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Honor and the Sentiments of Loss in a Bedouin Society

Author(s): Lila Abu-Lughod

Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 12, No. 2 (May, 1985), pp. 245-261
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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honor and the sentiments of loss in a Bedouin society

LILAABU-LUGHOD-Williams College

1984 StirlingAward for Contributionsto Psychological Anthropology

Safiyya, a middle-aged Egyptian Bedouin woman, talked about her divorce from the man to
whom she had been married for 20 years.
Myyoungestdaughterwas nursingin myarmswhen he leftme. Iwas sickandtired."Theman"came
up to me one afternoonas I sat by the oven. He said, "You'redivorced."I said, "Thanks,that'sjustfine
by me." Ididn'twanthim. Idon'twantanythingfromhimexceptto buildme a houseto live in withmy
son-a place where I can feel at home. I didn'tcare when he divorcedme. I neverlikedhim. He had
takenanotherwife butthatdidn'tbotherme. I neverfoughtwith her.WhyshouldI?Thesethingsdon't
Yet two days later, when a conversation between Safiyya and several other women in her
household turned to the whereabouts of her ex-husband, away on a trip at the time, she sud-
denly recited the following short poem:'
Memoriesstirredby mentionof the beloved khatarhasirTb
shouldI release,I'dfindmyselfflooded . . . kefnashansTlbih . . .
The first time I had met her I had been with another young woman, an Egyptian university
student. Safiyya had asked if either of us was married. Both of us replied in the negative. She
leaned over and advised us earnestly, "Don't ever get married. What would you want with
marriage?Men are just sons of bitches. They do you no good." A few months after I had begun
living in the community, I showed my taperecorder to a group of women for the firsttime. Some
volunteered to sing, including Safiyya. The song she offered was the following:
Oh eyes be strong ya nzardTrun
you cherishpeople andthen they'regone ... carabwyfarg . . .

Beginning with the observation that among the Awlad CAIT Bedouins of the Egyp-
tian Western Desert individuals respond to personal loss with two contradictory
sets of sentiments, one expressed in ordinary language and public interactions and
the other expressed in a form of poignant lyric poetry spontaneously recited in
intimate contexts, this paper explores the significance of the coexistence of dis-
crepant discourses on emotion for understanding the relationship between the self
and cultural ideals. For Awlad CAlI,like others in circum-Mediterraneansocieties,
the cultural ideals are those entailed by the honor code. Analysis of the links be-
tween this code and the two discourses reveals the complexity of the relationship
between cultural ideology and individual experience and its articulation. [self and
emotion, ideology, honor code, poetry, Middle EastBedouins, loss]

Copyright? 1985 by the AmericanAnthropological


Bedouin sentiments of loss 245

Therewas no doubt in the mindsof all who subsequentlyheardthis song on tape that it
referredto herex-husband.
The incongruitybetweenwhatSafiyyasaid in ordinarylanguageand whatshe expressedin
poetrywas striking.Inherordinarystatements,she alternatedbetweendenyingconcernabout
the loss of her husbandand his rejectionof herand expressingbitternessand anger.Yetboth
of her poems conveyed the impressionof sadness.Thetearsconnotedby imagesof flooding
and the referenceto eyes are indices of sadnessand suffering.The warningsto herselfabout
the consequencesof lettinggo andthe exhortationto hereyes to be strongsuggestthe vigilance
and effortrequiredto controlthis sadness.
Safiyya'scase was by no means unique.The incongruitybetweenthe sentiments2commu-
nicatedin the poetic and mundanediscoursesseems to be characteristic of the expressionof
sentimentamongthe AwladCAIT Bedouinsof the EgyptianWesternDesertamongwhom I did
fieldwork.3Theconstellationsof sentimentspeopleexpressedin thetwo discoursesoverlapped
little.Whenconfrontedwithpersonalloss, poortreatment,or neglect(amongthe mostfrequent
elicitorsof poeticresponsesinthosewithwhom I lived),individualsusuallyexpressedhostility,
bitterness,and anger in theirordinaryverbaland nonverbalstatements.Alternatively,espe-
cially in mattersof loss in love, which I discusselsewhere,4they professedindifferenceor de-
nied concern.Intheirpoems, however,they conveyedsentimentsof devastatingsadness,self-
pity,and a sense of betrayal,and, in the case of love, deep attachment.
Thiscoexistenceof discrepantsentimentsraisesa numberof intriguingquestionswhich this
paperseeksto answer.How is the factthatindividualsexpressradicallydifferentsentimentsin
poeticandnonpoeticdiscourseto be understood?Isone discoursea moreauthenticexpression
of personalexperience than the other?What is the significanceof havingtwo culturaldis-
courseson loss availableto individualsto articulatetheirexperiences,and how are these re-
lated? LeVine(1982a:293) in arguingthat "interpersonalcommunicationis the medium
throughwhich we discover how individualsexperiencetheir lives and how culturalbeliefs
shape thatexperience,"notes the difficultiespresentedby the fact thatsuch communication
takesplace in multiplearenasand media,and thatthe messagesmay not be consistent.That
poetryis a vital and expressivemediumwhose messagescannotbe ignoredin ArabBedouin
societies has been made clear by Meeker's(1979) brilliantand complexexpositionof the re-
lationshipbetween RwalaBedouinthought,values,and experienceandtheirpoetry.5
I will arguethatconsiderationof the messagesconveyed in the two discoursesand the re-
lationshipbetween them reveals much about the "self" in Bedouinsociety and ultimately
aboutthe relationshipbetweencultureand individualexperience.Theobviouspsychological
interpretation of the phenomenondescribedabove would be that individuals'psychological
defenses againstloss are expressedin ordinarydiscoursewhile the poetic discoursereveals
theirgenuine innerresponses.Thisinterpretation ignoresthe embeddednessof emotionalre-
sponses in culturalcontextswhich differentiallyvalue certainsentiments,a factorwhose im-
portancehas been demonstratedin the recentworkof interpretive and psychologicalanthro-
pologists(see Geertz 1973; Lutz1982; Riesman1977; Rosaldo1980, 1983). Thatfor Awlad
CAIT, the distributionof typesof sentimentin the two expressiveformsfollowsa regularpattern,
thatthe sentimentsof the ordinarydiscoursehave culturalmeaning,and thatthe mediumin
which individualsexpresstheir"nondefensive"responsesis a formof conventionalizedpoetry
suggestthat such interpersonalcommunicationsmay be linkedin anotherway which close
analysisof contentand contextcan uncover.
TheAwladCAlTpatterningof emotionalexpressioncan best be understoodin termsof a set
of culturallyspecific ideals.The idealsare those entailedby what could be called the honor
code, the moralcode thatanthropologists haveshownto be fundamentalto social life in Med-
iterraneansocieties (see Bourdieu1977; Friedrich 1977; Gilmore1982; Meeker1976; Peris-
tiany 1966; Pitt-Rivers1977) and on which the social orderand hierarchyin Bedouinsociety

