Elizabeth Fernea’s Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village

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"You arrive at a village, and in this calm environment, one starts to hear echo." -- Yannick Noah The writings of various ethnographers and anthropologists are intended to inform and educate the reader by imparting awareness and understanding of unexplored cultures. The value of such a work is directly related to the author’s familiarity with the culture. For instance, an individual intimately acquainted with a situation have different insights, but also different biases than an outsider. Elizabeth Fernea’s work "Guests of the Sheik" is a combination of the two perspectives. It documents her immersion into the society and culture of El Nahra, a village in Iraq, during the first two years of her marriage to Bob, an…show more content…
Over the course of her stay in El Nahra, Elizabeth discovers many things about the customs of the village, and more importantly about the people who adhere to them. Through her writing, one can reconstruct the society of the tribe and learn much about how it was organized and what this organization meant to the inhabitants. Here, the order of the inhabitants of the area will be discussed within the context of seclusion and segregation of women, the most obvious social distinction. First, the social structure of the region will be addressed, including the relationship of El Nahra’s residents to their neighbours. Next, the construction of social units, particularly among the women, will be addressed. Finally, the impact that El Nahra has on Elizabeth and her impact on El Nahra are discussed. Elizabeth and her husband, Bob, are guests of the village’s leader Sheik Hamid Abdul Emir El Hussein. The first part of the book introduces various inhabitants of El Nahra and provides some insight into the social hierarchy of the tribal people, called the El Eshadda, although Elizabeth does not fully realize the significance of this order until much later. Beyond the almost universal isolation of women, the gross social structure of the area consists of the people who belong to the tribe and those referred to as the people of the market. The tribe is
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