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Heroes, Lovers, and Poet-Singers: The Bedouin Ethos in the Music of the Arab Near-East Author(s): Ali Jihad

Racy Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 109, No. 434 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 404-424 Published by: American Folklore Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/05/2012 05:32
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Heroes, Lovers, and Poet-Singers The BedouinEthos in theMusicof theArab Near-East

This article investigates the music of the eastern Mediterranean Arab world across nomadic, rural, and urban lines, with primary focus on sung poetry. Song genres expressing basic values within this region, particularly among the Bedouin nomads, are examined in specific village and city contexts. The aim is to gain new insights into the ideological and aesthetic components of traditional Arab music and to better understand the recentpatterns of urbanization and change in the modern Near East. Assessing current views on nomadic expressive culture and its role in modern life, the researchalso presents alternative perspectives, particularly regarding oral tradition, the media, and the rural-urban continuum.

NOMADISM, PARTICULARLY the cultural interlinks among nomadic, rural, and urban communities, has been a topic of concern for historians, social scientists, and literary scholars. In the context of the eastern Mediterranean world, an area also known as the Levant, researchers have attempted to identify those cultural traits that recur across ethnic and communal lines, in some cases with attention to the role of Arab nomadism, or "Bedouinness," in contemporary Arab life. For those interested in studying the arts, this region appears to pose certain conceptual and methodological challenges, in part because in Near Eastern folk culture the various creative genres, music and poetry in particular, are very closely interconnected (Racy 1992:160) and, furthermore, because in the traditional contexts sung performances tend to embrace significant ideological connotations. Researchers may have to address both the lyrical or evocative efficacies of the literary and musical components, and the symbolic or ideological contents of individual performances and performance genres. A further concern may be the musical elements this area seems to share with other Arab or Mediterranean communities (Racy 1986c, 1994), as well as the cultural or ideological traits that are similarly prevalent throughout the Mediterranean world (see Gilmore 1982; Gilmore 1987b; Peristiany 1966). At the same time,

at LosAngeles at theUniversity of California AliJihadRacy is a prqofessor ofethnomusicology Folklore Folklore Society. 109(434):404-424. Copyright ofAmerican Journal ? 1996,American

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those traits that appear to make the Levant artistically or culturally distinct may need to be contextually understood. In fact, some cultural traits are believed to be characteristically Near Eastern and in some cases prevalent throughout the Mediterranean world. These include three sets of related traits that seem particularly relevant to the present inquiry: (a) "honor" and "shame," phenomena that are associated with sexuality and power, as honor is linked to masculinity and the social implications of maleness, whereas shame is experienced when manhood is undermined or when women's chastity is questioned (Gilmore 1987a:2-17); (b) "hospitality" and "chivalry," virtues that are expressed through the exercise and reciprocation of generosity and are usually indicative of the host's social prestige and moral superiority (Herzfeld 1987:75-89); and (c) "bravery" and "militancy," qualities that, for instance, among the pastoral nomads of northern Arabia, are connected with tribal identification and the idealization of raiding and warfare (Meeker 1979:111-150). Meanwhile, it has been maintained that nomadism as an ideology retains a somewhat concentrated or extreme form of these and other related values. Accordingly, the tribal nomadic complex of mores and attitudes, often referred to as the "Bedouin ethos," is expected to proceed at decreasing levels of purity and intensity as we move closer to the more sedentary and urbanized contexts. Implying a process that is both social and historical, this interpretation may be traced back to Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). In his Muqaddimah, this Arab historian and sociologist presented an explanation of how civilizations grow from a stage of tribal nomadism characterized by simplicity, tightly knit tribal lineages, social cohesiveness, and militancy to a phase of sedentary living marked by cultural sophistication, affluence, and mastery of the sciences. Accordingly, as societies become "civilized" their tribal heritage regresses and is gradually abandoned. Eventually, with decadence setting in and natural militaristic instincts lost, civilizations succumb to nomadic invaders, who in turn become sedentary and experience the same dialectic cycle of triumph, growth, decadence, and decline (see Rosenthal and Dawood 1967).1 At the same time, the culture of nomadism, although romanticized by early Western travelers, is looked at with some uncertainty and at times suspicion. As Elizabeth Fernea and Robert Fernea explain: Evenwithinthe Middle Eastern hasa special andminds world,theBedouin placein thehearts of Arabs forthewordstillsymbolizes a purity andcourage themselves, associated withright living andrightthinking.... Yettheattitude of today's settled Arabs toward thenomads is ambivalent. nomads Generally, andtheirlife-style areseenas having no placein modern alsorankle, society.Oldresentments memories of thedays whendesert made travel andwhenBedouin raids on towns uprisings risky and villages were commonoccurrences. in some contexts,also characterize Townspeople, Bedouins asignorant, in thepractice indifferent of Islam, and unreliable. Thusthelogic generally followsthatnomads, for theirown good,mustbe encouraged to leavetheirhistoric waysand settledownin one place-preferably as farmers. Likethe forest outlaws of medieval England, nomads admired in the MiddleEastonly when they no longerexist. maybe unequivocally
[Fernea and Fernea 1987:293-294]


