The Bedouin really enjoy playing with their fires.
When bored during a rest break on a hike, they will gather a few twigs and dry bushes and happily burn them. The twigs are carefully laid out, the larger ones on top of the smaller ones, lighters are brought to bear and soon a plume of smoke envelopes the smiling face of the Bedouin.
He will then continue to amuse himself for a few minutes trying to keep the fire going for as long as possible. No tea is brewed, no bread is cooked and little warmth is to be had. But as with little boys all over the world, there is something inherently seductive about a fire.
When camp is made, they then use the fire for cooking, cleaning, baking, hot water for washing, keeping themselves warm; for general amusement – judicial enquiries.
We like to think in the west of the judicial due process being highly structured; the case for the defence and the prosecution; a line of argument and rational debate, the display and analysis of evidence with perhaps the occasional expert witness thrown in; and a jury of 12 good men (and women).
The Bedouin use fire.
In the event that someone is suspected of being a wrong, they are asked whether they agree to the bisha’a. The bisha’a is the trial by fire. If they refuse then they are automatically deemed guilty and their tribe will take retribution on them in accordance with the severity of the crime.
If they agree to the bisha’a then the bisha’a council of three tribal elders is gathered and the proceedings start. The council is headed by the mubesha who is an expert in the process and they are taught the skills from their fathers. The mubesha is a family business.
A large fire is made with a long metal pole or ladle stuck into it and left there for several hours until its end is white hot. Once the metal pole is deemed hot enough, the accused is brought forward and the mubesha takes the pole and applies the white hot end to the tip of the accused’s tongue; three times.
Yeah, three times.
The mubesha will then study his tongue and make a judgment. If the tongue is deemed red and inflamed or just plain burnt then he is automatically found guilty. If the tongue is as shiny and pink as the day he was born then he is innocent. Simple.
The rationale behind this is that a guilty man will be nervous of being burnt and therefore will have a dry mouth and hence, inevitably, will be burnt. An innocent man on the other hand has nothing to feel guilty about and therefore will have a fully wet and moist tongue with which to lick the metal pole.
So if you fancy doing a bit of camel rustling next time you visit us in South Sinai, may I recommend you get arrested by the police first; before the Bedouin get hold of you.
Bedouin Paths runs ethical hiking tours in Sinai. Visit www.bedouinpaths.com for more information.