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Arabia

 

 

Music and dance in Mekka, Arabia, 1814

 

Burckhardt, John Lewis: Travels in Arabia. An account of those territories in Hedjaz which the Mohammedans regard as sacred. London, Henry Coburn, 1829.

 

Music, in general so passionately loved among the Arabs, is less practised at Mekka than in Syria and Egypt. Of instruments they possess only the rababa, (a kind of guitar,) the nay, (a species of clarinet,) and the tambour, or tambourine. Few songs are heard in the evenings, except among the Bedouins in the skirts of the town. The choral song called Djok, is sometimes sung by the young men at night in the coffee-houses, its measure being accompanied with the clapping of hands. In general, the voices of the Hedjazys are harsh, and not clear: I heard none of those sonorous and harmonious voices which are so remarkable in Egypt, and still more in Syria, whether giving utterance to love songs, or chanting the praises of Mohammed from the minarets, which in the depth of night has a peculiarly grand effect. Even the Imams of the mosque, and those who chant the anthems, in repeating the last words of the introductory prayers of the Imam, men who in other places are chosen for their fine voices, can here be distinguished only by their hoarseness and dissonance. The Sherif has a band of martial music, similar to that kept by Pashas, composed of kettle-drums, trumpets, fifes, &c.: it plays twice a day before his door, and for about an hour on every evening of the new moon.

Weddings are attended by professional females, who sing and dance: they have, it is said, good voices, and are not of that dissolute class to which the public singers and dancers belong in Syria and Egypt.

 

The Mekkawys say, that before the Wahaby invasion, singers might be heard during the evening in every street, but that the austerity of the Wahabys, who, though passionately fond of their own Bedouin songs, disapproved of the public singing of females, occasioned the ruin of all musical pursuits: - this, however, may be only an idle notion, to be ranked with that which is as prevalent in the East as it is in Europe, that old times were always better in every respect than the present.

 

 

 

  

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War dance in Al-Madinah, Arabia, 1853~

 

Burton, Sir Richard Francis: Personal narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah. 2 volumes. London, 1855.

 

 

But how describe the utter confusion in the crowding, the bustling, and the vast variety and volume of sound? Huge white Syrian dromedaries, compared with which those of Al-Hijaz appeared mere pony-camels, jingling large bells, and bearing Shugdufs (litters) like miniature green tents, swaying and tossing upon their backs; gorgeous Takht-rawan, or litters carried between camels or mules with scarlet and brass trappings; Badawin bestriding naked-backed "Daluls" (dromedaries), and clinging like apes to the hairy humps; Arnaut, Kurd, and Turkish Irregular Cavalry, fiercer looking in their mirth than Roman peasants in their rage; fainting Persian pilgrims, forcing their stubborn camels to kneel, or dismounted grumbling from jaded donkeys; Kahwajis, sherbet sellers, and ambulant tobacconists crying their goods; country-people driving flocks of sheep and goats with infinite clamour through lines of horses fiercely snorting and biting and kicking and rearing; townspeople seeking their friends; returned travellers exchanging affectionate salutes; devout Hajis jostling one another, running under the legs of camels, and tumbling over the tents' ropes in their hurry to reach the Harim; cannon roaring from the citadel; shopmen, water-carriers, and fruit vendors fighting over their bargains; boys with loud screams bullying heretics;

a well-mounted party of fine old Arab Shaykhs of the Hamidah clan, preceded by their varlets, performing the Arzah or war dance, - compared with which the Pyrenean bear's performance is grace itself, - firing their duck-guns upwards, or blowing the powder into the calves of those before them, brandishing their swords, leaping frantically the while, with their bright coloured rags floating in the wind, tossing their long spears tufted with ostrich feathers high in the air, reckless where they fall;

servants seeking their masters, and masters their tents, with vain cries of Ya Mohammed; grandees riding mules or stalking on foot, preceded by their crowd-beaters, shouting to clear the way; here the loud shrieks of women and children, whose litters are bumping and rasping against one another; there the low moaning of some poor wretch that is seeking a shady corner to die in: add a thick dust which blurs the outlines like a London fog, with a flaming sun that draws sparkles of fire from the burnished weapons of the crowd, and the brass balls of tent and litter; and-I doubt, gentle reader, that even the length, the jar, and the confusion of this description is adequate to its subject, or that any "word-painting" of mine can convey a just idea of the scene.

 

  

 

 

 

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Rufayah dance at Muna, near Mecca, Arabia, 1853

 

Burton, Sir Richard Francis: Personal narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah. 2 volumes. London, 1855.