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In this study the nomadic-rural-urban continuum is examined in both artistic and ideological terms. Therefore, three related questions are asked: (a) how and to what extent are the characteristic Bedouin musical genres and the sentiments they express manifested in the various musical traditions in the region? (b) how does Bedouin expressive culture inform on today's rural and urban music of the Arab Near East? and (c) how does Bedouinness and the ambivalence generally associated with nomadic life fit into today's Arab music culture? The material analyzed represents geographically and historically related contexts within the Levant. Constituting a continuum of sorts, the area studied embraces the nomadic cultures of Jordan, northern Palestine and southern Syria, the rural communities of southern Lebanon, and the modern city of Beirut. In this exploration, I posit that the historical relationship among the various nomadic, rural, and urban communities is one of social and artistic interaction rather than unidirectional influence. Furthermore, I propose that the various social-ideological, or for that matter, poetic-musical, "syndromes" that typify the larger Near Eastern world, including the Levant, are closely intertwined and embrace the more intimate, personal, and sentimental expressions as well. Such expressions are demonstrated in the context of the Awlad 'Ali tribal group in western Egypt, where women sing poetry in response to stringent codes of behavior and authority associated with male dominance (Abu-Lughod 1986). Furthermore, a close examination of traditional nomadic rituals and related expressive art forms shows that various traits can be discussed in terms of two broadly defined but closely related categories: (1) an encompassing complex that serves as a social code and combines such values as generosity, honor, and militancy; and (2) a complex of individually oriented and inwardly directed expressions and sentiments. The first complex, which underlies social interactions within the community and attitudes toward the outside world, consists of many interdependent components. Direct correlations have been made among such phenomena as honor and hospitality (Gilmore 1987b:16) and others including tribal rank, distinguished family lines, masculinity, physical power, and wealth (Giovannini 1987:61). In the case of the Egyptian Bedouin shaykh (or tribal chief) for example, social prestige, the ability to settle disputes, and the exercise of lavish hospitality are all closely interlinked (Abou-Zeid 1966:250). Similarly, in the Kabyle tribal culture of Algeria, a solid bond exists among respectability, generosity, boldness, and refusal to take a weak position in the face of insult (Bourdieu 1966:211). In the same vein, we read that among Awlhd 'Al "the honor code" encompasses moral qualities embedded in such concepts as asg (distinguished family roots) and, by extension, such virtues as fearlessness, pride, and loyalty to one's own patrilineal kin. Accordingly, men and women tend to pay allegiance to their own rather than their spouses' tribal groups (Abu-Lughod 1986:45-56). Also part of the Bedouin code of honor, specifically in the case of males, is the premium on freedom and autonomy, whether in the context of family relationships or political power (1986:45-71).

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Applying to both male and female domains, the second complex centers around the sentiment of love and finds its prime expression in love poetry. This realm of individualized emotions, or "the sentiment of vulnerability antithetical to the ideals of autonomy" (Abu-Lughod 1985:258), occupies an unmistakable position among Near Eastern tribal groups, as well as in Islamic society in general, where sung love poems serve to channel emotions in ways that are socially and morally acceptable (Andrews 1985:112).

The Nomadic Context

In Near Eastern Bedouin culture, the first complex acquires special significance in social rituals. The emphasis on lineage, social status, and generosity is traditionally epitomized by the (guest house) tradition. A shaykh, or any leading member of the tribalmad.afah group, may have his own guest house, usually a tent next to, or part of, his own family tent or house. The maddfah (literally "place of hospitality") is where a chief or an eminent individual receives guests periodically (see Figure 1). The guest house may serve as a context for socializing, solving political disputes, and seeking the chiefs council or arbitration. In the mad~fah, hospitality is expressed through a well-established social ritual, namely coffee drinking. Characterized by a set of carefully observed etiquettes "'
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Figure 1. A Bedouin chief with coffeepots in his madafah, at a Bedouin encampment in the BekaaValley of Lebanon, summer 1979. Photo by Barbara T. Racy. Reprinted by permission.


Folklore 109 (1996) Journal of American

that prescribe how the coffee is made and served, this ritual confirms the host's social prestige and consequently his prerogative to exercise generosity.2 In a more specific sense, the first complex of virtues is symbolized physically by the mihbaj(coffee grinder). Consisting of a large wooden pestle and mortar, the mihb-j may be considered: a household tool; a visually ornate object that has the pleasant, and perhaps symbolically significant, scent of coffee mixed with cardamon; a musical instrument; and last but not least, an emblem of generosity, honor, and social status. These different characterizations are inseparable from one another. The mihbaj is used by a member of the household to grind the coffee beans, but its musical or rhythmically articulated beat, often produced by a talented performer, becomes a sonic expression of the host's distinguished status and entitlement to the provision of hospitality. The musical aspects of coffee grinding are demonstrated by a performance that I recorded in Lebanon in the summer of 1980. The performer was ShiblI a Druze poetry singer material illustrates the typical from southern Syria (see Figure 2). The recorded .Hmid, rhythmic and timbral configurations, for example, when the handle hits the bottom of the mortar to grind the beans, thus producing a rich, low-pitched sound and as the handle hits the rim, particularly the area around the mouth of the mortar, in order to produce a high-pitched crisp sound. It also displays the rhythmic variations produced in the course of a single performance.3 The length of the performance is somewhat finite. Coffee grinding comes to an end when the coffee beans and the added cardamon seeds are finely ground, as the aesthetically pleasing crackling sound gradually ceases to exist. In a musically more elaborate sense, the first complex-the socially oriented combination of honor, bravery, militancy and related values-is eloquently expressed by certain song genres. In the culture of Levantine Bedouins, the primary example is a type of sung colloquial poetry generically known as shriiqT or qas~d.While the former word pertains to the sharq (east), the latter means Recog"poem" and brings to mind the Arabic classical form known as qas~dah. nized as the heroic genre par excellence, the shraqi is sung on a variety of occasions, particularly in the madjfah, during the customary social gathering, usually referred to as ta'lilah. The term ta'lilah implies offering and receiving hospitality, including partaking in the coffee ritual, and listening to sawalif (sing. salifah), or folk narratives that incorporate sung poetry (al-'Azizi 1983:354-356). Like other Bedouin genres presented during the ta'lilah, the shraqi is performed by the sha'ir (poet-singer) who accompanies himself on the rababah,a singlestring fiddle associated with poetry singing and somewhat comparable to the gusle used by Yugoslav epic singers (see Lord 1960:18). The poetry of the shraqi is part of an oral tradition, although in some cases it has appeared in published sources such as the dawawin (published collections; sing. diwan) of individual folk poets most of whom are known for their honorable or heroic deeds or for their defiance of political and social authority. Many texts are excerpts from memorable poems, for example, those by the late-19th-century Druze Shibli Basha al-Atrash, who wrote his heroic poetry when he was exiled to the city of Izmir by the Ottoman Turks. His poetry

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andperformer on the rababah Figure2. ShibliHamid,poetrysinger (held)andmihbaj (sitting in background), in his Beirut home in 1980. Photo by Barbara T. Racy. Reprintedby permission. reached the local community poets, who in turn performed it, thus prompting their listeners to rebel against the Turkish authorities 1980:59-64). But (F.dil


