The Rashaida, Rashaayda or Bani Rashid is a tribe of ethnic Bedouin Arabs descending from Banu Abs native to the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. They currently inhabit Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and Libya. In 1846, many Rashaida migrated from the Hejaz region in present-day Saudi Arabia into what is now Sudan, Kuwait, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al-Quwain and United Arab Emirates after tribal warfare had broken out in their homeland. Large numbers of Bani Rasheed are also found on the Arabian Peninsula.
The Rashaida keep their traditional dress, culture, customs, camel breeds and practice of Sunni Islam. The racing camel breeds of the Rashaida tribe are prized all over Sudan and the Arabian Peninsula and fetch very high prices.
Depending on which country they are in they tend to practise that culture.
Population & Ecosystem
100.000 Rashaida nomads live predominantly in the scattered areas in western and northern Eritrea, with some smaller groups also dwelling in parts of Egypt, bordering the Sinai desert and Eastern Sudan.
According Kjetil Tronvoll (1996) the name "Rashaida" means "refugee". These people are believed to be Bedouin Arabs who migrated from Saudi Arabia in the mid to late 1800’s and are the last established ethnic group to have settled in Eritrea.
Currently, they are the only true nomadic people left in Eritrea and nd take pride in their ability to keep up with their livestock. Rashaida people make up five percent of the population of Eritrea of about 3.75 million people. In Sudan, they number around 68,000, and live mostly in the northeast part of the country on the outskirts of the city of Kassala, one of the most frequently visited spots in Sudan.
Rashaida people who are mostly Sunni Muslims do not have a permanent residence and settled life are the most favored ethnic group according to the Eritrean political structure. Their youth are exempted from any forced conscription and members are free of any national duties. In recent times, they have moved higher up in the governmental and political structures, acting as de facto administrators of the western borders of Eritrea and Eastern Sudan.
The women are known for their elaborate (typically) black and red burqas/coverups. The men are known for their elaborate sword dances at ceremonies and gatherings.
Rashaida people speak Arabic language, although some of them can speak impeccable Tigre language.
The Rashaida are closely related to the Saudi Arabia Bedouin, who migrated to Sudan from the Arabian Peninsula in 1846. (2007, Amal Hassan Fadlalla, p.44). The cause of their migration was due to ethnic warfare and starvation that broke out in Saudi Arabia (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). After coming to settle in the desert along the coastline of the Red Sea, their homeland now extends from Massawa, Eritrea, to Port Sudan, Sudan.
During the Italian period in Eritrea, it was largely uneventful for the Rashaida as the areas normally inhabited by them were extremely harsh and at considerable distance from active reach of the state (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). The combination of animal-herding, occasional agriculture, and trade allowed the Rashaida to attain considerable prosperity, consisting mainly of large animal herds and gold stores (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). However, during the Ethiopian occupation of Eritrea (1950-1991), much of this wealth was destroyed. The Rashaida were a favorite target of the Ethiopian army because of their prosperity (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177).
Their nomadic lifestyle also attracted the suspicion of the Ethiopian army, which punished them repeatedly for supporting the Eritrean liberation fronts (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177). Consequently, the Rashaida entered the post independence period greatly improverished (1998, Niaz Murtaza, P. 177).
Since Eritrea won its independence in 1991, the Eritrean government has been asking the Rashaida to transform themselves into settled agriculturalist.
The Rashaida who are a nomadic people live in tents made of goatskins. They are herdsmen, breeding primarily goats and sheep. Since they are largely illiterate, they memorize in great detail the pedigree of their animals, keeping mental records of their herds over seven or eight preceding generations of the flock, although they usually only emphasize the female lines.
Besides herding, the Rashaida also gain income through jewelry making. It is the veiled Rashaida women who craft much of the silver jewelry sold in the Kassala "souq", or market, which is said to be one of the best in Sudan. Along with the jewelry, the Kassala souq supposedly markets some of the best and juiciest fruits Sudan has to offer.
Kassala in Sudan, with a population of 150,000, is a popular spot for tourists and Sudanese honeymooners, for it offers cooler temperatures than the rest of Sudan, along with beautiful mountains and tens of thousands of trees.
The men are excellent traders, using their camels and Toyota pickup trucks to distribute goods imported from Middle Eastern countries, a lucrative endeavor. A portion of their wealth resulted from renting their camels to freedom fighters during Eritrea’s 30-year war of independence.
The Rashaida live in isolated communities, preferring not to live with people of other tribes. However, occasionally Rashaida can be found living in Tigre villages or Rashaida men will marry Tigre women.
Rashaida women are famous for their black-and-red geometrically patterened dresses, and their burkas (long, heavy veils) elaborately embroidered with silver thread, beads and sometimes seed perals (2006, Matt Phillips, P.302).
Once a Rashaida girl reaches the age of 5, she is required to wear a veil that covers most of her face, with the exception of her eyes (Jane Perlez, New York Times). Since the sexes do not mix freely in Rashaida culture, young men and women have few chances to meet of their own accord. As a result, marriages are usually arranged by familes (2002, Carol Beckwith, P.142).
However, if a Rashadian girl is ready to marry, she will at times approache the man she wants and flirtatiously lift her veil so that he can see her chin. If he accepts her offer he must find 100 camels for her bride price (2007, Patricia Levy, 64).
The Rashaida are primarily Muslim, and very few Christians are known to exist among the group. Islam is at the core of Rashaida culture. Due to their mobile lifestyle, a family prayer house is central to their worship. Until recently, no known Christians were numbered among them. However, the situation changed as hundreds of Rashaida youth were drafted into the Eritrean army during the 1998-2000 Eritrea/Ethiopia border war.