Bani Yas

Bani Yas


The Bani Yas is one of the most prestigious and highly regarded tribes of Southern Arabia. Its origin can be traced back to Yas Bin Amer, whose tribe came from the tribe of Nizar Bin Maid bin Adnan. Partly because of its numerical superiority, but mainly because of its military prowess and proven loyalty to allies, many other tribes sought to join the Bani Yas for protection and security.

The most numerous and significant tribe of the UAE, the Bani Yas is made up of approximately 20 subsections. Originally centred in the Liwa oasis, the Al Bu Falah subsection resettled in 1793 in Abu Dhabi; from this subsection come the Al Nahyan family, who are the present-day rulers of Abu Dhabi. Traditionally the members of the Al Bu Falah tribe "spent the winter with their camels in the desert, and many of them went pearling during the summer in the boats of other Bani Yas. The Al Bu Falah were the first to acquire property in the Buraimi oasis, and the members of the ruling family have systematically continued this policy until now."[1]

In 1833, a large, influential group of the Bani Yas moved to Dubai under the leadership of Maktoum bin Buti Al Maktoum. The Al Maktoum family, a part of the highly regarded Al Bu Falasah section of the Bani Yas, continues to rule Dubai to this day.

Photograph by Ronald Codrai © Justin Codrai

Other sections of the Bani Yas tribe include the Rumaithat, which depended largely on fishing and pearling, as did the Al Bu Mahair. The Qubaisat section was one of the largest tribes settled in the communities of the Liwa oasis. Members of the Mazrui, the main Bedouin section of the Bani Yas, also lived in the settlements of the Liwa. Their livelihood depended on camels, pearling boats, and in the first half of the twentieth century, when the value of camels declined, date plantations. Making up much of the permanent or semi-settled population of the villages of the Liwa oasis was the Hawamil section. Many of its members owned goats or sheep, which kept them close to home. They also owned boats and had a share in the pearling industry.

The Maharibah section, like the Hawamil, comprised both nomadic and settled members and many of its families were involved in the pearling industry. They owned a small fleet of 40 pearling boats. The Al Mishaghin, a sub-section of the Al Bu Muhair section, was prevalent in Dubai. It was a small group of predominately Bedouin families. The Sudan, on the other hand, was a large section spread out along the entire coast. Dependent on the sea for their livelihood, the members of the Sudan took an active role in pearling, fishing and trading.

SHEIKH SAEED (fourth from left)

"This tribal confederation was the basis for the creation of a nation-state within a large and geographically very varied territory. The coherence of the confederation was due to certain characteristics of the Bani Yas. First of all, the subsections and allied groups did not live separate existences; they shared, mingled and intermarried in the villages of the Liwa, they had arrangements by which the nomads of one section cared for the camels of another section, and those who had no pearling boats of their own went on the boats of others. Secondly, most families of the Bani Yas had some members living permanently in Abu Dhabi town, so that all the sections mixed there easily at all times."[2]

As befits a tribe from which so many noble families have come, the members of the Bani Yas tribe are well known for their patronage of, and involvement in, the literary arts. They are also renowned for their generosity, hospitality and chivalry, as were their Bedouin forefathers.

[1] HEARD-BEY, FRAUKE, From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates, Longman, London & New York, 1996, p. 28.
[2] Ibid., p. 34.