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the poems continued to be sung by later generationsof southernSyrianpoets. As illustratedby the poems of al-Atrash,shraqi texts are typically written in captivity or attributed to captive poets or poet-heroes, for example, when subjectedto forces that may cause them to be distressedor humiliated,forces against which they take a rebellious stance.4Meanwhile, the Bedouin lore is replete with heroic utterancesof unknown authors.These include numerous texts sung for their heroic significance and eloquent commentaryupon the Bedouin value system.At times, such texts portraythe dilemmasof theirauthors and even encompassan assortmentof emotions and counteremotions. the utteranceitself. The songs this Bedouin genre emphasizes In performance, in the literal sense of the term, since the backgroundstory, are not narratives are not sung the historicalsetting, and the natureof the relatedcircumstances out but recountedin regular,unsungspeech prior to the song proper.What is sung is the poet's words, or the poem utteredby the hero. As such, the narrative for the lyrics,a context for the text, which embodiesthe becomes a background Thus the entireperformance core of the performance. sequenceusuallyproceeds in regularspeech; narrated historical or contextualbackground the follows: as (a) (b) the poetry, or lyrics, renderedin recited ratherthan sung form; and (c) the same poetry sung. In one specificshraqisong, well-known among poets in Jordanand southern Syria, we encounter a popular theme of heroism mixed with a dramatically engaging element of sentimentality.Attributed to "Khalaf,"the hero of the to belong to a largeoralrepertoireof thematically story, the sungpoetry appears One renditionwas recordedcommerciallyon a cassette relatedsong narratives.5 poet-singer 'AbduhMiasi, who referredto it as "min tape by the lateJordanian The storycan sawalifal-'Arabal-aqdamin" (one of the tales of the earlyArabs).6 be summedup as follows:
Khalaf,the son of a tribal chief, was in love with the daughterof the chief of anothertribe. therewasa bitterwarbetween Khalaf, Becausethe fatherof the girl refusedto allow her to marry from the enemy tribe. the two tribalchiefs. During a long battleKhalaffell captiveto warriors whom they knew was he that Khalaf, Not sureof the captive'sidentity,the tribesmen suspected was in love with their chief's daughter. Therefore,they summonedher and askedher to identify him. While all assembledin a tribalhouse, the woman fearedthat if she identifiedKhalaf,he would almostcertainlybe killed. She loved him too much to tell the truthand insteadclaimed that he was a slave belonging to the Mawdly community,a feasiblestory since accordingto the as he had walked in the desertfor days.When sun the darkened skin was Khalafs narrator, by Khalafheardher testimony,he wasovercomeby a deep senseof honor and enragedby the insult At this time, he askedto implicitlycommittedagainsthis triballineageand familybackground. As he began to perform,he "since those daysevery house had a rababah." be given a rababah, chanteda poem in which he describedhis beloved's beauty but also criticized her own tribe, rebukedher for describinghim as a slave,and askedher to apologize,as he proceededto reveal tells us, the his true identity and to boast about his own tribalbackground.But as the narrator that "love and and defiance, realizing ends pride courage, by Khalaf's happily.Impressed story as a his him and him chief the and daughter war above gave conflict," forgave enemy reigns bride.7

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As demonstrated by this rendition, after greeting the guests and welcoming them to the ta'lilah, the performing sha 'irfirst tells the story in familiar colloquial Arabic with soft droning on the rabdbah, thus clearly evoking the ambiance of the madcfah. Second, while maintaining the soft drone effect on the rababahin the background, he delivers the shraqi poem-namely, what was spontaneously uttered by Khalaf, the hero and poet-singer-in its original Bedouin colloquial form, without melody. In the process he adds brief interpolations to explain the meaning of some Bedouin words, presumably to modern non-Bedouin listeners. As the performing poet establishes the poem in the listeners' minds through reciting it nonmelodically, thus giving it the semblance of an already heard or a memorably shared textual landmark, he proceeds to sing it while accompanying himself on the rabdbah. Sometimes, heroic themes are conveyed in other song genres, for example, war songs prevalent among members of the Druze sect in southern Syria. The who performs many such songs, uses Syrian Druze poet-singer ShiblI .HImid, and captivity of the poet-hero ShiblI Bdshd regular speech to describe the life al-Atrash. Then, after rendering the heroic text nonmusically, he delivers it in a traditional war-chant melody that is distinctly metric and highly animated. Furthermore, during the performance this shd'ir occasionally hits the skincovered body of the rabdbahwith the wood edge of the bow, thus producing a distinct accentual effect apparently to enhance the militaristic ambiance of the

The second complex, representing the realm of personal sentiments, is associated with a different set of song types. Unlike the shraqi and other thematically related genres, these song types use love as a central theme and address aspects of life that compliment, and at times conflict with, the socially oriented honor code. Constituting a major component in the poet-singer's repertoire, the individualized amorous complex is best conveyed by the song genre known as 'ataba. As a rule, texts of this genre portray the poet as a lover and, as such, describe him as being emotionally vulnerable, lovesick, and tormented by the tribulations of unrequited love. A Bedouin poet-singer may sing 'atdbd in a variety of social and festive contexts and sometimes ends his shraqi performance with a segment of 'atdbd. In this genre, instead of the narrative implications of the shraqi we find a more and others, lyrical delivery. As demonstrated by the recordings of 'Abduh Moasi the singer provides no background plots and skips the introductory nonmelodic recitation of the text, as he confines himself to the sung performance itself. The poet-singer seldom tells, or even knows, who composed the 'atabatexts, which are themselves interesting. 'Atuba texts share with the shraqi the double-line verse structure, but instead of using regular rhymes, they use homonyms at three consecutive half-line endings. Thus the same word, but with a different meaning each time, reoccurs at the end of each half line, or hemistich, except for the last half line. The sequence of poetical cadences in the four half lines is AAAB respectively, with B following one of a few standard 'atabaclosing syllables.8