246 american ethnologist

hinge. In the case of Awlad cAlT,only sentiments that create the impression of autonomy are
appropriate to self-image and self-presentation in terms of the honor code. What analysts have
failed to recognize is that the honor code structures individuals' aspirations and guides inter-
actions only in certain social contexts, specifically in public interactions between non-inti-
mates. In the culturally valued but formulaic medium of poetry, individuals can express to their
intimates sentiments in response to loss which betray their vulnerability without forfeiting their
claims to being honorable. This suggests that the ideology of honor, perhaps like any other
cultural ideology, neither exists alone nor completely determines individual experience, a con-
clusion whose implications for the study of the relationship between culture and personality
and culture and emotions are far-reaching.
The genre of Awlad CAll poetry that will be considered here is the highly valued ghinnawa
or "little song." Reminiscent of Japanese haiku in its brevity and condensation of language, and
the blues in its emotional tone, it can be classified as either poetry or song.6 Unlike longer
rhymed poems, composed and recited primarilyby specialists, most of whom are men, these
poems can be composed and recited or sung by anyone. Individuals do so with varying fre-
quency depending on their talents, their social circumstances, and the vicissitudes of their per-
sonal lives and interpersonal relationships. Most often, poems are recited in the midst of ordi-
nary conversations between a small group of intimates, as in Safiyya's case. They usually relate
to the topic being discussed or the personal situation of the recitant and seem to serve as a
Everyone shows great interest in the poems of others. They are anxious to hear them and
listen intently whenever they are recited. They often commit them to memory. Special weight
is attached to the messages conveyed in this medium and people are moved, often to tears, by
the sentiments expressed. Comments of a number of individuals corroborate my observations
that people turn to poetry when faced with personal difficulties. One person explained, "Those
who sing feel something strongly in their hearts." An old woman remarked, "I sing when I feel
depressed/frustrated (mtdhayga, literally, pressed in upon). An old man claimed, "I sing to
soothe myself. Especially in times of trouble-that is when you sing."
To show how thoroughly the two discourses pervade social life and to illustratethe pattern
of the distribution of sentiments, a few cases of responses to loss will be presented. The pattern
revealed through these cases will then be analyzed in terms of the Bedouin ideology of honor
and the social contexts of the discourses to suggest some answers to the questions posed above
about the meaning of individual expressions of contrasting sentiments and the significance of
having two discourses on loss.

sentiments of loss

A case of rejection in love illustratesthe patternof dual responses and introduces the tension
between the ideals and emotional entailments of the honor code and the separate set for poetry.
RashTd,a man of about 40, decided to take a second wife. He reacted in two ways when, less
than two months later, his bride ran away. Almost immediately afterthe woman fled, he looked
for someone to blame. In the community, the question on everyone's lips was, "Who ruined
her?"(man kharrabha).By this they meant something like, who made her unhappy or poisoned
her thoughts. RashTd,along with his brother, undertook an intensive investigation of the events
preceding her departure. When they had eliminated the possibility of some woman or child in
the household having upset her, they began toying with the explanation of sorcery. Rashidwas
convinced that his senior wife must be responsible. A visit to the local holyman (fgTh)to divine
the reason behind the bride's act confirmed this suspicion. The hushed accusation sped through
the community. In the face of the opposition of many of the women in the camp, the man

Bedouin sentiments of loss 247

persistedin blaminghis firstwife. He angrilyrefusedto talkto heror visit her. He slept alone
in the men'sguestroom.
Rashid'skinsmen,who had takenmattersinto theirown handssince they viewed this as a
familycrisisratherthana personalone, also reactedwithanger.Althoughsome suspectedthe
seniorwife and shunnedher,othersdirectedtheirangerat the bride.Theytook herflightas an
insultto the lineage, and many echoed the sentimentsof RashTd's paternalfirstcousin who
defiantlysang a traditional
weddingsong to the effectthattherewere many morewomenwhere
thatone had come from.The men blustered,"Ifshe doesn'twant us, she can just have her
divorce,and we won'teven askforthe bridepriceback."
Aftersome negotiationand pressurefromherfamily,the brideagreedto return.A day or so
later,Iwas talkingprivatelywith RashTd.I askedhimhow he feltand he answeredwitha state-
mentabouthow everythingwas all rightbecause"thewoman"knewthatshe haddone some-
thing wrong. I then asked disingenuouslyif he ever recitedpoetry.He looked embarrassed,
since I had mentionedsomethingthatwas not appropriatein conversationsbetweenmen and
women, but offeredthe followingpoems on the assumptionthatI would not realizetheirsig-
Cookingwith a liquidof tears blulhumgherdmCc
at a funeraldone forthe beloved ... il-khatrCazadarfil-calam. . .
Herbaddeeds were wrongsthathurt CazTzdili kfama han
yet the belovedfills my heart. .. sayyathakhatawaijCtnT ...

Any doubts I harbored about whether these poems expressed his personal sentiments re-
garding the situation were put to rest a few days later. It was evening and Rashid sat with his
returnedwife. He askedme to join them, requestingme to bringmy notebook.He instructed
to the poemshe had
me to readto them "thetalkof the otherday." I realizedhe was referring
recited for me. As I read them aloud, he seemed embarrassed and acted almost as if he had
never heard them before. He looked blank when I asked him to explain them. The next day his
wife confidedthatthese poems were about her. He had used this indirectmeansto commu-
nicatehis sentimentsto her.
The poems revealedsentimentsof griefand pain caused by the loss. Thesewere a farcry
fromthe sentimentsof angerand the wish to attributeblame communicatedby the sorcery
accusationsin which he had indulgedpublicly.When I sharedthese poemswith some of my
women confidantes,theywere touched.Yetthesewerethe samewomenwho hadcondemned
RashTdas foolish or unmanly when he had earlier betrayed some sadness over his bride's de-
partureand had expressed his desire to have her back. Their differing attitudes towards state-
ments made in poetry and those in ordinary interaction suggest that poetic revelations are
judged by different criteria than nonpoetic expressions, a fact that will be taken up later.
The same dual pattern characterized RashTd'ssenior wife's responses to the events of this
marriage.Mabrokarespondedangrilywhen she got wind of the allegationsof sorcery.She
threatenedto returnto her kinsmenand to demanda divorce.She also madebitterjokes. For
intance, when she sent a special pot of food to one of the other women in her co-wife's house-
hold, she sent it with a message warning them to beware-the food might have "something"
in it, a reference to magical potions. She also joked about where she obtained her magic and
how powerful it was. Two poems she recited later referredto this incident. The first indicated
how wronged she felt by the accusation. The second conveyed her sense of isolation and lo-
neliness in the community, since visiting is both essential to maintenance of social relationships
and one of life's great pleasures.
Theyslanderedme thenfoundme innocent ithimCkhatrT
now the guiltmustfallon them . .. talacbarawdhndbakhadhd...
I could not makemyvisitingrounds caiehma gdirtnjIl
the marriedman'shousewas full of suspicion. . .8 tammatbirTbtuh bet il-ghan . . .