 

 

Returning homewards, we were called to a spot by the clapping of hands and the loud sound of song. We found a crowd of Badawin surrounding a group engaged in their favourite occupation of dancing. The performance is wild in the extreme, resembling rather the hopping of bears than the inspirations of Terpischore. The bystanders joined in the song; an interminable recitative, as usual, in the minor key, and - Orientals are admirable timists - it sounded like one voice. The refrain appeared to be - “La Yayha! La Yayha!” to which no one could assign a meaning. At other times they sang something intelligible. For instance: - [Arabic] That is to say, - “On the Great Festival-day at Muna I saw my lord. I am a stranger amongst you, therefore pity me!”. This couplet may have, like the puerilities of certain modern and European poets, an abstruse and mystical meaning, to be discovered when the Arabs learn to write erudite essays upon nursery rhymes.

 

The style of saltation, called Rufayah, rivalled the song. The dancers raised both arms above their heads, brandishing a dagger, pistol, or some other small weapon. They followed each other by hops, on one or both feet, sometimes indulging in the most demented leaps; whilst the bystanders clapped with their palms a more enlivening measure. This I was told is especially their war-dance. They have other forms, which my eyes were not fated to see. Amongst the Badawin of Al-Hijaz, unlike the Somali and other African races, the sexes never mingle: the girls may dance together, but it would be disgraceful to perform in the company of men.

 

 

 

  

 

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Dancing-boys on the Jeddah road, Arabia, 1853

 

Burton, Sir Richard Francis: Personal narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah. 2 volumes. London, 1855.

 

 

In front of us the highway was now lined with coffee-tents, before which effeminate dancing-boys performed to admiring Syrians; a small whitewashed “Bungalow,” the palace of the Emir al-Hajj, lay on the left, and all around it clustered the motley encampment of his pilgrims. After cantering about three miles from the city, we reached the Alamayn, or two pillars that limit the Sanctuary; and a little beyond it is the small settlement popularly called Al-Umrah. Dismounting here, we sat down on rugs outside a coffee-tent to enjoy the beauty of the moonlit night, and an hour of Kayf, in the sweet air of the Desert.

 

 

  

 

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A dancing way to march, Maan, Arabia, 1876

 

Doughty, Charles M.: Travels in Arabia Deserta. New York, Random House, 1921.

 

 

The settled folk in Arabian country, are always envious haters of the nomads that encompass them, in their oases islands, with the danger of the desert. These with whom I journeyed, were the captain of the haj road at Maan and his score of soldiery, the most being armed peasantry of the place, which came driving a government herd of goats, (the unwilling contribution of the few unsubmitted Idumean villages) to sell them at Nablûs (Sichem). Shots were fired by some of them in the rear in contempt of the Beduw, whose mares, at every gunfire, shrank and sprang under them, so that the men, with their loose seats were near falling over the horses' heads. 'Nay Sirs!' they cried back, 'nay Sirs, why fray ye our mares?' The Beduw thus looking over their shoulders, the peasantry shot the more, hoping to see them miscarry; he of the beautiful filly sat already upon his horse's neck, the others were almost dislodged. So the Officer called to them, 'Hold lads!' and 'have done lads!' and they 'Our guns went off, wellah, as it were of themselves'. And little cared they, as half desperate men, that had not seen a cross of their pay in sixteen months, to obey the words of their scurvy commander. They marched with a pyrrhic dancing and beating the tambour : it is a leaping counter and tripping high in measure, whilst they chant in wild manner with wavings of the body and fighting aloft in the air with the drawn sword.

 

 

 

  

 

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Muzayyins, Arabia, 1876

 

Doughty, Charles M.: Travels in Arabia Deserta. New York, Random House, 1921.

 

 

...... even pluck roughly at the feathers of the lasses, their own near cousins, in the dance, which durst answer them nothing, but only with reproachful eyes: or laughing loud the weleds have bye and bye divided this gentle bevy among them for their wives; and if a stranger be there, they will bid him choose which one he would marry among them. “Heigh-ho! what thinkest thou of these maidens of ours, and her, and her, be they not fair-faced?”. But the virgins smile not, and if any look up, their wild eyes are seen estranged and pensive. They are like children under the rod, they should keep here a studied demeanour; and for all this they are not Sirens. In that male tyranny of the Mohammedan religion regard is had to a distant maidenly behaviour of the young daughters; an here they dance as the tender candidates for happy marriage, and the blessed motherhood of sons. May their morrow approach! which shall be as this joyful day, whose hap they now sing, wherein a man-child is joined to the religion of Islam; it is better than the day of his birth.

