Tribal Talks: The video campaign bringing Egyptian tribes to the world

Salma El Ashmawy, Friday 1 Sep 2023

The Egyptian Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the UNDP, has launched an online video campaign on Egyptian tribes: Tribal Talks.

Meet Tribal Talks
The Tarabin Tribe, Screenshot from Tribal Talks campaign on YouTube


This 4-7-minute video series, running from 20 June to 27 August 2023, sheds light on Egypt's diverse local communities.

Part of the ECO Egypt series initiated by the Egyptian government three years ago, the Tribal Talks campaign promotes hidden touristic gems and bolsters ecotourism throughout the country.

Each mini-documentary delves into the lives of a tribal community, spotlighting their origins, unique cultures, handicrafts, cuisine, and traditions, amid the captivating natural scenery of their homelands.

The 11 tribes featured include the Tarabin and Jebeliya in South Sinai, El-Gharqana north of Sharm El-Sheikh, Muzeina between Taba and Ras Sudr on the Gulf of Aqaba, El-Ababda between Ras Ghareb and Halayeb on the Red Sea coast, Bishari on the southern Red Sea, Nubians in Aswan, the Matrouh on Egypt's Mediterranean north coast, the Amazigh in Siwa near Libya, and the Farafra and Bahareya in the Western Desert. 

Living Afar

Although these tribes are scattered across Egypt's vast geography, they share two primary environments: living in the desert grazing camels and cattle or making a living as fishermen by the coasts of the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

Some of these tribes trace their origins back thousands of years, having migrated from neighbouring countries such as Hejaz in present-day Saudi Arabia. Others settled in their homes only in the 1970s, capitalizing on tourism by serving as tour guides, sharing their ways of life, and revealing hidden tourist spots.

The campaign's videos offer a close look into the communities' lives, depicting their raw lifestyles in Egypt's deserts and seas. The ability to adapt to change and coexist harmoniously with nature emerges from these discussions as an inspiring and powerful theme.

The Jebeliya

​Dating back to 1500 years ago, members of the Jebeliya tribe were originally Romans sent by the Roman Emperor Justinian I to safeguard Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

The name Jebeliya originates from the word 'jebel' meaning 'mountain' in Arabic; an appropriate name for the Jebeliya tribesmen who make their home among the mountains of South Sinai.

The ancient monastery at Mount Sinai is named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian martyr and patron saint for young girls and scholars. It contains one of the world's most valuable libraries of rare and ancient books, with thousands of manuscripts in eleven different languages. 

The Christian monastery, founded in the 6th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracts many visitors, and today plays a major role in the lives of the tribesmen.

​While the Jebeliya were once pastoral nomads, moving seasonally to be near water sources, the rise of tourism shifted their way of life to be more sedentary. Some still protect the monastery and tend to its gardens, while others have become mountain guides. 

The Amazigh

Native to North Africa, the Amazigh (also called Berbers, meaning 'free men') are an ethnic group indigenous to Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and other neighbouring states. Their native language is known as Tamazight.

In Egypt, the Amazigh live in the Siwa Oasis of the Western Desert, 50 km away from the Libyan border. Famous for its palm trees and olives, the agricultural land of Siwa was settled by Amazigh tribespeople in the 12th century.

Siwa's Old City, known locally as Shali, is a unique 13th-century mud-brick fortress built into a mountain, and a source of pride for the Siwis.

 The Siwi people speak a variation of the Tamazight language known as Siwi. Since the Siwi language is not taught in schools and is only spoken at home by locals, it is considered endangered by UNESCO. To protect the language from extinction, Siwis have started incorporating the Tamazight alphabet into their traditional handicrafts and clothing for all to see.

The economy of Siwa consists mainly of tourism and agriculture. The oasis has been famous for its dates and olives since ancient times.

People of the Bahareya Oasis

Located in Egypt's White Desert, the Bahareya Oasis is 370 km from Cairo, making its local tribe the easiest to visit of all.

With over 5 million palm trees, Bahareya is a major centre of date production, which provides a livelihood for the oasis' native residents. Tourism is another major sector of Bahareya's economy.

One of the oasis' main attractions is Wadi El-Hitan (Whale Valley) and its museum. The valley contains hundreds of stunning fossils of extinct marine creatures, unparalleled worldwide. It was inscribed in 2005 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another attraction to Bahareya is the White Desert National Park, where visitors can experience the region's unique geological landscape of layered rock formations.

Bahareya locals, who work as drivers and tour guides, are expert navigators of their barren land. Using mountains, constellations and lifetimes of experience in the desert, the people of Bahareya welcome visitors to explore their land guided by their deep local knowledge.

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