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Your Hosts: the Ammarin Tribe

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Imagine centuries of nomadic life throughout Egypt and Middle Esat.
Imagine one of the most antique area of humankind history, which has been declared a protected area indeed (Beidha Reserve), where “as late as 1929 caravans of 300 camels could be seen “.
For almost a century, this area has been home to the Bedouin Ammarins – traditionally camel and goat herders.
It’s in this part of Jordan, near Petra, that the Ammarins still live and our camp is housed.
With a long tradition of providing services to passing caravans, the Ammarins run the camp as a place to be protected for its uniqueness and as a major source of income to the local Bedouin community.
All the Ammarin employees are at your disposal to give you the best service and help throughout your stay. Their ever present “Welcome”, personal charm, warm smiles, patience and caring attitude, all contribute to make your stay unforgettable.

The Ammarin history

The Ammarin are derived from the tribe of Bani Atiyeh, a large tribe with branches in the Hijaz (in Saudi Arabia), Jordan, and Egypt. The Ammarin tribe consists of five branches: Eyal Awwad, al-Shousheh, Eyal Hameed, al-Gmour, al-Hasaseen, and al-Bakhaiteh. Eyal Awwad the Ammarin Fuqara, the branch of Eyal Awwad. The Ammarin claim descent from two brothers of Bani Atiteh, called Atiyeh and Nasser. The former of these two stayed in Hijaz while the latter came to Rakhm, in southern Palestine. From that deereh they traveled to Gaza where they traded with a merchant called Abou Khadra, who sold to them on credit. In due course, their debts to him grew to the point where he asked for repayment, which they could not provide. He took seventy-five of their horses, which were not sufficient to cover the total value of the debt, but they were a major loss for the tribe. Enraged, they burned his books of accounts by way of revenge. But Abou Khadra was a man of parts. He gathered his men and attacked the Ammarin. The battle developed into a major massacre of the tribe, after which they moved east, across to Wadi Araba into Jordan. At some point in the early nineteenth century, Awwad, an ancestor of today’s Ammarin, bought land in Beidha, close to Petra, for the price of ten goats and a gun. His estate, which was a plateau in the mountains, came to be known as Farsh Eyal Awwad (roughly, the estate of the sons of Awwad). Slowly, his cousins and their families joined him. As the tribe grew, competition, and later conflict, developed between them, and the neighboring tribes, al Rafai’ah and al Saeediyeen. After a bloody battle, which the Ammarin won, the Saeediyee fled to Buseira (near Tafileh in southern Jordan), while the Rafai’ah were expelled to Khirbet al Rafai’ah, also near Tafileh.

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The Story of the Ammarin Slave

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Many years ago, an ancestor of this woman was bought as a slave by the Abou Shousheh branch of the Ammarin. He was very strong, and of great help to the tribe, But a severe famine struck, which forced the tribe to sell their slave in Egypt where he would fetch a good price, in order to buy food. They explained the circumstances apologetically to him, and arranged that, after the sale and the purchase of food, he should escape from his new masters and meet them at a prearranged place so they could travel back to their deereh.

When they reached their meeting place, the slave was not there. Some members of the tribe suggested that the loss of the slave was a worthy sacrifice, since it would save the tribe from hunger, and that they ought to travel back without him. Others argued that they should go back to Egypt, return the goods and claim their slave back. In the end, the latter group won the day, and the Ammarin made ready for the trip back to Egypt. But the slave had escaped, in fact, and was hiding nearby to see how the Ammarin would react to his absence.

When he heard how attached to him they had become, he appeared before them. They were so grateful to him for saving the tribe from the famine that they made a promise to him: ever since that day, whenever a member of the tribe married, he would give a four-year old goat, estimated at forty Dinars (US $60) in value, as a gift to the slave, now to his descendants. Whenever an outsider married an Ammarin girl, he would give a four-year old camel, worth eighty Dinars as a gift to the descendants of the slave. Whether the story is true or not, the tradition of the gifts lives on.


The Fuqara (Shamans) of the Ammarin

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The branch of Eyal Awwad have another claim to fame, that of having supernatural abilities. According to tradition, when an Ammarin infant reaches the age of twenty days, he is taken to Beir Mathkour at Wadi Araba to visit the graves of his virtuous ancestors, and gain their blessing. In the ensuing ceremony, also observed by other tribes, animal sacrifices are made at these graves, gifts of beads are presented to honour the ancestors, and firearms are discharged in celebration.