248 american ethnologist

A clearer illustration of the dual patterning of the expression of sentiment was her early re-
action to the news of the marriage. Mabruka's immediate response was to blame her brother-
in-law for putting her husband up to the deed, and to be angry. She justified her anger in terms
of the blame she placed on her brother-in-law, some material injustices, and violations of con-
ventions in the way the marriage was being handled. For example, she refused to accept her
wedding gifts because they were not identical to those given to the bride. A bone of contention
was a pair of western-style sandals the bride had received while she had not been offered any
shoes. She refused to attend the wedding because the new bride was not going to be brought
into her household but would be set up in a house with her husband's brother and his wives.
This was not customary procedure, as she pointed out to everyone. When I asked how she felt
about the wedding, she remarked on these injustices and claimed that she was only angry be-
cause things were not being done correctly.
Shortly before the marriage took place, I was sitting with her and a group of her daughters
and nieces, when, with an initial promptfrom me, she began to recite poems, one afteranother.
These indicated a ratherdifferent set of responses to the event and another emotional tone. The
following sample, only a few of a long string, represents a range of sentiments she expressed
that day. In the first, she described the sensation of being overwhelmed not just by anger but
by "despair" (yas), the sentiment of extreme despondency that figures heavily in ghinnawas.

Heldfastby despairand rage msakyas wghez

the vastnessof my soul is cramped.. .9 dhayyigibhun. . .
Another poem expressed her sense of abandonment through metaphors of nature:

Longshriveledfromdespair min il-yas

arethe rootsthatfed my soul . . . zamanmawtacurugh . . .
In another she appealed to her absent husband for some consideration in response to all that
she had given him. This poem made use of imagery of ships and harbors,which I was not able
to carry into the translation:
Itook upon myselfyourlove shahanitkhatrT
kindlymakeme a place to rest ... marasT
bifdcllak dTrI. ..
Related to this was another suggesting she was being neglected in her suffering by someone
who had the power to cure her. Her husband could have relieved her by paying attention to
her and trying to please her.

Theyleftme to suffer tarakuCalemashkay

wise ones, they had butwithheldthe cure ... Caggallu bghawday masakun. . .
These poetic responses to the prospect of her husband's second marriage expressed not so
much the anger and blame of the refusals and her constant threats to leave, but misery and
There is one alternative to anger in cases of loss, namely a show of indifference or defensive
denial of concern. This is particularly characteristic in matters of love, but also applies in the
most trivial of loss situations. For example, long thick hair is one of women's most treasured
assets and a mark of beauty in this culture. Its loss would thus not be insignificant. Someone
observing a woman combing her hair might remark that she was losing a great deal of it, a
common enough occurrence given women's generally poor health. She would probably re-
spond with a phrase (in shallah ma yrawwih) whose literal translation is "God willing it won't
return," but whose idiomatic translation would be, "Good riddance" or "May it never come
back." The same phrase greets a child who disobeys or who defiantly refuses to come when
called. People also speak of misplaced objects and memories of past pleasures in the same way.

Bedouin sentiments of loss 249

A show of indifferencecan be a sign of stoic acceptanceof a situationover which an indi-
vidualhas littlecontrol.Separationsrepresentthe typeof lossto which stoic acceptanceis the
rule.Thepoemsof separation,however,were amongthe mostnumerousand poignantpeople
sang.The poemsexpressedthe sentimentsof sadnessand longing,and,throughmetaphorsof
illness,the effectsof the loss. A few examplessuggestthe range.Thefollowingone impliesthat
the naturalworldmirrorsthe darkinnerstateof the personleftbehind:
Thenightof the beloved'sparting lay/atfragcazTz
cloudcover,no starsand no moon ... ght,atla njumwla gmar...
Anotherdescribesthroughmetaphorsdrawnfromphysiologicalexperiencethe painfulef-
fectsof separation.Blindnesscomes fromexcessiveweeping.
Separationfromintimatesis hard fragish-shgTg saCTb
the heartweakensand the eye goes blind... il-galbsaf wil-cenghawnanat...
A thirdalludesdirectlyto the effortto be stoical in partings.
Strong-willedin the send-off shdidcazmfit-tasm7l
the self did not cry untilthey parted... ma bkanTnfarg ...
A moredefensivedenialof concernis a possibleresponseto rejectionsor slights,as the case
of one woman'svisit to her natalcommunityillustrates.Migdimwas a woman in her sixties,
thefavoritepaternalauntof the agnateswho formedthe coreof thecommunityinwhich I lived.
Theold womanoftencame to visit,stayinga week or two or as longas she could be persuaded.
She would spend a few days in each of the core households,dividinghertime between her
manynieces and nephews.One nightshe came to stayin the householdin which Iwas living.
Here lived her niece, marriedto her nephew, and anothernephew and his wife. Her niece,
alwayssolicitousand happyto see her,invitedherto sleep in herroomsince herhusbandwas
away.Justas they were beddingdown for the night,the man returnedunexpectedlyfromhis
trip.Feelinguncomfortableejectingthe manfromhis roomand wife, the old woman insisted
she would move. I offeredhermy room,which was nextto the roomof herothernephewand
hiswife of severalmonths.Istayedbehindto speakwiththe manwhile the auntand hergrand-
nieces went to my room.Therethe otherman'swife offeredthemthe use of her blanketsand
pillows. Butthen her husbandreturnedand complainedaboutthe missingblankets.He was
irritatedby the idea thatthe childrenwould be in his sectionof the house. So Migdimmoved
again,thistime to an emptyroomwhereshe spentan uncomfortablenightwith practicallyno
The next day, Migdimwas unusuallysilent. She said nothingabout her trialsof the night
before. Butthen she recitedsome poems which showed how she felt aboutthe disgraceful
mistreatmentshe had receivedat her young nephew'shands.These poems convey surprise
and painat his inconsideratebehavior.
I neverfiguredyou'ddo ma nihisbuktdTr
wrongslikethese, oh they hurt... sayyatkefhadhenyasCabu ...
Forcedby droughtin the land rmanajdabI-awtan
to seek refugeamongpeoplesof twisted CaIenasCawjaIghathum...
Sheexplainedthe lastpoemto me. Insearchof pasture,people hadto go to a new areawhere
theyfoundalientribeswhose languagetheycould notcomprehend,"peoplewho weren'tpeo-
ple." She was referringto her expulsionof thatevening, and the incomprehensibility
of her
nephew'sdisrespectfuland inhospitableresponse.Bydrawingattentionto it in ordinarysocial
interactionshe would have admittedherhumiliation.Instead,she hadappearedto ignoreit or
notto care,while in herpoemsshe confessedhow woundedshe felt.

