Saturday, February 22, 2014

RASHAIDA PEOPLE: THE ANCIENT BEDOUIN ARABS OF AFRICA AND ERITREA`S ONLY REMAINING NOMADIC ETHNIC GROUP

Rashaida people are nomadic Arabic-speaking people of Bedouin Arab ethnicity living predominantly in the scattered areas in western and northern Eritrea, with some smaller groups also dwelling in parts of Egypt, bordering the Sinai desert and Eastern Sudan.

              Rashaida people of Massawa, Erirea dancing at their wedding festivities

According Kjetil Tronvoll (1996)  the name "Rashaida" means "refugee". These people are believed to be  Bedouin Arabs who migrated from Saudi Arabia in the mid to late 1800’s and are the last established ethnic group to have settled in Eritrea.

                           Rashaida people

Currently, they are the only true nomadic people left in Eritrea and nd take pride in their ability to keep up with their livestock. Rashaida people make up five percent of the population of Eritrea of about 3.75 million people. In Sudan, they number around 68,000, and live mostly in the northeast part of the country on the outskirts of the city of Kassala, one of the most frequently visited spots in Sudan.

                              Veiled Rashaida women
Rashaida people who are mostly Sunni Muslims do not have a permanent residence and settled life are the most favored ethnic group according to the Eritrean political structure. Their youth are exempted from any forced conscription and members are free of any national duties. In recent times, they have moved higher up in the governmental and political structures, acting as de facto administrators of the western borders of Eritrea and Eastern Sudan.
Rashaida family, Eritrea

The women are known for their elaborate (typically) black and red burqas/coverups. The men are known for their elaborate sword dances at ceremonies and gatherings.
Rashaida people

Language
Rashaida people speak Arabic language, although some of them can speak impeccable Tigre language.

                                       Rashaida woman preparing food
History
The Rashaida are closely related to the Saudi Arabia Bedouin, who migrated to Sudan from the Arabian Peninsula in 1846. (2007, Amal Hassan Fadlalla, p.44). The cause of their migration was due to ethnic warfare and starvation that broke out in Saudi Arabia (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). After coming to settle in the desert along the coastline of the Red Sea, their homeland now extends from Massawa, Eritrea, to Port Sudan, Sudan.

During the Italian period in Eritrea, it was largely uneventful for the Rashaida as the areas normally inhabited by them were extremely harsh and at considerable distance from active reach of the state (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). The combination of animal-herding, occasional agriculture, and trade allowed the Rashaida to attain considerable prosperity, consisting mainly of large animal herds and gold stores (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). However, during the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea (1950-1991), much of this wealth was destroyed. The Rashaida were a favorite target of the Ethiopian army because of their prosperity (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177).

Their nomadic lifestyle also attracted the suspicion of the Ethiopian army, which punished them repeatedly for supporting the Eritrean liberation fronts (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). Consequently, the Rashaida entered the post independence period greatly improverished (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177).
Since Eritrea won its independence in 1991, the Eritrean government has been asking the Rashaida to transform themselves into settled agriculturalist.

                                     Rashaida people dancing
Economy
The Rashaida who are a nomadic people live in tents made of goatskins. They are herdsmen, breeding primarily goats and sheep. Since they are largely illiterate, they memorize in great detail the pedigree of their animals, keeping mental records of their herds over seven or eight preceding generations of the flock, although they usually only emphasize the female lines.
Besides herding, the Rashaida also gain income through jewelry making. It is the veiled Rashaida women who craft much of the silver jewelry sold in the Kassala "souq", or market, which is said to be one of the best in Sudan. Along with the jewelry, the Kassala souq supposedly markets some of the best and juiciest fruits Sudan has to offer.

 Eric Lafforgue - Rashaida Tribe Women Selling Clothes, Kassala, Sudan

Kassala in Sudan, with a population of 150,000, is a popular spot for tourists and Sudanese honeymooners, for it offers cooler temperatures than the rest of Sudan, along with beautiful mountains and tens of thousands of trees.
The men are excellent traders, using their camels and Toyota pickup trucks to distribute goods imported from Middle Eastern countries—a lucrative endeavor. A portion of their wealth resulted from renting their camels to freedom fighters during Eritrea’s 30-year war of independence.
RASHAIDA GIRL

Socio-cultural behavior and traditions
The Rashaida live in isolated communities, preferring not to live with people of other tribes. However, occasionally Rashaida can be found living in Tigre villages or Rashaida men will marry Tigre women.
Rashaida women are famous for their black-and-red geometrically patterened dresses, and their burkas (long, heavy veils) elaborately embroidered with silver thread, beads and sometimes seed perals (2006, Matt Phillips, P.302). 
                  Rashaida woman by johangerrits

Once a Rashaida girl reaches the age of 5, she is required to wear a veil that covers most of her face, with the exception of her eyes (Jane Perlez, New York Times). Since the sexes do not mix freely in Rashaida culture, young men and women have few chances to meet of their own accord. As a result, marriages are usually arranged by familes (2002, Carol Beckwith, P.142).
Image
Rashaida girl from Eritrea

 However, if a Rashadian girl is ready to marry, she will at times approache the man she wants and flirtatiously lift her veil so that he can see her chin. If he accepts her offer he must find 100 camels for her bride price (2007, Patricia Levy, 64).
Image
Rashaida people

Religious Belief
The Rashaida are primarily Muslim, and very few Christians are known to exist among the group.   Islam is at the core of Rashaida culture. Due to their mobile lifestyle, a family prayer house is central to their worship. Until recently, no known Christians were numbered among them. However, the situation changed as hundreds of Rashaida youth were drafted into the Eritrean army during the 1998-2000 Eritrea/Ethiopia border war.

           
Rashaida woman and kid





Rashaida bride

Rashaida Bride & Groom.



Africa | Rashaida woman. Eritrea. | Photographer unknown
Married Rashaida woman. Veiled from the age of 5, Rashaida women from Eritrea are required to cover their faces when they are in public. When they eat, they pass food beneath the mask, and when thhey sleep they must still remain lightly covered. The mask is removed only when they are alone with their husbands. The Rashaida believe that showing a smile would be disrespectful to the Prophet Mohammed.


Africa | Girls from the Rashaida tribe, at a village near Massawa in Eritrea | © John Honeywell

Rashaida bride with a veil

Africa | Rashaida woman, Eritrea | via yehdego photostream on Flickr








Africa | Rashaida woman | ©Cathy Chalvignac

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