were screened for their authenticity; Bailey omitted any that appear to come from non-Bedouin (i.e. sedentary Arabs) sources, including those whose logic goes contrary to desert life. The proverbs are translated by Bailey from the Arabic and are accompanied by illuminating explanations on their meaning, context and usage. He organizes the book into nine chapters, three of which, in a culture without ready access to such settled and permanent institutions as schools and courthouses, focus on laws and social strictures. The foreword by Yale historian Hallo links the proverbs and proverb usage back to Biblical times and even earlier to the Egyptians, the Hebrews, the Sumerians and other ancient desert cultures. He thus obliquely establishes the relevance of Bedouin culture to Western culture, since many Westerners still follow that desert book of knowledge, the Bible. The only drawbacks are the printing and grammatical errors that mar the introductory texts and the poorly reproduced photographs, which fail to add visual interest to the volume.
Reviewed on: 05/01/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
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