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The sun setting, the maidens of the ring-dance disperse: the men now draw apart to their prayers, and in this time the cattle of every household are driven in. The men risen from their prayers, the supper is served in the tent: often thirty men’s meat is in that shield-wide wooden platter which is set before them. A little later some will come hither of the young herdsmen returning boisterous from the field; they draw to the merry noise of the muzayyin that feel a lightness in their knees to the dance. A-row, every one his arm upon the next one’s shoulder, these laughing weleds stand, full of good humour; and with a shout they foot it forth, reeling and wavering, advancing, recoiling in their chorus together; the while they hoarsely chant the ballad of a single verse. The housewives at the booth clap their palms, and one rising with a rod in her hand, as the dancing men advance, she dances out to meet them; it is the mother by likelihood, and joyously she answers them in her song; whilst they come on bending and tottering a-row together, with their perpetual refrain. They advancing upon her, she dances backward, feinting defence with the rod; her face is turned towards them, who maintain themselves, with that chanted verse of their manly throats, as it were pursuing and pressing upon her.

 

 

 

 

  

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Nomad ciscumscision, Arabia, 1876

 

Doughty, Charles M.: Travels in Arabia Deserta. New York, Random House, 1921.

 

 

I came to a second muzayyin tent; here a sâny was the surgeon. I saw him whetting his blade, and one held a sheep ready to be slaughtered. The father encouraging his little son, set up the child and held him to ride round on the sacrificial sheep’s back; then he seated him again in his place, so drawing his cutlass and with a back stroke houghing him, he cut down the mutton; he cut also the throats of a goat and a kid. They now seated the child upon a vast metal charger reversed, which at other times is for the large nomad hospitality, “the table of God in the wilderness,” some horse-dung being powdered under him. This smith stood still striking a rude razor blade to a fair edge, upon his sinewed arm. He drew then the foreskin through a pierced stone shard, and there tied a thread. “Look thou cut not over much,” said the mother. Holding her child, with the other hand she blinded his eyes, and encouraged him with the mother’s voice and promises of sweet milk and fat things. The sâny, with a light stroke, severed the skin at the knot : then he powdered the wound with charcoal, and gave up the child, which had not felt a pain, to his mother; and she comforting him in her bosom, bade him be glad that he was now entered into the religion of Islam. Their boiled rice and mutton was largely distributed before midday, and portions were borne through the camp, to the friends who were not present. I saw the maidens and young married women caroling in the next hours before the muzayyins.

 

 

 

 

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European dancing judged by nomads, Arabia, 1876

 

Doughty, Charles M.: Travels in Arabia Deserta. New York, Random House, 1921.

 

 

The poor nomad wives and children had no new garments to put on, but blithely they danced out the hour in our hauta. When the Beduin friends insisted with me to let them see our holiday dance, I would not make a breach in their mirth, but, foreseeing their natural judgement, I was half-ashamed to show them the manner. - With that stern congruity which is in their wild nature, they found it light: ‘Oh ! what was that outlandish skipping and casting of the shanks, and this footing it to and fro!’- it seemed to them a morris dance ! but when they heard more, of our caroling, that his arm about her middle, every man danced it forth bosom to bosom with every fair woman, they thought of us but scorn and villany.

 

 

  

 

 

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Harb woman, Arabia, 1876

 

Doughty, Charles M.: Travels in Arabia Deserta. New York, Random House, 1921.

 

 

I saw a Beduwîa wife, decked in poor wild bravery, as it were a gipsy queen; she went caroling in the hautas with a gay banner: a stranger, the people wondered and mocked, the hareem approached timidly to touch her outlandish apparel, and where she came she was bidden to sit down and eat. Hearing she was of Harb, the first I had seen of that Beduin nation, neighbours of the Harameyn, I regarded her silently. And she, with a great breath, not less astonished to see that white man there, -“A Nasrâny say ye !”

 

 

 

 

 

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Sword dance at Kheybar, Arabia, 1876

 

Doughty, Charles M.: Travels in Arabia Deserta. New York, Random House, 1921.

 

 

After the sun’s going down the young men blow their double pipe of reeds, mizmàr, through the village ways: and most evenings they gathered in the Saheyn or in the other open place, er-Rahabba. Then the great tambour was fetched, and they kindled a fire of palm leaf-stalks to give them light to the dance. - The young men step counter, lifting their black shanks to the measure, which is beaten to them with loud stirring strokes; and smiting swords to bucklers they bless the shimmering blades about their shining black faces. They tread forth, training the shifting-feet, and beat the ground; and winding their bodies, they come on anew, with a boisterous song, - and that is some thousand-times-repeated simple verse. Their sword dance may last an hour or two; and commonly there stands a bevy, to look on, of the black but comely village lasses, who at the first sound of the tambour have run down from the mothers’ suffas: or those maidens dance apart. Many times when I came by them, returning homeward from Amm Mohammed, with my flaming palm-torch, the young men redoubled their warlike rumour; and they that had them fired their pistols, there was a sudden brandishing of cutlasses aloft, and with vehement cries, they clattered them on their shields: they all showed me the white teeth, and shouted “aha, aha, Khalîl !”