250 american ethnologist

the sentiments of honor

Bedouinresponsesto the situationsof loss describedin the cases above suggesta clearpat-
tern.Inthe ordinarydiscourseof everydayconversationand publicsocial behavior,AwladCAlT
individualsreactedwith anger,blame,or denialof concern.Inpoetry,theyexpressedpoignant
sentimentsof weaknessin such formsas sadness,"despair,"and illness.Ratherthanassuming
thatthese sentimentshave universalmeaning,being in the firstcase ego defensesand in the
latter,"natural"responsesto loss, let us look to the culturalmeaningof these sentimentsfor
AwladcAl?.Fromthisperspectiveit becomesapparentthatindividualsarticulatethe sentiments
of loss in two ways, which correspondto two ways of presentingthe self: as invulnerableand
independentfromothers,and as vulnerableto the effectsof others.
The sentimentsof invulnerability expressedin ordinarypublic interactionare those appro-
priate to what could be called a discourseof honor.Consideration of the organizationof social
life, particular Bedouin notions of or
hierarchy inequality, clarifies the significanceof the
honorcode in Bedouinsociety as the powerfulsocial ideologythatstructuresindividualaspi-
rations.10AlthoughAwladcAlThold egalitarianideals,these applyonly on the level of tribal
groupsin interactionwith othertribalgroups.They recognizeand accept statusdistinctions
among individualsbut view them as the resultof differentialdemonstrationof a set of moral
virtues,which I subsumeunderthe headingof the honorcode. Thus,they see social privilege
as achievedby individualsthroughtheirembodimentof honor-linkedidealsof the person.
Broadlyspeaking,the idealsor moralvirtuesof honorin AwladCAllsocietyare those asso-
ciated with autonomy.The ideal personamongAwladcAlTis the "realman,"the apogee of
controlwho manifestshis independencein hisfreedomfromcontrolby others,andhis strength
or potencyin his unwillingnessto submitto others.Botharedemonstrated throughself-mastery
or self-control(physicaland emotional),active responsesto slightsor injuries,and the willing
assumptionof responsibilityfor upholdingthe social order.Theseidealcharacteristics areval-
ued by all Bedouinsand associatedwith themselvesas a culturalgroupin contrastto others,
specificallythe Egyptiansof the Nile Valleywho serveas a conceptualfoil fortheircollective
Theseidealsare, however,differentiallyrealizedand realizableby individualsand members
of social categorieswithinBedouinsociety.Socialdependentsarehandicappedin theirability
to act autonomously.Evenwomen, by virtueof theirstock,arethoughtto embodythese ideals
moreclosely than theirnon-Bedouinneighbors,male or female. Likepoor men, young men,
sons,or nephews,theyface limitsbutcan achievehonorthroughcarefulnegotiationof the line
betweendefianceand servilityin theirinteractionswith superiors.Thefirstpartof the strategy
involvesgivingthe appearanceof voluntary(nevercoerced)deferenceto the morehonorable
persons.Thesecond partrequiresthe assertionof independence,assertiveness,andself-control
in contextsthatdo notdirectlyinvolvesuperiors.Thus,in severalwayswomencan have honor
Only certainsentimentswould be appropriateto self-presentation in termsof these ideals.
Sinceweaknessand pusillanimityareanathema,individualsstriveto asserttheirindependence
and strengththroughresistanceto coercion,or aggressiveresponsesto loss. The primesenti-
mentof resistanceis anger.Blamingothersprovidesa focusforangerand is a responseto hurt
learnedearly in life. When youngchildrencome cryingto theirmothers,they are more likely
to be asked"Whodid it?"than "What'sthe matter?"An alternatestrategyforassertinghonor
is defensivedenial of concern, hence of the veryexistenceof an attack.As Bourdieunotes in
his discussionof the rulesof honoramongthe Kabylesof Algeria,"non-responsecan also ex-
pressthe refusalto riposte;the recipientof the offencerefusesto see it as an offenceand by his
disdain. . . he causes it to reboundon its author,who is therebydishonoured"(1979:108). In

Bedouin sentiments of loss 251

ourexamples,this responsearoseonly in cases of offensesby social inferiors,as with Migdim,
or in love. Likeouter-directeddefensesagainstthe impositionof the will of otherson the self,
the thirdalternativeof stoicism is consonantwith the ideals of honor.To admitthat one is
wounded or deeply affectedby the loss of othersis to admitto a lackof autonomyand self-
control.The Bedouinsassociateattachmentto otherswith dependency,a qualityantithetical
to autonomy,which characterizesthe young,the poor,the weak, and the femaleand legitim-
izes theirlackof social status.
By respondingto loss with angerand blameor denial of concern, individualsboth live in
termsof the honorcode and dramatizetheirclaimsto the respectaccruingto the honorable.
Throughtheirresponsespeople disavowexperiencesof helplessness,vulnerability,passivity,
or weaknesswhich would compromisetheirimagesas strongand independent.
Yet,as the variouscases above illustrate,the sentimentsof hurtand sadnessthatsignalvul-
nerabilityare preciselythose sentimentspeople expressedin poems aboutsituationsof loss.
Thoseindividualswho so energeticallypresentedthemselvesas invulnerableand assertivein
loss situationsportrayedthemselvesdifferentlythroughtheirpoems.Intheirpoemsand,as we
shallsee below, in theirritualized"crying"in mourning,theyexpressedsentimentsof sadness
andconfessedthe devastationtheyfelt.Tearsandailmentssignalthe impactof the losses.Con-
stantreferencesto "despair"betraya sense of helplessness.Helplesspassivityin the face of
assaultsby othersis a markof impotence.Vulnerability to the paininflictedby the lossof others
suggestsattachmentswhich, in the languageof honor,translateas dependencyand weakness.
Why the Bedouinsexpressthroughpoetic discoursethe sentimentsof vulnerability,weak-
ness, and dependencythatseem to violatethe code of honor,and why such expressionsdo
not carrythe social opprobiumof similarrevelationsin ordinarydiscourseare questionswe
mustnow takeup.

the contexts of discourse

One keyto the puzzle lies in the social contextsin whichthe two discoursescome intoplay.
Exceptat ritualoccasions, individualsshare poems only with close friends,social peers, or
lovers.Men sharethem with close kinsmenof the same generationor with lowerstatusmen.
Theydo not sing beforesenioragnatesor patrons.Women recitethem to close kinswomen,
women with whom they sharea household,or neighbors.Becausethe women'sworld is less
stratified,the rangeof categoriesof women withwhompoemsaresharedis greater,sometimes
includingthose with greaterauthority,like mothers-in-law, and strangers.
The personswith whom one is mostlikelyto sharepoetryarethose individualsfromwhom
one does nottahashsham.Tahashshum refersto a stateof embarrassmentor shame,andthe acts
of modesty or deference which correspond to this experience (Abu-Lughodin press).
Tahashshum,as the experienceof shame,arisesin interpersonalinteractionsbetween social
unequalsor strangers,is conceptualizedin the idiomof exposure,and manifestsitselfthrough
a languageof formality,self-effacement,and the cloakingof the "natural"weaknessesor
sourcesof dependency.Thisincludesanythinghavingto do with bodilyneeds, sexuality,and
so forth.It is the correlateof social distance,being botha responseto the recognitionof such
distanceand a meansof maintainingit.
Poetryis the discourseof intimacy.Sharingpoems,likeexposingnaturalweaknesses,marks
theabsenceof tahashshumbetweenindividuals.Poetryindexessocialdistinctionsbyfollowing
the lines of social cleavage. It usuallydoes not cross the boundariescreatedby differential
powerand status,or gender.Peopleare extremelydiscomfitedif non-intimatesinadvertently
heartheirpoems. The firmestbarrieris between men and women. Womenwere reluctantto