Folklore 109 (1996) journalof American

The shriqi and 'atdbdgenres, although both integral to the artistic culture of Levantine Bedouins, differ in terms of their emotional orientations, textual styles, and musical contents. Unlike the shraqi, which tends to express communally shared virtues, the 'ataba addresses individual, albeit stylized or abstracted, sentiments. The former is a specialty of male singers, whereas the latter can be found in different variations among both male and female groups. Shrfqi texts are linked to memorable contexts and to heroic or honorable persons and deeds; 'atabdtexts are appreciated for their clever or even witty choice of words, as well as for their emotional expressiveness. The musical distinctions between the two song genres are also very significant. In both, the verses are separatedby rabdbahinterludes consisting of short motific patterns. Also in both genres, the melody of the verse is rendered with variational flexibility, as the fiddle tends to imitate the voice and accompany it heterophonically. But in the shraqi genre, we encounter a melodic contour that Levantine Arab folk culture generally associates with heroic songs and the heroic ethos in general. Roughly, this contour resembles a zigzag pattern that moves above and below a tonal center. This tonal center, or tonic note, is prolonged considerably at the end of each verse. In rough intervalic terms, the melody fluctuates around one relative tonic pitch, thus rising up to about a third above or dropping down to about a third below before a cadence ascends stepwise to rest upon the sustained tonic note. In contrast, in the 'atdba and its generic variants in the region the melodic structure exhibits a distinct descending tendency. Roughly, within each half line of text, the melody, which is rendered in a highly ornate style, first leaps a fourth or fifth upward and descends gradually thus ending on the tonic note in the fourth, or last, half line. In short, these musical distinctions seem to symbolize, as well as evoke, the aesthetic and emotional moods that identify each of these two expressive genres.

The relationship between Levantine rural communities and Bedouin culture is complex and somewhat ambivalent. On a visible level, Lebanon's village culture shares many traits with its Bedouin counterpart, as nomadic manners seem to resemble the villagers' social codes of behavior. The values discussed above underlie the villagers' ritual performances, as shown in a study on feasts that closely related families celebrate together in a Christian village in northern Lebanon (Jabbra1987:21). Accordingly, these occasions reinforce households as basic social units, stress the essential virtues of hospitality and generosity, demonstrate the wealth and desirable status of the household, and establish boundaries that define individuals who are morally fit and allowed to attend these rituals. In Ibl al-Saqi, my village of birth, a small southern Lebanese community of some 2,000 inhabitants, contacts with nomadic culture existed mostly before the 1940s, particularly with Bedouins in neighboring northern Palestine, southern Syria, and occasionally within Lebanon itself. Despite the village's sedentary and somewhat modernized ways of life, nomadic-related

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customs are frequently encountered. The village coffee ritual, although less structured and perhaps less idealized than its Bedouin counterpart, has dominated social life, while the ideals of hospitality and honor have underscored much of the social interactions, particularly the ritualized exchanges of visits among different family households. Bedouin themes make frequent appearances in the village's folk tales, oral histories, and even humor. At the same time, Bedouin culture seems quite removed from the village's daily experience. Nomadic ways of life appear as if they belong to a vaguely familiar, but distant world "out there." Actually, in village humor, the badawi (Bedouin) is often stereotyped as someone who is crude or socially unsophisticated. Even Bedouin art proper seems to have become less visible in the villagers' lives. Nowadays the mihbaj is rarely seen except occasionally as a valued decorative item, although some elders in the village remember male and female relatives who had used it in the past. I knew one poet-singer who immigrated from southern Syria to the village, where he performed shrfiqi and 'atabd as he accompanied himself on the rabdbah. But throughout Lebanese village culture the poetical arena has been traditionally dominated by poets who specialize in zajal, the local tradition of sung folk poetry (Haydar 1989). On a deeper level, however, village culture betrays subtle yet unmistakable identification with the nomadic lore. Bedouin expressions appear to exist latently within the community's conscience but also to surface in various degrees of intensity in specific well-defined social and ritualistic contexts. As such, Ibl al-Saqi expresses its own idealized view of the Bedouin world. At weddings and similar festive events, particularly during men's gatherings, in which 'araq (anise-flavored alcoholic beverage) and food may be served, village poet-singers perform the rural renditions of the shriaq and 'atdbd without instrumental accompaniment and with local textual and musical nuances. Although the shrfqi seems to enjoy a lesser position in the rural repertoire than it does in traditional Bedouin culture, some Bedouin-derived war chants continue to be performed by the Christian and Druze villagers. Furthermore, Bedouin motifs are particularly prominent in the funeral, which villagers revere and consider a highly momentous social event (see Racy 1985:1 and 1986a:28). In the village, Christian and Druze funeral rituals seem to provide a unique context for resurrecting, or perhaps "reliving," the old world of nomadic Arabia. While processions with horses bedecked with battle regalia, including swords and firearms, may commemorate the departure of a male deceased, the songs generally depict him as a fallen hero and compare him to a valiant tribal chief. The secular part of the ritual usually includes several hours of sung poetry known by the broad generic term nadb (funeral singing). In the nadb proper, the central lament genre sung by either women or men in a solo-chorus format, the texts usually describe the village or the religious community as a distraught Bedouin tribe. Similarly, the deceased is depicted as a role model of hospitality, chivalry, and bravery. The names of historic figures known for their proverbial generosity and valiancy punctuate the sung texts. If the deceased is a male, war songs-mostly stressing Bedouin social virtues-are


