Vanishing in the Desert, Traditional Bedouin Culture Lives Online

Clinton Bailey at his house in Jerusalem. He recently donated his archive of 350 hours of audio tape, photos and slides on Bedouin life to the National Library of Israel. Credit...Dan Balilty for The New York Times

THE NEW YORK TIMES — March 2, 2021 — After 50 years of fieldwork in the Negev and Sinai deserts, an Israeli researcher donated his rare archive to the National Library of Israel.

JERUSALEM — When Clinton Bailey first began documenting Bedouin life in the 1960s, the nomadic tribes lived pretty much as their ancestors, raising livestock, wandering in search of pastures and pitching tents under the stars.

Mr. Bailey would join their migrations in the southern Israeli Negev desert and the Sinai Peninsula for weeks on camel back. They would try their luck at planting grains in the winter, he said, then return months later for the harvest.

With a tape recorder, camera and jeep, he spent the next 50 years recording Bedouin oral poetry, tribal negotiations and trialsinterviews with elders, weddings and rituals, proverbs and stories.

“I decided to try to capture that culture,” Mr. Bailey said. “I could already see it was beginning to disappear.”

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