252 american ethnologist

sharetheir poems with me untilgiven assurancethatI would neverrevealthem to any men.
Mentioningthe veryword "to sing" in mixed-sexcompanyembarrasseseveryonepresent,as
Idiscoveredwhen I innocentlymadethe mistakeof doingso. Theonlyexceptionto thismerely
provesthe rule.The exchangeof poetrybetween men and women is not only acceptablebut
mandatoryin the special circumstancesof courtshipand romance.In romance,the gap be-
tween the sexes is being deliberatelybreachedand intimacydeclaredthroughthis sharingof
poetry.Here,poetryindexesintimacybetweenthose mostdistantin normalcircumstances.
Ordinarydiscourseis public, not intimateand personal.Itis intendedforgeneralaudiences
composedof any numberof categoriesof individualswithvaryingtypesof relationshipsto the
self. Thisis the arenain which self-presentationis judged.As Goffmanputsit, this is wherethe
individual"goes aboutconstrainedto sustaina viable imageof himselfin the eyes of others"
(Goffman1971:185). Routineinterpersonalencountershave also been describedas "dramas
of social censorshipinvolvedin the maintenanceof the publicorder"in which people conceal
"frompublic attentionfacts aboutthemselves(includingtheiremotionalreactionsand inten-
tions) which they experience as too dangerousto disclose" (LeVine1982a:297). Insofaras
tahashshumcan be understoodas deferenceto those who representthe social order,it is not
surprisingthatif idealsare breached,as they are in poems,it will not be in the presenceof the
people fromwhom individualstahashsham.
ForAwlad CAIT, the discourseof honorbelongs in this public arenaof everyday,ordinary
languageinteractions.Inthis sphereindividualsstriveto portraythemselvesas conformingto
the generallyheld ideals of the person.They seek to appearpotent, independent,and self-
controlled.The only sentimentsappropriateto this imageare anger,attributionof blame,and
denialof concern.
Otheranalystshave emphasizedthe social dimensionof the honordiscoursein Arabsoci-
eties but have failedto note thatit is boundby context.Abou-Zeid(1966:258)arguesthat,for
AwladcAlT,honoris relatedbothto conformityto prevailingsocial normsandto the realization
of social ideals. Bourdieunotes, "Thesense of honouris enacted in frontof otherpeople. Nif
[pointof honourlis above all thatwhich leadsa manto defend,at all costs,a certainself-image
intendedfor others"(1979:111). And Eickelman,speakingof propriety("theshsham")says,
"Thelocus of proprietyis not so muchthe innermoralconsciousnessof a personas his public
comportment with respect to those with whom he has regular face-to-face relations"
(1976:138). However,none of them makesnote of any discourseoutsidethe publicrealm.
We mightbe temptedto concludefromthe context-boundnatureof the discoursesthateven
if the expressionsof anger,blame,and denialof concernare not merelyego-defensesbut are
meaningfulsentimentswithinthe contextof Bedouinculture,thatforindividualBedouinsthere
is a splitbetweenpublicand privatewhich correspondsto self-presentation in termsof cultural
idealsversusrevelationof "innerreality."We mightwantto interpretthe honorableand mod-
est self-presentationsin the publicsphereas structuredmaskswornforsocial approval,while
viewingthe poeticdiscourseof weaknessas a simplereflectionof personalexperience,of real
feelingsshown to friends.
Beforeacceptingthis interpretation, we mustconsidera numberof factorsrelatedto the form
and characterof this so-called "private"discourse.The poetrythroughwhich individualsex-
pressto intimatesthose personalsentimentsthatseem to violatethe culturalidealsis itselfcul-
turallyconstituted-in fact a highlyconventionaland formulaicidiom.

the forms of discourse

Bedouinresponsesto bereavement,the ultimatesituationof loss, providefurtherillustrations

of how the sentimentsconveyed in ordinarypublicbehaviordifferfromthoseexpressedin the

Bedouin sentiments of loss 253

formulaicmediumof poetryin ways consonantwith notionsof honor.Moreimportantly, the
similarconventionalityof formof poetryand ritualizedmourninglaments,the two vehiclesfor
theexpressionof vulnerability,makesclearthatsuchsentimentsarebothculturallyconstructed
and boundby social context.
Inthe followingthreecases the typicalculturalpatterningof reactionsto deathamongAwlad
CAlT is apparent.Theideologyof honorcan be seen as providingthe conceptsthatguideAwlad
CAllresponsesto deathjust as it does for the less radicalloss situationsdescribedabove. The
concernwith autonomyand pridecauses individualsto interpretand respondto deathas an
affrontor attackratherthana tragedyor, as they admitgood Muslimsshould,as God'swill. In
everydaylanguageand behavior,people reactto deathwith angerand blame.The impulseto
avengedeaths,mirroredin and buttressedby the institutionalized complexof vengeanceand
feudingdescribedin detailby Peters(1951, 1967) and Black-Michaud (1975), is closely asso-
ciatedwith these sentiments.Yetagain, in poetryand in the structurally equivalentand tech-
nicallysimilarritualizedfunerallamentcalled "crying"(bka)the sameangryindividualscom-
municatesorrow,and describethe devastatingeffectsof the loss on theirpersonalwell-being.
Thefirstcase concernsa family'sresponseto the fairlysuddenillnessand deathof a girlof
about 17. Althougha physicianpronouncedthe cause of deathas cancer,the familyaccused
a man who had frightenedherof havingcaused herdeathby firinghis rifleintothe air while
she was grazingsome goatsnearby.Itwas afterthatincident,herfamilyclaimed,thatshe had
sickened.Theirangrydisputewith this manwore on for monthsuntilit was finallybroughtto
a tribalcourtwherethe girl'sfamilydemandedblood-indemnity fromthe man'sfamily.Thisis
the traditionalrecompensefora killingwithina tribalsegment(see Peters1967).
Yet,at herfuneral,and for over a monthafter,her deathwas met with much "crying,"the
quintessentialact of ritualmourning.Atthe newsof a death,AwladCAl? womenbegina stylized
high-pitchedwordlesswailing(cayat).Thenthey "cry."Thisinvolvesmuch morethanweep-
ing. "Crying"is a chantedlamentin which the bereavedwomenandthosewho havecome to
console themexpresstheirgrief.Beginningwith a phrasewhose Englishequivalentis "woe is
me," the bereavedbewailtheirloss in "crying."Intandem,the condolersbewailthe loss of a
deceased persondearto them, usuallya fatheror mother.Likethe singingof poems,the chant
takesthe formof a shortverseof two parts,the wordsrepeatedin a set orderfollowinga single
melodic pattern.Thespecial pitchand quaveringof the voice, moreexaggeratedthan in sing-
ing,alongwiththe weepingand sobbingthatoftenaccompanyit, makethisheart-rending. The
Bedouinsdo not equate "crying"and "singing"but they recognizethe resemblancewhen
questioned.Thetwo arestructurally equivalent,bothbeingexpressionsof sadnesswhich draw
attentionto the sorrowand bereavementof the mourner.
Thatin thiscase even the girl'sbrotherwas saidto have"cried"atteststo the uncontrollable
griefof her familybecause, generally,men do not "cry,"althoughthey sometimesweep si-
lently.Menofferingcondolencesgreetthe bereavedwith a somberembraceout of which oth-
ers must pull them. Men counsel the bereaved relatives to "pull yourself together"
(shidd helak)and console them with pious referencesto God's will and goodness.The only
exceptionto the generalavoidanceof "crying"by men is the rituallamentingthatthe descen-
dentsof local saintsundertakeat the annualfestivalsat the tombsof the saintsor holymen.Men
of the saintlylineage sing "poems"as they move fromtent to tent, blessingthose who have
come to paytheirrespectsand cursingthose who crossthem.Theysingof theirforefatherin a
quaveringvoice. Peopledescribethisas "crying"overthe saint.
Anothercase, thistimethe deathof an old woman,also provokeda heatedresponseamong
her kin. Shortlyafterreturningto her husband'scamp afteran extendedvisitwith her kin,the
old womandied suddenlyin the middleof the night.Herpaternalrelativesrushedto the camp
where they wailed and "cried"for two days, consoled her daughters,and were consoled for