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Sheik Suleiman "Iben Hassan" Ammarin

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Sheikh Suleiman is the president of two of the Ammarins corporate.  The Beidha Tourism Corporate and Wadi Araba Agriculture Corporate.  Sheikh Suleiman - Abu Atef - is from the Hassaseen branch of the Ammarins.  A very well respected Ammarin man and appointed by the Hashemite Royal Court as the Head of the Tribe 'Sheikh'.  His pure determination and perseverance as a Bedouin has resulted in many achievements for the Ammarins in Wadi Araba and Beidha.  His natural vision has created agricultural projects in Wadi Araba that are one of the most strategic in Jordanian agriculture.  And his natural instinct as a survival is behind the idea of the Ammarin Bedouin Camp in Beidha.  Abu Atef spends his days and nights in serving the Ammarins on all levels to develop them and improve their standards of living but emphasizing on their preservation of culture and heritage.  He is known to be a wise man and he is consulted in many tribal disputes "Hag".  His leadership style has improved the Ammarin tribe and continues to develop in the areas of agriculture and sustainable tourism in the eyes of many experts. 
Sheikh Suleiman lives in Wadi Araba but travels all the time to accomplish his mission as a leader of the Ammarins.


The Story Of Torfa Bint Sabbah Al Ammarin

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When I began my photographic journey in 1992, one of my dreams was to meet the fabled camel herders, reputed to graze herds of over 100 camels. After months of fruitless search, I was told that they had moved to Wadi Araba. I hired a Bedouin guide and went in search of the great camel herds, but in vain. On the way back, the guide mentioned that an aunt of his was taking care of her new-born goats in the nearby mountains and asked if we could stop to see her. Since I had nothing else to occupy my time, we drove to the foot of the mountains, from where we had to scale its steep side in order to reach the side entrance of the cave.

It was here that I met Torfa, a proud Ammarin woman. Her cave was unique in that it was divided into three compartments: one for the goats, another which served as a kitchen, and the third which served as a living area. Despite the presence of the animals, the floor of the cave was remarkably clean, and Torfa had even contrived a form of terrace in front of the cave. When asked why she lived so far away, Torfa admitted she liked living alone, away from people, because they talk too much. What she needed in terms of food and supplies, her son brought to her during his weekly visits.

The following year I searched for Torfa. I found the cave, but not the occupant, who was back with the tribe at that time of year. I learned later that she stays in the caves only in the winter months (January through March), when it was warm in the caves and cold outside. In summer, there is less vegetation on the mountain and so she travels to Heesheh, located east of Petra, where she lives in her tent.

On this particular trip, I met instead Hamda, an older Ammarin woman whom I immediately recognised from my visit in 1992. To prove to her that I knew her, I reminded her of how she was saved by other Bedouins from the flood in 1992. Only then she did accept me as a friend and allow me to take photographs of her.

The following June, I searched again for Torfa and found her at Heesheh. Although it had only been a year and a half since I had seen her, the harsh desert had aged her beyond her years. It was shocking how much tired and old she looked. Because of the sun, her skin was much darker and her body, hunched with age. I could only stay one night in her hospitality, since she was moving to find a better grazing area the following day.

It was not till 1996 that I finally succeeded in solving the enigma of Torfa. Visiting her cave in March, I found her herding her goats a usual; but this time she acknowledged me as a friend and told me her story.

Her full name is Torfa bint Saleh, daughter of Saleh and granddaughter of Abdullah. She was born in Heesheh, along with the rest of the family. She is not sure how old she is, perhaps around 70 years. She has given birth to 8 children, of whom four died (2 boys and 2 girls) and the other four (3 daughters and one boy) survived. All have since moved away except for one of her daughters, who helps her herd her livestock.

Torfa was married a long time ago to a soldier. For Bedouins at that time, the military meant the good life, since it provided money, clothes, food and privileges like heath insurance for the family. After he finished his term of service he enrolled in the PLO. One day after the war of 1967, he crossed wadi Araba on a mission, but a land mine went off under his foot, destroying his leg. He was captured by the Israelis, given medical treatment (a prosthetic leg) and then imprisoned for five years. Upon his release, he returned to Torfa for one year before he died.

Today, Torfa continues to herd her goats and sheep, some of which she tends for her brothers and sisters who live in the city. She carries water to the cave from the valley below on her donkey, and depends on her brother for a weekly subsidy. She is getting old, though, and the climb to her cave is becoming increasingly difficult. With her usual dignity, mingled with some sadness, she says that this year or the next will probably be her last visit to the mountain.

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