From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, large numbers of Arab pastoral nomads, known as Bedouin (from the Arabic badawin, ‘desert dwellers’), moved gradually out of Arabia and into northern Africa. Migration from the deserts of Arabia was nothing new (see Chapter 5). These were highly mobile communities, living in tented dwellings made from camel skin that they could easily dismantle and re-erect (Figure 13.1). They were frequently on the move as they herded their camels and goats from one source of pasture and water to the next. In general, they travelled in small, family-based clans and there was little overarching unity among them. At times, they disrupted settled agricultural communities, but they were probably blamed for more chaos and disturbance than they actually caused. Although Muslim, they were generally nonliterate. This may partly account for the prejudice felt towards them by literate Arab scholars who accused them of widespread rural destruction in the Maghrib. Nevertheless, they spread the Islamic faith and the Arabic language and culture.
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