254 american ethnologist

Theyreturnedto theirown communityangry,furiousthatherhusbandhad behavedrudely
to the mournersand blaminghimforherdeath.Somewereconvincedthatthe shockof hearing
the news that he plannedto marryanotherwife had broughton herdeath.Othersinsinuated
thatthe man had actuallystrangledher.The mostvividdescriptionof the old woman'sdeath
was recountedby one of her nieces, a dramaticstoryteller.Inanimatedtones, she described
how she had arrivedin the aunt'scamp to findthather aunt'sbody lay where she had fallen,
the legs exposed and the face barelycoveredby herveil. No one had preparedher in proper
Muslimfashion,placingdropsof waterin hermouthand tyingherjaw shut.Throwingherself
on the floorof the tent, lettinghertonguehangout and salivadroolfromthe side of hermouth,
the niece mimickedthe awfulstate in which she had foundheraunt.She recountedhow she
had scolded the people there, "Whatis the matterwith you? Haven'tyou ever seen a corpse
before?At leastyou could treather as decent humanbeingswould. Youcould have covered
her, shown her a littlerespect!"She then told how she had assistedthe women in preparing
the corpsefor burial,and how she had orderedher kinto providea decent shroudto replace
the inferiorone the husband'skinhad provided.She personallywas absolutelyconvincedthat
herfavoriteaunthad been strangled,and thatthe husbandwas the culprit.
The senior agnate (and informalleader)of the communityin which her paternalkin lived
had been travelingwhen the news of the old woman'sdeatharrived.Bythe time he returned,
everyoneelse had alreadycome backfromthe funeral.Informedof the death,he interviewed
the men and women who had attendedaboutwhatthey hadwitnessed.Atthe descriptionshe
keptexclaiming,"Damnhim!"and muttering,"We'llmakehimswearthe oath!"He was re-
ferringto the ultimaterecoursein determiningguilt,the swearingof an oath at a saint'stomb
by the accusedand his kin.He wentto questiontheold woman'sdaughtersandotherwitnesses
in the husband'scamp. Therehe determinedthattherehad been no troublebetweenherand
herhusband,and was satisfiedthatshe haddied of naturalcauses.Thefurorsubsided,people
beginningto concede thatshe mighthavedied of a brokenheartcausedby the recentdeathof
heronly son. Nonetheless,the initialreactionhad been one of angryaccusation,balancedby
the mournful"crying"of the funeral.
Thethirdcase is the mosttelling.Thisreactionto a homicideshowsexplicitlyhow the man-
ifestangeranddesireforrevengeof the murderedman'skinarecounterbalancedby the terrible
sense of sufferingrevealednotjustin "crying"butin singingor recitingpoetry.Thiscase differs
fromthe other two in that there was genuine cause for anger,and someone who deserved
blame.Theincidentof the killinghadoccurredsevenyearsbeforemyarrivalinthe community.
Theyoungestadultman in the groupof agnatickinsmenwho constitutedthe core of the com-
munityhad died fromwounds inflictedby a couple of men fromanothertribe.Theyhad pro-
voked a fight in retaliationfor an earlierbeatingthis man had dealt a kinsmanof theirs.The
event was describedto me in vivid detail numeroustimes by variousmembersof the group.
The initialreactionto the news of the fightwas alwaysdescribedin the same way. Everyone,
women and childrenincluded,rushedtowardsthe camp of the hostilegroup,throwingrocks
and wailing. The young man was still breathingwhen they found him. The men took him to
the hospitalin Alexandria,where he died a few days later.By all descriptions,the griefand
ritualizedmourningthatfollowedwere extraordinary and prolonged.
Alongwithgrief,a greatdeal of angerwas directednotonly atthe familyof those responsible,
butat others.Forexample,two subsectionsof the tribeof the murderedmanofficiallysplitover
this incident.Theties were severedbecauseone groupurgeda peacefulreconciliationandthe
acceptanceof blood-indemnitythree yearsafterthe killing.Hostilitystill flaredup between
these groupson variouspretextswhile Iwas in the field.Themurderers' grouphadescapedto
Libyawherethe victim'sgrouptriedto trackthemandhadeven madeone unsuccessfulattempt
to avenge the murder.Afterthe attempt,the avenginggrouplet themselvesbe persuadedto
undergothe reconciliationprocedure.Theydeclaredtheirforgivenesspublicly,but this was

Bedouin sentiments of loss 255

only a tactic to flush out the offending subsection. They were biding their time, hoping the other
group would let down its guard and allow them the opportunity to take their revenge. People
cursed whenever the name of the offending group was mentioned.
The poems these same close relatives of the murdered man sang revealed another set of sen-
timents besides anger and the desire for revenge. All suggested the suffering caused by the
death. Three themes characterized the poems: sleeplessness, associated in traditional Bedouin
poetry with weeping and sorrow; illness, a consequence of any negative affect in folk psy-
chology; and "despair," the word connoting apathy, hopeless misery, or extreme sadness.
The first poems I heard about the death were two by the elder paternal cousin of the victim.
While the first suggested restless search, perhaps for the object of revenge (and thus some an-
ger), the second evoked only sad memories that intruded.
Untilhe reacheshis target'sborder ytmulahduCdmnah
no happysleep is his ... wla batfTnawmhanT. ..
Caughtby a memoryunawares khturacalehghaflat
broughttearsin the hourof pleasure. . . bakkal-en fTwan it-tarab. . .
The victim's mother recited a poem that alluded to her inability to forget and the sleepless-
ness her memories and grief brought.
Dearones depriveme of sleep in-nawmharra(nawcizaz
justas I driftoff, they come to mind... in janayjunafawwaluh. . .

