Of Mares and Bedouin Women

Kuwait, ID LLCE2016-287;        Arab Bedouin communities have long been a subject of analysis by Oriental scholars. There has been a great tendency to exoticize the Bedouin man, and particularly the Bedouin women. A custom often overlooked and misunderstood is the significance of the ideology of “asil” or “pure blood.” As a child, I grew up listening to my Bedouin grandfather and father discuss “asil” and its importance. It was as important to keep the family’s blood line “pure” as it was to maintain the horse’s, or mare’s, breeding. I plan on examining this idea throughout my paper. When Bedouin women occupy the same space as the mare, is this utter objectification of their bodies, or perhaps, is there a huge value placed on the woman? The mare’s significance has also been present in some works of literature. The Tent, by Miral al-Tahawy, presents us with a protagonist, Fatima, who loses her mare to a foreign Orientalist in exchange for her education. With the mare’s loss comes Fatima’s loss of self, identity, and eventual descent into madness. The mare is significant to Bedouin culture, and it is this contact with the colonizer that threatens the culture and the psyche. This paper will combine both cultural ideologies as well as a literary examination of the above mentioned work. It aims to present a new approach at looking at the significance of the mare in Bedouin culture and literature as well as the invasion of colonialism. Colonialism does not “save” Bedouin women, but rather steals the culture.

Keywords: Bedouin, literature, mares, cultural ideology, women

Conference Topic: Literature, Gender Studies, Postcolonial