A Winter in Arabia by Freya Stark

A Winter in Arabia by Freya Stark

Author:Freya Stark [STARK, FREYA]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781468302349
Publisher: Overlook
Published: 2012-03-16T16:00:00+00:00

The two rows repeat it, the poet retires, the one line advances to the other, raises hands over head as they meet, bows nearly to the ground and withdraws: they do this several times, till the other line takes it up in turn. At intervals the verse is changed:

“May the flood come from Ghaibun and bring prosperity.”


“May the Mansab grant us gifts, to buy us clothes.”

The music is spacious and rather sad: the dance like “Nuts in May.”

The Sharh of Sur in Oman comes next: these dances are all local and every region has its own. This is a war dance with sticks for swords. The two performers come across the stage singing a wailing wordless tune and stand before a line of ten men with sticks; they then fight, leaping at a distance from each other. They trip each other up by sweeping the stick (sword) from behind along the ground; the menaced one springs clear; they kneel opposite each other and fence; when they get too close, one of the bystanders with his stick leaps between and again does so when, at the end, the victor holds his dagger over his enemy’s body on the ground.

The dances become pure comedy in the Sharh Saibani, and the cook’s assistant, the man of the tam-o’-shanter, appears with a pink-and-red futah draped coyly over his head and hides behind a line of clapping hands. His suitor, hunting behind them, drags him out: he—or she—follows in a bashful fluttering manner: the little grey beard sticks out from the pink garment in a waggish way. When another dancer appears, the lady goes gaily from one to the other in a manner not exclusively Arabian.

The comic was a great success, and having added a striped futah petticoat to his trousseau, became a Somali wife with a Somali husband also draped in a futah, a crook-handled stick in his hand. They danced and quarrelled, but what they said was probably too Rabelaisian for the Mansab to translate.

His colleague from Meshed nowappeared among us, beaming with smiles, his own feast over a day or two before. We settled again to watch a juggler from Yemen. This was a sad-looking creature dressed in rags, who amused the crowd by pushing a dagger into his eye, over the eyelid I suppose; it seemed to go in nearly an inch and when he pulled it out again he had to rest his eye for a moment or two, covering it with his hand while his ragged old grey companion beat on a crooked sheep-skin tambourine. The sun had sunk meanwhile, and the crowd was thinning; the time for prayer was at hand. The two Mansabs, cross-legged on the bench beside us, rose to go. The rough dark man with the mizmar, with blue serge coat buttoned to his neck and a purple turban, walked away, playing a sad little tune, while the children followed. The feast was over with the last ray of the sunlight, and the call of the muezzin from the mosque.


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