Metaphors of illness abounded in the poems of various other kinsmen and kinswomen. The
victim's sister sang a poem referringto her ill health resulting from the loss:
Youleftme, oh lovedone khallftya CazTz
unsteady,stuntedand unhealthy. . . tmj la nimala Cfya . . .
His widow recited several poems late one night. Her closest friends were surprised, saying
that they had never heard her recite poetry before. These were two of her poems:

IIIandfullof despair illfmartdfthyasat

show mewhatmedicinecouldcurethismalady... warrumn duwadahaasmuh...
Drowningin despair il-Cenghargafil-yas
the eye says,oh my destinyin love . . . tgulya nasTibfil-ghal . . .
The despair to which she referredalso appeared in the poem of a close kinswoman:

Forgottennot a singleday il-Caglma nsThum

justa patientmasteringof despair. . . mgherdali yashum...
These poems gave voice to the anguish and pain caused by the death. People described
symptoms of physical distress, crying, disrupted sleep, brooding, and sensing of the presence
of the dead, as well as apathy and despair. These bear a close resemblance to the affective and
behavioral responses reported in studies of bereavement (Marris1974; Rosenblatt, Walsh, and
Jackson 1976).12 These studies also indicate that hostility is an element of bereavement. Marris
mentions hostility, and Rosenblatt et al. anger, as part of the range of reactions commonly ex-
pressed. While the Bedouin poetic or ritualized discourse rarely carried bellicose threats and
sentiments of anger, their expression in ordinary discourse suggests that Awlad cAlIexpressed
the range of sentiments associated with bereavement and loss but in a culturally regulated and
nonhaphazard way.
This distribution of types of sentiments into distinct discourses seems culturally specific, put-
ting into question psychological theories which assume the universality of human reactions to
death and account for variation only in terms of individual differences arising from the nature
(for example, ambivalent or nonambivalent, intense or weak) of the interpersonal relationship
before the death. The Bedouin response provides support for the anthropological position es-

256 american ethnologist

poused by Huntington and Metcalf (1979:43), among others, that "cultural difference works
on the universal human emotional material .... The range of acceptable emotions and the con-
stellation of sentiments appropriate to the situations of death are tied up with the unique insti-
tutions and concepts of each society." LeVine (1982b) looks specifically to funerary rituals as
cultural narrativeswhich shape sentiments in culturally specific ways, but we have argued that
these, like the poems, constitute only one of several discourses on loss.
Even more importantly, it is clear that the form and content of the discourse of vulnerability
are more thoroughly circumscribed by tradition and more rigidly structuredthan the discourse
of everyday life. Neither poetry nor the highly ritualized mourning laments could be charac-
terized as spontaneous, original personal expressions in the strict sense of the term. When in-
dividuals recite poems, they either appropriate them whole from the cultural repertoire, or
compose them by drawing on a common stock of themes, metaphors, phrases, and structures.
They combine these formulaic elements or elaborate on themes within traditional constraints,
considering questions of authorship immaterial. "Crying" is even more fixed and ritualized.
Thus it would be hard to label these discourses of vulnerability as less cultural or less social
than the ordinary public discourse of invulnerability.


We are still confronted with the issue of how, if not as mask to inner reality, culture to nature
or psyche, or social to individual, the two discourses are related. For this we must turn to the
rhetorical function of the interplay of the two discourses which, for the individual and his or
her intimates, always exist side by side. The two juxtaposed discourses can be seen as com-
menting on each other, as Simmel observes, the secret comments on the manifest world (Sim-
mel 1950:330). Ironically, the poetic discourse seems to comment on the ordinary discourse
of everyday life in ways that ultimately enhance the meaning of the latterand the honor of the
person reciting.
The poetic revelations of weakness and attachment to others seem to give dimension to the
tough independence affected in ordinary social interactions in at least three ways. First, the
measure of self-mastery and control demonstrated by channeling such powerful sentiments into
a rigid and conventional medium and delimited social contexts contributes to honor. Those
who feel deeply but lose control, like the tragic characters who die of broken hearts or go mad
from grief, are held in awe but not considered social beings. Along with the loss of self-mastery,
they have lost their honor and forfeited their positions as members of society. Mad people,
idiots, and children who also express the experiences of loss in an uncontrolled way are con-
sidered outside society in some sense-they are not fully social beings or proper members of
society. Ineffectual and dependent, they have no honor. They express their sentiments of weak-
ness and vulnerability idiosyncratically and with no reference to social context. This has a very
different meaning than would expressing them only in specific social contexts and through
conventional forms. Those who express strong sentiments of attachment and vulnerability in
the culturally approved way can still claim to embody the cultural ideals.
Second, admitting the existence of an attitude toward others and a range of sentiments which
lie outside the confines of those recognized by the system of honor may demonstrate the vol-
untary nature of an individual's conformity to the code in everyday actions. Coercion stripsacts
of their meaning in the system of honor. As Riesman argues for the meaning in Fulani society
of men's flouting of official morality in their continual quest for women:
Thisdefianceenhancesthe valueof the individual,bothforhisown sakeandas a memberof society.
Byactingagainstthe moralcode the individualisdemonstratingthathe isa freebeingandthathisactions
are not automaticallydeterminedby social rulesand social pressures.But if the individualis free to

Bedouin sentiments of loss 257

disobey,then he is freeto obey too and the valueof his adherenceto the society is therebyenhanced

Third,by exposingthis otherside of experience,individualsimpressuponothersthattheir

conformityto the code and attainmentof the culturalidealsof personhoodareneithershallow
nor easy. Bourdieuarguesthat in the Kabylesystemof honor,the personwho is particularly
exposed to outragebut who neverthelessmanagesto securerespectis especiallymeritorious.
He also arguesthathonoris only meaningfulforthe manwho has "thingsworthdefending"
(Bourdieu1979:119). Followingthis logic, we mightsuggestthatthe greatestrespectis ac-
corded the personwho struggleswith powerfulvulnerabilitiesand passionsto be a proper
memberof AwladCAIT society, a personwith honor.Poetrymay be so cherishedby the Be-
douinspreciselybecause it allows peopleto express,andtheirintimatesto appreciate,the pro-
fundityof thatwhich mustbe overcometo conformto the valuesof society. Insum,the reve-
lationof weaknessand dependencyin poetrymay actuallyincreasethe value of the strength
and independenceindividualsdo display.One mightconsiderit integralto honor.
Thusin complexways the expressionof sentimentsof loss amongthe AwladcAl?Bedouins
is relatedto the ideologyof honorand cannot be understoodwithoutrecognizingthe entail-
mentsof the honorcode for individualself-imageand self-presentation. Eventhe coexistence
of two sets of contradictorysentimentsexpressedin differentmediaand social arenas,a phe-
nomenon which may be far more common cross-culturallythan anthropologistshave sus-
pected,can betterbe interpretedwith referenceto culturalidealsthanto psychodynamicpro-
Thequestionthatremains,however,is why the poeticgenrewhicharticulatesthe sentiments
of vulnerabilityantitheticalto the idealsof autonomyis so highlycherished.Itseems to rep-
resenta second culturalideologywith attendantvalues and idealsfor personhood.Thissug-
gests that ratherthan a monolithicculturalideology shapingsentimentand determiningex-
perience,multipleideologiesinformindividualexperience.Poetryas artmaybe a specialsort
of ideology.Althoughthis is notthe placeto takeupthe formidableproblemof the relationship
betweenartand society, one idea may help. Bateson(1972) arguesboldlyfora view of artas
a correctiveto a too-limitedand ultimatelydestructiveunderstandingof the worldprovidedby
ordinaryconsciousness(readculturallyconstructedconsciousness).He sees artas having"a
positivefunctionin maintaining. . . 'wisdom,'" which in his terminologyis the recognitionof
"interlockingcircuits"in contrastto short-term,goal-orientedviews that makeeverydaylife
efficient(Bateson1972:147). Settingaside his grandioseperspectiveand cyberneticvocabu-
lary,one could makethe moremodestbutrelatedpropositionthatAwladcAll'spoeticexpres-
sionsof self may be a correctiveto an overzealousadherenceto the ideologyof honorwhich,
if takento an extreme,would fosterdefensiveand belligerentattitudes.Poetryremindspeople
of anotherway of being and encouragesas it reflectsanotherside of experiencein situations
of loss.


