The map of the Sinai tribes above is based on several maps and some own research. It is displayed over a Google Earth image, and the clearly visible geographical features make it easier to redraw the boundaries of the tribal territories. However, they can never be totally accurate for different reasons. Read on to learn why and to see how a map evolves.
Available maps of the Sinai Bedouin tribes
One of the first maps of the Sinai Bedouin tribes is found in Antonin Jaussen’s 1908 book titled “Coutumes des Arabes au pays de Moab“. The map shows most of the Sinai Peninsula, plus the Negev, Palestine (Israel), the Moab region in Jordan and the Hejaz in Saudi Arabia, with some of the ethnic groups marked. In the southern part of the Sinai the population is named as “Arab et-Towarah”, which is actually a historic federation of seven tribes: in my spelling Tuwara, the tribes of el-Tur. Among other Sinai Bedouin groups the Haweitat, Tarabin (Terabin) and Tiyaha (Tiaha) are also marked. Note, the Tarabin tribe is only marked in the north, in the area around Nuweiba where today they also have a land the Ayada (Aiaideh), another North Sinai tribe, is shown. All in all, it’s not a very accurate map, but it gives a general overview of the distribution of the Bedouin tribes at the beginning of the 20th century.
A much more accurate and detailed map was published in the 1951 book of another Frenchman, J. Daumas, “La péninsule du Sinaï”. It is probably the first ever touring guide covering the region, supplemented with many very detailed maps. The map of the Bedouin tribes, based on the work of G. W. Murray, marks the territory of most Sinai Bedouin tribal groups, although there are some inaccuracies: for example one of the oldest South Sinai tribes, the Bani Wasil, is not marked. The territory of the Ulad Said (Aoulad Said) tribe is also not accurate, at least if we consider how it is laid out today – perhaps back in those days it was different. Otherwise the Ulad Said, Qararsha and Suwalha (Sawalha) were one tribe at one point, which, with the addition of the Awarma, is clearly marked on the map of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA). This map is definitely an updated version of Daumas’s work, although wasn’t everything corrected. According to these maps the Tarabin have a land in the North and around Nuweiba, but not around Ras Sudr – maybe it is a mistake, or perhaps they didn’t have a territory there back then.
A more recent map by Clinton Bailey, created in 1991, doesn’t outline exact tribal boundaries but gives a quite good picture of the distribution of the tribes. The territories of the Jabaleya (Jabaliyah) and Ulad Said (Awlad Said) tribes are not too clear, but you can see they are positioned as on the earlier maps. On the other hand the land of the Bani Wasil tribe around El Tur is marked, as well as some other tribes, and on this map the Tarabin have a land around Ras Sudr which is as today. Bailey’s 2004 book, “A Culture of Desert Survival: Bedouin Proverbs from Sinai and the Negev“, is a wonderful account of Bedouin culture and gives a good overview of the history of the Bedouin tribes in the Sinai Peninsula, as explained on Wilderness Ventures Egypt‘s site.
In an academic work of a different type, Rudolf de Jong presents one of the most accurate maps of the Arab tribes in the Sinai. It was created in 2009 and is based on Clinton Bailey’s map, but it more clearly marks the Bedouin tribal territories. The map is published in a 2011 linguistic book titled “A Grammar of the Bedouin Dialects of Central and Southern Sinai“. Clearly de Jong’s map was used in the 2012 report “Sinai: A New Front” by Ehud Yaari, with some modifications shown over a geographical map. However, in these works too the Jabaleya, Ulad Said and Muzeina territories are not marked as you find them today. The land of the Ulad Said tribe extends further to the south: the boundary is more or less along the line from Nabi Salah and the Blue Desert, through Nasb and Wadi Rahaba to Wadi Islah and then El Tur. It encircles St Catherine and the Jabaleya (Gebelieh) territory from the south, as well as from the northwest (Wadi Hebran, Wasi Islaf). The area to the northeast of St Catherine is a mixed land, as shown on Yaari’s map, although apart from the Jabaleya and Ulad Said the Muzeina are also present. Otherwise it is fairly easy to define the Jabaleya land, as it largely corresponds to the circular dyke around St Catherine. You have to keep in mind, though, that tribal territories cannot be displayed absolute accurately, as borders are disputed and change over history, territories overlap, little pockets of land can be found on other’s territory. Even what you call a tribe can be subjective: according to some accounts more than 70 tribes exist in the Sinai, but that’s probably with counting the many divisions (clans) within tribes. The Bedouin, from any group, often claim that land outside their current territory is used to be theirs, but nevertheless the agreed present tribal boundaries – remembered by wadi, well, tree and so – are respected.
—- UPDATE 15/05/2017 —-
Recently I found a map published in the Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris (Année 1979, Volume 6, Numéro 4, pp. 363-372):
On this map the distribution of the Jabaleya, Ulad Said and Muzeina territories is more accurate, but I disagree a little. First, the whole coastal plain of el-Qaa – with the exception of a corridor – is marked as “uninhabited region”, which is true, but it is still claimed by the Bedouin tribes. The corridor is Wadi Hebran, and correctly it is marked as part of the Ulad Said territory. However, further south, extending the line of the tribe’s eastern border and stretching to el-Tur, Wadi Isla is also Ulad Said land. They also mark two areas as the territory of the Cheweitat – a French spelling for Haweitat -, but that tribe has land much further north and is not part of the southern tribal confederation. I can’t comment on the territory of the Ben Wassal (Bani Wasil), but on other maps it is put a little further north and on the coast. On the other hand I believe the Muzeina land – at least historically – stretched in that far to the west as shown, and perhaps this is how it is even today. I know that north of Tarfa and Wadi Feiran there are many Muzeina settlements and seasonal camping sites (Wadi Ahdar erea), and that even in Serabit el Khadim there are Muzeina families, but as far as I know the Aliqat tribe claims the Forest of Pillars and the sandy area below Jebel el-Tih, known as el-Ramla. The line of the “Border between North & South Sinai” is quite accurate, but today the Muzeina have the Guna plateau (grazing, tours), and the line is a bit further north following Wadi Zalaqa for a while before turning off to the southern part of Nuweiba. The Tarabin always point out though that Jebel Guna is really their land.
So we can see no map of the Bedouin tribes can be absolutely accurate, as the boundaries of the tribal territories have been changing constatntly and are remembered differently.