 

Many a night they kept this morris dance in the Saheyn, and the uneasy light of their bonfire shining in at our casement, the thunder-dints of the tambour, and the uncivil uproar of the negro voices, wasted our rest, which was our only refreshment at Kheybar. - Then the poor infirm Amân could not contain his illhumour: “A wildfire, he said, fall upon them! akhs! who but the Kheyâbara might suffer such a trouble of beasty noises?” Upon the great feast ayd eth-thahîa there was all day a dinning of the tambour and a dancing through the town, to the Saheyn. Where finding my comrade who sat drooping upon the public benches, “How, I said, always musing! hast thou not a light foot to lift with the rest in this feast? be merry man whilst thou art alive.” The poor Galla smiled a moment and forgot his melancholy; then he responded, with a reproachful look, “I am a Tourk, as thou art a Tourk: the Turks hold aloof from the people’s levities.”

 

Amm Mohammed said to me of the Kheyâbara, “They are ahl hàwâ and wàhamy, an aery, whimsical people.” Even he (a city Moslem) reproved their blowing the mizamîr, for the sound of the shrilling reeds is profane in their grave religious hearing: but the horrid swelling din of the tambour pleases them wonderfully. He said to me, “The tambour is the music-sound [the organ-tones] of the religion of Islam.” - Herdsmen and nomad children blow up shawms of green grass stalks in the sweet spring season; the toy is named by them hawwâma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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Amusements of the Arabs, 1879

 

McGarvey, John William: Lands of the Bible. Philadelphia & London, Lippincott, 1881. Reprinted by Elibron Classics.

 

 

The amusements of adults are more meagre than those of children. The Ar'abs are naturally a grave people, and they have probably become more so under the system of oppression and the state of poverty which they have long endured. Conder remarks : "The adults appear to have no amusements. They say themselves with terrible truth that they have 'no leisure in their hearts for mirth,' being hopeless and spiritless under their hard bondage of oppression, usury, and violence." [II. 253] They cannot be said to cultivate music, either vocal or instrumental. True, the rude shepherd's pipe mentioned in a former chapter is heard at rare intervals, and the dancing performances, if dancing it may be called, of the Bed'awin gypsies, is accompanied with guttural sounds uttered in regular time ; but to call either of these music would be a free use of the term. In riding through all parts of the country for three months the author never heard an Ar'ab attempt to sing. Other travelers have been more fortunate, but all speak of the few attempts which they have heard as resulting in harsh and discordant sounds [see Lynch, pp. 185,242].

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Among the Bed'awin the men sometimes amuse themselves by manoeuvres on horseback, in imitation of battles. Their women, especially those of the Jordan Valley, sometimes engage in a wild, shuffling kind of dance, keeping time to grunting sounds made by themselves. The men also have a performance somewhat similar, in which a number of them, with arms locked, go through a great variety of swaying and bowing motions in unison, while one in front of the line directs the movements and accompanies the motions of his body with fierce and rapid swinging of a sword.

 

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Arabia 1917~ 

Lawrence, T.E. (1888-1935): Seven pillars of wisdom.

 

 

We left two parties in the neighbourhood to damage the line on the next day and the next, while we rode to Abdullah's camp on April the first. Shakir, splendid in habit, held a grand parade on entry, and had thousands of joy-shots fired in honour of his partial victory. The easy-going camp made carnival.

 

In the evening I went wandering in the thorn-grove behind the tents, till I began to see through the thick branches a wild light, from bursts of raw flame; and across the flame and smoke came the rhythm of drums, in tune with hand-clapping, and the deep roar of a tribal chorus. I crept up quietly, and saw an immense fire, ringed by hundreds of Ataiba sitting on the ground one by the other, gazing intently on Shakir, who, upright and alone in their midst, performed the dance of their song. He had put off his cloak, and wore only his white head-veil and white robes: the powerful firelight was reflected by these and by his pale, ravaged face. As he sang he threw back his head, and at the close of each phrase raised his hands, to let the full sleeves run back upon his shoulders, while he waved his bare arms weirdly. The tribe around him beat time with their hands, or bayed out the refrains at his nod. The grove of trees where I stood outside the circle of light was thronged with Arabs of stranger tribes, whispering, and watching the Atban.

  

  

 

Wednesday the 18th.