Acknowledgments.The researchon which this paperis based was carriedout with the supportof a
traininggrantfromNIMH,a fellowshipfromthe AmericanAssociationof UniversityWomen,and a Na-
tionalResourceFellowship.Manyfriendsandcolleaguesgenerouslyreadandcommentedon earlierdrafts
of thispaper.Specialthanksgo to VincentCrapanzano,Dale Eickelman,ByronandMary-Jo Good,Robert
A. LeVine,CatherineLutz,SallyFalkMoore,PaulRiesman,and BeatriceWhiting.WithoutMohammad
AlwanIcould not have begunto understandor appreciatethe poemswithwhichthispaperis concerned.
Finally,my deepestgratitudeis to the Bedouinfamilieswho took me in andsharedtheirliveswith me.
Mytranscriptionsof AwladCAlT poemsandwordsconform,by and large,to the standardsystemforthe
transliterationof Arabic followed by the InternationalJournalof Middle EastStudies. I have made certain
alterationsto preservethefollowingpeculiaritiesof the dialect:AwladcAllpronouncethe q as g; in poems

258 american ethnologist

they elongatesome vowels; they pronouncethe initialvowel of the articleal as il or elide, droppingthe
vowel altogether;theydropmedialandfinalhamzas;theyoftennasalizethe longa andlosethedipthongs,
markedin these transcriptions by the use of e ratherthana or ay. Althoughthey pronouncedandz almost
identically,I have not indicatedthis in the texts.
21 preferthe term"sentiment" to relatedones like"emotion"or "affect"becauseitcarriesconnotations
of culturaland even artisticshapingwhile the lattertwo suggestpsycho-biologicalstates.
31conductedfieldworkin a smallhamletof about15 householdsinthevicinityof Burgel-cArabbetween
October1978 andJune1980. To protecttheiridentities,I haveusedpseudonymsforall the individualsin
the cases presented.
41 discuss responsesto loss in love and Bedouinattitudestowardromanticlove and sexualityin my
forthcomingbook, VeiledSentiments(Abu-Lughod in press).
5Someof the best earlyethnographicstudiesof Arabsocietieslike Granqvist(1935)on Palestinianvil-
lagersand Musil(1928) on the RwalaBedouinsare repletewith poemsand songsassociatedwith every
majorand minorlife event, suggestingthe importanceof poetry.Arabistslike Lichtenstadter repeatthe
conventionalwisdom, "Tothis day the Arabstake particulardelightin recitingand listeningto poetry"
(1976:5).Yet,untilanthropologistslike Meeker(1979) and Caton(1984) beganstudyingpoetrynot as a
decontextualizedartformbutas fundamentally tiedto culturalvaluesandsocialinstitutions,itwasdifficult
to understandwhy. EvenZwettler(1976, 1978), who considersclassicalpoetryin the lightof what we
knowaboutoral literature,does not havecontextualmaterialto completehis analysisof poetry.
6Theghinnawais linguisticallydistinguishedfromthe longerrhymedversesknownformallyas poetry
(shicr)andfromothertypesof rhymingsongsand is a vitalformof oralliteraryexpressionforall members
of the Bedouintribalgroupsof the EgyptianWesternDesertandCyrenaica,whence AwladcAlTaresaidto
have migrated.I havechosen to referto the ghinnawaas a poemratherthana song in orderto distinguish
it clearlyfromthe songs with rhymeand melodythatmoreclosely fit our own conceptionof songs. For
supportof this position,see Smart(1966). Ishouldadda noteon the translations of the poems.I havetried
to convey the sense of the poems withoutdriftingtoo farfromthe literalmeaningsof the Arabic,but in
some cases, the full meaningcould not be capturedin English.Theconnotationsof the wordsin Arabic
are notthose of the English,nordo the imagesresonateforus in the sameway theydo forAwladcAllwho
areawareof a largecorpusof poemsthatplayon similarthemes.
7Individuals also singwhen alone, andon certainritualoccasionslikeweddingsandcircumcisionssing
a specialtype of ghinnawa.Thispaperis only concernedwith personalpoems.
81have translatedal-ghanT (literallythe richman)as "marriedman"becauseit is a commonpoeticeu-
phemismfora polygynouslymarriedman.Thisis notsurprising, since generallyit is the wealthymenwho
takemorethanone wife.
91nthispoem I havetranslatedas "soul"the Arabicwordkhatr.Theusualtermforsoul is rOh,whichcan
also be translatedas "spirit"but I have takenlibertieswiththe translationto conveythe sense thatthis is
the essentialbeingof a person.The Bedouintermdoes nothaveany metaphysicalconnotations,however.
I shouldalso note some otherambiguitiesin translatingpartsof whatwe couldconsider"theself."Ioften
translatecaglas "heart"althoughit is usuallytranslatedas "mind"andthoughtof as the seatof reasonor
social sense. AwladcAlluse thistermin poetryto referto the seat of emotionor thatwhich is affectedby
troubles.Theyrarelyuse the Arabicwordforheart(galb)in poetry.FromwhatIcouldgather,the Bedouins
seem to use cag/, khatr,and C'n (eye) interchangeably to referto the self. I suspectthatthe actualword
chosenforeach poemdependson soundandrhythmratherthanmeaning,whichis why Iam notconsistent
in translations.
'0Thisis an extremelyimportantbutcomplexargumentwhich is supportedin detailin Abu-Lughod (in
press),in which I show preciselyhow the code of honorstructuresindividualbehaviorin sucha way as to
maintainhierarchy.I also show how modesty(associatedwithwomen)is merelythe honorof the weak.
1 Fora discussionof the idealpersonalitytraitsof Bedouinwomenandthe ways in whichwomenman-
age to have honor,see Abu-Lughod (1985).
"2Marris (1974:26)calls attentionto the followingsymptoms:"physicaldistressand worse health;an
inabilityto surrenderthe past-expressed, for instance,by broodingover memories,sensingthe presence
of the dead,clingingto possessions,beingunableto comprehendthe loss,feelingsof unreality;withdrawal
into apathy.A cross-culturalsurveyof reactionsto death basedon datafromthe HumanRelationsArea
Files(Rosenblatt et al. 1976:6)notesthatin additionto strongemotions,deathprovokeschangesin patterns
of behaviorincluding"loss of appetiteand consequentweightloss, disruptionof workactivities,loss of
interestin thingsordinarilyinteresting,a decreasein sociability,disruptedsleep anddisturbingdreams."

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Submitted22 October1984
Accepted28 December1984
Finalversionreceived14 January1985

Bedouin sentiments of loss 261