Deserts are quite inhospitable but still has been inhabited by different groups.
The environment of the desert offers an extreme environment for them. The lack of water, food and other basic means of living are not easily accessible. Still, some civilizations have attained quite high living standards, like that of Egypt and some are going well enough to spend their life here, like Bedouin Arabs. The Bindibu of Australia and the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert are still quite primitive in terms of living their lives and are barely surviving.
They show how life people lived life in the Old Stone Age.
Here, we will discuss the main desert groups under the following categories:
1. The hunters and collectors – The Bindibu and the Bushmen tribes are the most famous tribes as hunters and gatherers. These tribes live nomadic life and hunt and gather food for survival. They do not grow crops and also do not domesticate animals. Poisoned arrows, traps, spears and snares are their weapons. The extreme climate has made them adapt to the most extreme conditions and have increased their endurance.
They are very much skilled in capturing the prey and can be quite patient. These tribes also walk and run a long distance to catch injured animals. They often hunt antelopes and other small animals. Rodents, insects, and lizards are often collected by women and children. They also collect honey, grubs, and grass. The collection of water requires great skill. For this, the dew is collected from the leaves in the early morning, and then this carefully collected water is stored in the shells of the Ostrich. A hollow reed is used to suck the water from the ground. Bushmen wear animal flesh as clothes or even remain naked.
They travel in small groups like family and stay together in Sherms. A Sherm is a hole dug beneath a thorn tree which is surrounded by bushes. The fire is lit in the night to keep them warm. The Aborigines or Bindibu of Australia are more or less similar to the Bushmen tribe. They are thin and dark but not weak. They are quite skilled at tracking, and some of them even use wooden boomerangs or throwing sticks and spears for hunting and safety. The domestication of Dungo which is a wild dog is common as it assists them in finding rabbits, birds, and kangaroos. The grass, roots, berries, and seeds are collected by women and is used as supplements in their diet. They also move in groups with small families.
2. The nomadic herdsmen – This is a much more advanced group of desert tribes who survive with the help of livestock. Instead of walking, they ride on animals and protect themselves from the heat of the sun and stormy conditions of the desert through proper clothing. The Bedouin of Arabia stay in tents and ride on horses; the Tuaregs are the camel riders of the Sahara, and the Mongols of the Gobi desert herd their yaks riding on the horses. Mongols live in tents called yurts.
The Bedouins are one of the best examples of the nomadic herdsmen. Not only they survive on the livestock but are also involved in the trade with the caravan merchants and the people near an oasis. They migrate from one area to another in search of food and water almost all around the year. The animals are the most precious wealth they have and which help them survive the extreme climate of the desert. They domesticate sheep, goats, and camels and in some cases a few horses too. The animals provide them milk, meat, and clothing.
The skin of the animals is used for leather which is further used to makes tents, belts, clothing, footwear, and bags for carrying water. The hair and wool extracted from the animals are used for making clothes, rugs, ropes, and carpets. These things are also traded for other necessities of life like beverages, dates, medicines, and firearms.
3. The Caravan Traders – These traders are travelling merchants. They travel for months across the deserts of Sahara or Turkestan. These traders used to travel at night and were often armed with weapons to protect themselves from robberies. They used to carry a wide range of articles into the remotest interiors of the desert where the demand of their articles was good. Though the articles they sold, brought them a high amount of profit but the risk of getting robbed or killed was equally great.
They used to carry their goods on camels that have a capacity to travel fifty miles a day and can even carry three hundred fifty pounds of the load with ease. The camel also provides milk and hair and can store water for a longer period.
With the introduction of modern facilities to travel by air, road, and rail, the role of caravans have decreased to much extent, but in some interior parts of the desert, these caravans still play an important part.
4. The settled cultivators – Irrigation is indispensable for crops to be cultivated even in the desert. The water for irrigation is generally obtained from dams, rivers, oases or even through a network of canals. The 25 million population in Egypt depend on the Nile river for survival and hence most of the population is concentrated near the Nile valley and delta. The people of Egypt have been using this river for 5000 years.
The Nile tends to overflow in summer, and its overflowed water gets trapped in the basins with raised banks and thus help in irrigation of crops. This is called basin irrigation. This method is still followed by farmers especially for the cultivation of rice and cotton. The contemporary concrete dams that are built on the Nile, e.g., Sennar and Aswan Dams are very effective for large-scale irrigation works.
Other examples of desert cultivators are found near Indus river in near Pakistan, Colorado in the Imperial Valley of California and the Tiger-Euphrates in Iraq. The people generally tend to settle near the oases in deserts. Oases are the depressions of various sizes where underground water reaches the surface. Some of these oases are exceptionally large like that of Tafilalet Oasis in Morocco (about 5, 000 square miles) which support a large population of a big town.