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sung, especiallyby men. Wedding songswith texts modifiedto suit the funerary ambiance may also depict the deceased as a groom and bestow upon him attributesof manhood and honor.9 In Lebanesevillages, the shraqi, or qasid, is occasionallysung at funeralsby male zajalpoets. In this caseit is referred to as qasidah ("poem"),usuallyqualified as qasidatritha'("poem of elegy"). In the elegiac qasidah,although the texts center aroundthe deceased,they generallyrecreatean idealizedBedouin world. They evoke the themes of pride and honor, speakof distinguishedlineage, and refer to relatedvirtues such as braveryand generosity. Furthermore, like their Bedouin counterparts,these texts tend to express social or communal values, although frequentlythey also incorporatedeath-relatedphilosophicalnotions. For example,they may describethe community'swillingnessto rise and redeem the deceasedbut hastento addthat deathis muqaddar (preordained). Comparable to the Bedouin poet, who expressesthe social, ethical, and political concernsof lit. "one who speaks")often acts as the tribal life, the village poet (qawwdl, of and even country. In a broadersense, his sect, village, religious spokesman he may also speakon the behalf of the living vis-a-vis death. One illustrativeexampleis a qasidahI recordedin the late 1960s. Performed by a Druze qawwdlfrom Ibl al-Saqi,the example used an historic text that was composed and originally sung around 1956 at the funeral of a distinguished Druze woman. Specifically,the poem eulogized NazirahJunbulat,the mother of the late political leader Kamdl Junbulat.She came from a traditionalfamily that enjoyed political and social privileges within the Druze community. Addressingher directly, the poet attributesto the deceasedwoman qualitiesof andwisdom andbegs the Druze religiousmen "to bestow generosity,leadership, upon your soul blessingsin direct proportion to your generous spirit" (Racy 1985:6). Incidentally,this exampleis in some ways unique andof specialinterest vis-a-vis gender distinctionsin Arabfolk culture. Becausethe deceasedwoman she is eulogized by a male poet-singer, was sociallyand politicallydistinguished do not perform at women's funerals. male poet-singers although normally transcendedthe culture's eminence somewhat deceased's as the Furthermore, traditionalmale-femaleboundaries,the qasidah,alreadya male-orientedgenre, eulogized her by bestowing upon her old Arabian virtues such as honor, hospitality, and leadership, as well as idealized feminine attributes such as and good demeanor. decency, respectability, Musically speaking, the Bedouin shraqi or qasid and the Lebanese elegiac qasidah display the same type of strophic structure and roughly the same
fluctuating, or zigzag, melodic contour. But the last one displays urban musical influence and incorporates the intervals and the melodic progressions of certain maqi~mt (melodic modes; sing. maqam). Typically used is the mode SikahHuzam, which is reminiscent of the Bedouin shraqi scale and similarly tends to evoke the feeling of pride and heroism.'0 Meanwhile, lament genres that women specialize in exhibit a more introspective and individualized emotional orientation. Here, a variant of the 'ataba expresses the pathos experienced by the individual bereaved women and in

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various degreessharedby close femalekin or companions.Being the women's lament genre par excellence, this genre is calledfrtqiyydt,which means "songs or "songs of farewell"(Racy 1980:654). A woman who may be of departure" either a bereavedfamilymemberor a nadddbah-aspecializedfemaledirgesinger usually hired by the deceased'sfamily-performs this genre, usually without chorus responses. She may create imagined utterances on the behalf of the deceasedor membersof his or her family, usuallywith the formerbidding his or her familymembersfarewell.As such, the sung texts resemblea tragicdrama capableof being realisticallyexperiencedand are emotionally felt not as mere but more as "presences"(Geertz 1973:118). Indeed, the "representations" are fr~qiyydt recognized and appreciatedfor their cathartic value, or their for makingwomen cry, thus expressingtheir grief as they listen appropriateness in the song performance. to and participate In a sense, the performanceexemplifies what Abu-Lughod describesas a counterideology,or "a set of contrarysentiments"(1986:255), as it providesan alternativeto a sociallysanctioneddominantethos. In Druze and Islamicsociety in general,overt andexaggerated manifestations of grief-for example,women's considered antithetical to wailing-are religiousdoctrines,which preachaccepting death as God's preordainedwill. Excessive pathos would also threatenthe code of moralprudenceand contradictthe need for women to keep theirvoices modestly low and unheardby the men. Consequently,the dilemma-at times, the conflict-between the urge to expressone's own grief and the premiumon stoic or rationalcontrol over emotions is resolved through a compromisethat gives the women an acceptable,albeit confined or private,venue for emotional releaserepresentedat best by the frdqiyydt as a lament genre. the Musically, frdqiyydtgenre exhibits many characteristicsof the 'atdba proper. It maintains the flexibly interpreted strophic form and the overall poetical structure,althoughthe homonymsor puns used in the 'atdbi are often absent.Also like the 'atdbd, the lamentdisplaysa distinctlydescendingcontour, as the melody of each phrase,or half line, tends to starton a higher pitch and graduallyfall down toward the tonic note about a fourth lower, finally ending on the tonic in the fourth and lastphrase.Serving as a cadence, the tonic note usually terminatesin a sigh or sobbing-like ornament, one that typifies the fraqiyydtand seems to express a powerful sense of pathos. Furthermore,the intervalshere tend to betraysome urbanmusicalinfluence as the scalarstructure veers more closely towardthe traditional mode known as Bayyati,as shown by an examplethat I recordedin Lebanonin the late 1960s."
Apart from these folk manifestations, Lebanese village culture has also embraced the shraq~i and 'atabain their urbanized forms. Since the earlier decades of the present century, when 78-rpm phonograph records became accessible throughout the Near East, villagers heard and performed the urbanized renditions themselves, using the urban intonation and even accompaniment on urban instruments such as the 'id, qanun,and violin. In village artistic life, the Bedouin, rural, and urban musical orientations have long coexisted and overlapped one another. Whereas some musical expressions are peculiar to the rural communi-


Folklore 109 (1996) Journalof American

ties, certain interpretations, particularlyof the ubiquitous 'atabagenre, often illustratethe confluence of village and city musicalidioms. One representative recordedwith a takht,or exampleis a 'atabaperformance smallensembleof traditional urbaninstruments,duringthe earlydecadesof the 20th century. Severalfeaturesmake this example even furtherremoved from the Bedouin 'ataba example discussed earlier, despite their shared amorous content and certainbroadmusicaland lyricalcomponents. Here, in a distinctly novel formattwo singers,a man and a woman, alternatein singing'ataba verses. the two the male who in singers, Actually, specialized 'atabaand Yasuf Taj, the and mother of the late Arabvocal celebrities 'Alydal-Atrash, shraqi songs, were both from the socially reservedDruze sect. Faridal-Atrashand Asmdhan, from a distinguishedSyrianfamilyherself. The came al-Atrash originally 'Alya was recorded commerciallyon a 78-rpm disc and was widely heard by song In this and similarexamples,we fans throughout the Arab Near East.12 'ataba encounter lavish ornamentation,a highly melismatic treatment of the text, of an establishedmelodic structure,and basicadherence flexible interpretations to the urban intonation. Furthermore,a few urban instrumentsbegin the performancewith a shortpreludebut accompanythe singerseither by holding a soft drone or roughlyby echoing the vocal phrases,thus giving the performance an urbanized musical quality, without departing drasticallyfrom the mannerin which the rababah accompaniesthe shi'ir in the Bedouin context. The UrbanContext In the complex socialandpoliticalclimateof modernArabcities, the nomadic elusive and hard to define. Indeed, Bedouin-related ethos seems particularly expressionsappearto either adaptto establishedurbanmodalitiesor to exist in separate,often marginalizeddomains. Unlike the nomadic and ruralmusical stylesof the area,the musicof Beirut hasbeen closely linked to the Arabmusical as well as distinctlyshapedby the country'smoderncomposersand mainstream, performers(Racy 1986b). Furthermore,throughout the Arabworld there has with the been a tendency to createnew urbanizedfolk repertoires,particularly rise of commercial recording and subsequentlyother mass media during the present century. In Lebanon,especiallybefore the outbreakof civil war in the had develmid-1970s, many folk-relatedgenres and performancemannerisms oped clear patterns of urbanizationand recontextualization.Many of these patternscontinue to exist in postwar Beirut, whose cosmopolitanpopulation
has over the decades assimilated a large number of migrants from various neighboring rural, nomadic, and urban communities. In 20th-century Beirut, Bedouin-related and other locally based Lebanese song genres have been urbanized and recognized as part of an old and well-established song domain generally known as baladi (roughly, "local," "native," "folk-derived"; from balad, "country" or "countryside"). This category encompasses shraqi, 'atabi, and other closely related genres. As baladi song types, the shraqi and 'ataba, despite their distinct folk "flavor," are presented and treated

