Jebeliya: Meet Egypt’s ‘People of the Mountain’
When it comes to Bedouins, we all have our stereotypes. The goats, the tents, and their traditional clothing are (most probably) things that cross your mind when you think about them. However, there’s a common misconception that assumes that all Bedouins are similar. We’re sorry (not sorry) to tell you, but they’re not.
Bedouins in Sinai are not like those living all the way from Alexandria to Matrouh. Those in the Eastern and Western deserts are also not the same. Of course, some Bedouins have things in common, like living in clans and sub-clans or even shared traditions and beliefs. However, there are other minor details that could be a slight difference in dialects. You might even find tribes who speak other languages that are not Arabic, like those in Siwa. However, there’s one tribe in particular that we’d like to talk to you about, one that’s been living in the region for more than 1,400 years, The Jebeliya Tribe.
In the 6th century AD, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian ordered to build St. Catherine monastery and got around 200 Roman soldiers with their families to protect the monastery. Half of these soldiers were brought from Egypt and the other half were brought from the Byzantine Empire, mostly Balkans. From those present today, they’re one of the very first tribes to settle in Sinai, even way before the spread of Islam. Along the centuries, they intermarried with other Arab tribes and became the Jebeliya people as we know them
Jebeliya is derived from jebel which means mountain in Arabic, referring to them as the people of the mountain. They made their homes out of mountains and valleys in Saint Catherine. Unlike other Bedouins, their homes are made of stone or concrete-block houses due to the harsh winter weather conditions. They have gardens, called “bustan” or “karm”, at different locations in the mountains where they live during the summer. However, they move to lower altitudes as the weather gets colder.
Two of their most interesting traditions are the wishing rocks, and the marriage proposal rocks. The wishing rocks are large boulder stones with a flat surface. The legend says that if you throw a pebble or stone and it stays on the top, your wish will be granted. The marriage proposal rock is even cooler. They’re boulders where a man would draw an outline of his foot to express his love, and if the woman sees it and accepts his proposal, she’d draw an outline of her own foot next to his. They then get married and live happily ever after.
The Jebeliya people may be similar to other Bedouin tribes — in some traditions and lifestyle to some extent, but they still remain unique in their own way. Most importantly, they’ll always be remembered for their origins and their kind hearts.
Saint Catherine is one of the most beautiful places in Egypt with a very special and sacred value. You’ll definitely enjoy the monastery as well as all the hikes it has to offer. What you really cannot miss is trekking all the way up to Mount Sinai or Mount Catherine to watch the sunrise.