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Bedouin Ethnobotany: Plant Concepts and Uses in a Desert Pastoral World

Bedouin Ethnobotany: Plant Concepts and Uses in a Desert Pastoral World
James P. Mandaville
University of Arizona Press
Publication Date: 

cloth, 397 pp.,  $55.00

In the preface, Mandaville explains that his interest in Bedouin plant names began in the early 1960s when he was working for the Arabian American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. The company encouraged employees “to collect all kinds of information about the tribes in whose territory the company carried out its operations.” This extensive study of Bedouin ethnobotany extends far beyond the usual parameters we might expect, adding details about the Arabic dialect known as Nadji, the people, and the social structure of the various Bedouin tribes. Of particular interest is the section on the camel and its vital importance to these nomadic people.

In line with traditional ethnobotany studies, Mandaville provides great detail about the land and its surprising number and variety of plants. The Bedouin terms used to refer to vegetation are quite descriptive, such as “dasawir: Literally meaning ‘those that go in or makes circles,’ this term refers to the denser and circular patches of annual plants.” (p. 233) Included with the book is a CD–ROM with more than 340 images of the land, plants, people, as well as a typical Bedouin song. The CD pictures are keyed to references in the text. Some parts of this book may be too technical for the average reader, but the descriptions of Bedouin society and how these nomads survive in what would seem to be a very harsh environment are fascinating. Additionally, the gorgeous photographs found on the CD of undulating seas of sand in a variety of colors and the closeups of some of the surprising plants are wonderful.

— Joan Richards, Library volunteer, Chicago Botanic Garden