and Poet-Singers Racy, Heroes,Lovers,


essentially as urban songs. They are performed by either men or women, and in the case of the shrfqi the performance proceeds without a background story. The poetry, usually in the local Lebanese, rather than the Bedouin colloquial Arabic, is sung outright without its prior recitation in a regular-speech mode. The ritual-like ambiance created by the Bedouin song performance is dispensed with. The texts are typically written by modern poets, for example, lyricists employed by the government radio station. Furthermore, instead of commemorating specific heroes or alluding to memorable tribal contexts, the urban shriqi texts tend to voice generalized sentiments of folk nostalgia and patriotism, for example, praising the valiancy of the country's military forces and at times expressing how as a nation or people "we" uphold such values as generosity, honor, and chivalry. Musically speaking, the urban shraqi is accompanied by an urban ensemble with such instruments as the 'ad, qanen, nay, and violin. The instrumental introduction, usually a dihlab(a short instrumental prelude for the ensemble), and the collective heterophonic style of accompaniment are among the obvious features of urbanization. Although the vocal quality tends to maintain some of the timbral nuances generally associated with valor and is reminiscent of the vocal renditions of the Bedouin shd'ir,13 the ornaments and the melodic intervals are adapted to the urban practice. Furthermore, instead of the strident, highpitched singing typical of the Bedouin sh4'ir, the baladi singer tends to use a lower vocal tessitura. While adhering to the general contour of the shraqi melody, the verses conform to the scalar structure and modal character of Sikdh-Huzdm. Such traits can be observed in dozens of shraqi recordings, for example, one featuring Mary 'Atayv, a Lebanese female singer who specializes in the baladi style.14 Meanwhile, constituting a major component within this baladi repertoire, the 'ataba is extremely popular and is sung by many of the country's singing stars. In the broad domain of Lebanese urban music, it is much more prevalent than the shraqi. The urban 'atabaform, which like the urban shraqi is sung with an urban orchestra, retains the original strophic poetical and musical structure and the system of puns or homonyms. The amorous and highly individualized sentiments remain essential, as the urbanized version continues to describe the lover's amorous condition-or rather, ordeal-associated with the love experience. Often presented as a section within a regular urban love song, the 'atibd, like the shraq~i,continues to leave room for the singer's extemporized musical elaborations while adhering to the overall melodic structure of the sung genre. Most often, 'ataba performances include a precomposed chorus refrain called mijana, one that alternates with the soloistic verses, or the 'ataba proper. 'Atiba songs, particularly with mjana refrains are sung by such artists as the celebrated Lebanese male singer Wadi' al-Safi and the female singer Sab Furthermore, the popularity of the " 'ataba and mljans" genre extends h..5 to the Lebanese immigrants in the United States, among whom this and other baladi genres have been associated with "the old country" and disseminated on hundreds of 78-rpm


Folklore 109 (1996) Journalof American

and LP discs, as well as performed at festive gatherings and in nightclubs (see Rasmussen 1991:230-246).16 At the same time, the culture of Beirut has been open to other inroads and manifestations of Bedouinness. Particularly in recent decades, Bedouin and Bedouin-derived musical genres have managed to exist in a variety of private and popular domains. Unlike the older and more stylized baladi category, such genres tend to link the city more directly with nomadic folkways and artistic expressions. One example is the traditional Bedouin songs that are sporadically performed in private social contexts, as well as disseminated on commercial recordings and through local radio stations. Some city dwellers who originally came from such areas as southern Syria-for example, Shibli Hamid-remain loyal to their native genres, although they tend to present them on ad hoc bases, in socially and artistically confined contexts, for properly initiated audiences. A living room may temporarily turn into a mad~fah-like place, in which Bedouin coffee is specially prepared and served. On some occasions, poet-singers may perform Bedouin renditions of 'ataba, shriqi, and other related genres and address a variety of issues ranging from heroic themes of nomadic Arabia to modern political affairs. Another example consists of staged and choreographed Bedouin representations, namely, a small component within a newly developed urban popular genre known as "Lebanese folklore." Cultivated in Lebanon before the civil war, Lebanese folklore was in part inspired by tourism, and local nationalistic sentiments (see Racy 1981:37). Folk festivals, often sponsored by ministries and other official agencies, have presented newly created versions of Lebanese village songs and dances but in some instances have incorporated stylized Bedouin music and dance performances as well. In these events, audiences have been occasionally "treated" to coffee served in the traditional Bedouin manner with cardamon and in small cups, at times with a background of mihbaj pounding and rababah playing (see Figure 3). A further genre consists of highly popularized adaptations essentially in the Bedouin style. This genre embraces old and newly composed songs and dance pieces and is associated with a handful of folk artists, especially a northern Lebanese performer known by the stage name Abaf Harbah. This artist's ensemble, includes male and female Gypsy musicians and uses such instruments as the rabdbah, the mihbaj, and the buzuq (a long-necked fretted lute typically played by Gypsy musicians)."7 This category has become popular through radio, television, and audiocassette recordings. Moreover, one genre consists of newly composed mainstream songs that incorporate Bedouin themes, such as love, chivalry, generosity, and valiancy, through lyrics that betray a Bedouin flavor in terms of verbal expression and manner of pronunciation. Generally referred to as lawn Baddawi(Bedouin style; lit. "Bedouin color"), these songs are associated with popular Arab singers like Samirah Tawfiq. Using the traditional Arab orchestra, they utilize the standard urban intonation and system of modes, although they usually contain certain

and Poet-Singers Racy, Heroes,Lovers,


? J,,


Figure 3. Receptionist corner at the entrance of the Ba'albakCastle, a site for folkloric festivals

beforethe mid-1970s.Emulations of the traditional guesthouse appear throughthe coffee rababah and a the handle of which shown is here.Courtesy of paraphernalia, playing, mihbaj, the Lebanese of Tourism. Ministry melodic and rhythmic allusions to the nomadic style. Furthermore, these urban songs tend to exclude traditional generic formats such as the shraqi and 'ataba and owe largely to the talents of composers, lyricists, and arrangersfrom different Near Eastern Arab cities.

The study of specific Arab song genres across nomadic, rural, and urban settings provides close perspectives into the expressive and ideological threads of contemporary Arab life within the Levant. Accordingly, many general assumptions regarding the manifestations of Bedouinness as an ideology and artistic expression need to be qualified, refined, and perhaps reconsidered. To begin with, the investigation of key performance categories substantiates some of the premises presented earlier in the article. Specifically, the Bedouin ethos appears to exist not as a monolithic concept or a discrete set of rules and expressions but as a large network of interlinked cultural values and practices. Moreover, it is shown that within this network it is possible to understand the various expressive genres in light of two major configurations, or complexes. Specifically outlined is the role played by each complex along the nomadicrural-urban continuum of the Arab Near East.


Folklore 109 (1996) journalof American

It is demonstrated that the complex embracing of the socially oriented and most widely recognized values such as honor, militancy, chivalry, and generosity plays a significant part in shaping the traditional artistic expression, particularly in the nomadic context. The shraqi genre is a prime illustration. But the study of sung poetry across nomadic, rural, and urban communities also attests to the profound efficacy and prevalent appeal of the more individualized sentimental complex. Indeed, the 'ataba and its derivatives occupy a central position in the expressive culture of the Arab Near East at large. In rural life, for example in Lebanese villages, although honor and related values dictate various aspects of social behavior and manifest themselves in different song genres, the artistic expression associated with individualized emotions seems ubiquitous and is applicable to a variety of contexts. As best illustrated by one specific type of Lebanese funeral lament, and by the 'ataib songs as performed in both villages and cities, the ideology of sentiments appears to cut more effectively across gender distinctions and to penetrate with more continuity and vigor across nomadic/rural/urban lines. Similarly, as various manifestations of the Bedouin ethos have shown, the two complexes are not mutually exclusive. Amorous sentiments, as well as themes of honor, permeate the repertoires of poet-singers and singers proper from both sexes and in various Levantine Arab contexts. The two areas often appear complimentary rather than oppositional, as the roles of hero, lover, and poetsinger converge within single idealized Bedouin profiles, and somewhat vicariously within the sha'ir in actual performance contexts. Also, in ritualized contexts, such as the Lebanese funeral, themes of honor, solidarity, and grief appear closely intertwined. Furthermore, the regressive interpretation of culture-or the notion that tribal folkways tend to change drastically or lose their momentum across time and space-has been illustrated by the present study. In rural and urban contexts, Bedouin-related genres usually adapt to local manners of performing and lose their original connotations in favor of new ones. The roles of hero, lover, and poet-singer become functionally separated and even yield to the specialized roles of lyricist, accompanist, and professional singer. Broadly speaking, the city's Arab musical heritage, which is historically related to Islamic mysticism and to various Ottoman and pan-Islamic traditions and which has been subject to considerable Western influence, seems strikingly non-Bedouin and nonnomadic. But seen in the context of modern Near Eastern society, the regressive interpretation is proven to have serious limitations. To begin with, as Bedouin tribes are gradually losing their social autonomy, yielding to local governmental policies and becoming permanently settled (Kay 1978:139-150), the cultural and demographic boundaries separating tribal, rural, and urban groups are becoming increasingly blurred and are marked by cultural and artistic crossovers. Usually in the form of multidirectional leaps and shortcuts, such crossovers have been enhanced by the proliferation of the mass media-for example, the radio and the cassette tape-and the influx of populations from areas originally with strong

and Poet-Singers Racy, Heroes,Lovers,


nomadic and ruraltraditionsinto the large cities. Similarly,the studyillustrates

some of the recent reversal patterns, according to which the urban aesthetic has fed into various folk repertoires. It is shown that the modern rural domain of artistry incorporates locally cultivated genres but also reflects the incursions of both nomadic and urban cultures. Meanwhile, the role Bedouin culture plays in the lives of the non-Bedouins is not always visible or consistent. Thus, depending upon the social circumstances and the immediate intentions, Near Easterners may switch into and out

in of the varioustypes of expressiverealmsand modes of behavior.Particularly,

the case of the Lebanese village, we have observed that, although not so obvious in ordinary life venues, Bedouinness tends to surface most vividly in ritualistic contexts. Through a process of relegation, Bedouin motifs dominate the group laments performed at the highly revered funeral ceremony. Finally, in modern Near Eastern society, the Bedouin ethos appearspervasive, yet highly elusive, gradually fading out across time and place, yet displaying an

ability to survive somewhatsubliminallyand in selective social domains.As an

intricate set of attitudes and ideals, it is intimately linked to sung poetry, which provides it with a powerful voice and enables it to be evoked or reenacted in various social and artistic contexts. In one sense, the present exploration illustrates the common threads that unite the Arab Near East and perhaps relate it to other neighboring regions. In another sense, the findings highlight the cultural patterns, dynamics, and tensions that make this area distinct and

internallydiverse. Notes
This article is based on a paper I gave on November 21, 1992, at a UCLA lecture event entitled "Measured Words and Structured Sounds: Learning from Arabic Lyric and Musical Tradition." Including another speaker, Dwight Reynolds of UC Santa Barbara, the session was presented by the UCLA Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology. I wish to thank the Center, particularly Joseph F. Nagy, for inviting me to be part of the session. 'Accordingly, music is among the arts and sciences that communities cultivate when they become civilized. In a section on "the craft of singing and music," Ibn Khaldun wrote: "The craft of singing is the last of the crafts attained to in civilization, because it constitutes (the last development toward) luxury with regard to no occupation in particular save that of leisure and gaiety. It also is the first to disappear from a given civilization when it disintegrates and retrogresses" (Rosenthal and Dawood 1967:331). 2The historical origins of coffee drinking in nomadic cultures is not clear. One study (Hattox 1985:11) indicates that in the Near East coffee became a "social beverage" toward the mid-15th century. The work discusses coffeehouses in various urban centers but gives practically no information on the Bedouin coffee culture. But in a book on folklife in Amman, Jordan, between 1878 and 1948, we read about more than a dozen different madafat belonging to eminent local families. Also provided are descriptions of the various activities connected with the maddfah, including eating, serving coffee, and reciting poetry (Rashid 1983:235-239). Information on the madIfah customs and etiquettes, as well as the relationship between hospitality and social status among the marsh dwellers of southern Iraq, is included in (Eickelman 1981:192-195). Meanwhile, the etiquettes of the coffee ritual in Syria's nomadic and rural areas are discussed in a chapter entitled 1980:65-72. "ddab al-Qahwah" (The Manner Codes of Coffee) in F.dil


Folklore 109 (1996) Journalof American

of this and other primarymusicalexamplesdiscussedin the articlecan be heardon a 3Excerpts speciallypreparedcassettetape of Near Easternfolk music placedin the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive. 41have examinedthe diwanof ShibliB~shaal-Atrash, a publishedvolume that consistedof more than 175 pagesand includeddozens of poems.The drwanwas owned by poet-singerShibli Hamid, who used it as a source for some of his own performances. 5Thispoem, whose hero is also introducedby 'AbduhMasi as Khalafibn al-'Ayjah,perhapsin referenceto his tribalaffiliation,is well known to Shibli Himid of southernSyria,who also sang it himself,thus providinghis own renditionof it. 6The cassetteis entitled " 'Abduh Masai fl AjmalAghdnihmin al-'Atdbd al-Shuroqi"('Abduh and ShraqiSongs),issuedby Morico, 168, Beirut, Lebanon.It Mirsain His Most Beautiful'Atdbd was probablyreleasedin the early 1970s. 7The story hasa vaguebut noteworthyresemblance to other Arabian love storiessuch as the one about Qays and Layli, and as it describesthe hero'sdarkenedskin color, it recallsthe pre-Islamic Arabian blackhero and poet 'Antarand his beloved woman 'Ablah.In fact, Antar's sfrah(life story) hasservedas materialfor epic singersand storytellersin Arabfolk culture(seeDhuhni 1965:9-13). 8Suchclosing syllablesvarybut tend to follow typicalendings,particularly those markedby the sounds "Ab,""an," "da," and "yd," the last syllables,for example, appearingin one of 'Abduh Masi's recordings.For furtherinformationon 'atabd endingssee (Hijdbn.d.:29-31). 9Modifiedweddingsongsarealsosungby femalesingerswhen the deceasedis a young unmarried woman,althoughtypicallywithout the heroicBedouinthemesfoundin the malesong counterparts. In both cases,these songsseem to createa rite of passage the ritual feeling, which may characterize as a whole. 101use this bifold modal name to refer to the common urbanArabpracticeof mixing the two maqmditconceptuallyand tonally, but with the mode Huzdmas a dominantcomponent.Thus in relativepitch, the scale of the mode in ascendingorderwould be roughly e half-flat(or flattened a quarter-tone); f; g; a-flat;b; c'; d'; e' half-flat.Some pitch accidentals by approximately may also on a and b. Meanwhile, among today's zajal poets, the funeraryqasidahis appear,particularly sometimesrenderedin the mode Hijaz,which usesthe scaled, e flat,fsharp,g, a, b flat (or half-flat), c', d'. 11Thescale of the mode Bayysti is roughlyd; e half-flat;f; g; a; b flat (or half-flat);c'; d'. 121heardthis performance on an LP reissueof earlierand other more recent recordingsby Arab in States. the United The LP is entitled "Atabdand Dabky Dance," issued by the immigrants Alkawakeb Record Company. this vocal qualitycan be explainedas one resultingfrom makingthe voice resonatein 13Perhaps an enlargedmouth cavity with the jaws split more widely apart,but with the mouth opening kept songs. relativelynarrow.This timbre is typicalof men's heroic and war-related 14Thisand other examplesappearon a recordingof Mary 'Atayd,an LP entitled "Al-Aghani 'Atdbd-Mawwdl" (Folk Songs: 'AtdbaMawwal),LPO 130, Orient Records, New al-Baladiyyah: York. recordings by these and numerous other singers are quite common and 15Representative accessibleon commercialrecordings,for example,throughthe above-mentionedOrient Records. 160ne interesting illustrationis a 78-rpm disc featuringthe LebaneseAmerican actor and comedianDanny Thomas singing 'atdbdto 'ad accompaniment by Toufic Barham.Here the text follows the traditional'ataba format,althoughthe choice of homonyms in one verse specifically the expression"wa judi" appearsto deliberatelyevoke the theme of St. Jude. The record was releasedby St. Jude HospitalFoundationin 1952. the relativelymore accessibleGypsiesinto this and other relatedcontexts is not 17Recruiting surprising.In LebanonGypsiesgenerallyemulatethe Bedouins in their nomadic lifestyle, dress, tatoos,and even the use of the rababah, althoughthe buzuqremainsbasicto their itinerantlifestyle and their role as wanderingmusicalentertainers. Many Gypsy chiefs have madf~it, serve coffee, is more accurately,"nomadicArabs") and use the mihbij. Actually,the word 'Arab (lit. "Arabs"; sometimesusedloosely andconfusinglyto includenomadicGypsies,althoughunlike the Bedouins,

andPoet-Singers Racy, Heroes,Lovers,


Bedouin Gypsieshave a very low social statusand are consideredlacking the most fundamental virtues.

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