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Good Morning Sinai: Community dances of Egypt's North Sinai

As Egypt celebrates Sinai Liberation Day on 25 April, Ahram Online takes a look at the desert peninsula's ancient traditions

National Folklore Archieve, Tuesday 23 Apr 2013
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The singing and dancing events known as samer are held in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula to mark weddings, the arrival and departure of guests, and the return of pilgrims. Dehheyya, the best known type of samer in Sinai, is quite similar to other samer events in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan.

In dehheya, the samer usually comprises three components: badiemarbou and the dehheyya. To perform the badie, men stand in a semi-circle and one of them starts to sing in quatrains (known as badie) about the character and physical attributes of the bride, bridegroom and guests. Often, the songs involve lavish praise of Prophet Mohamed.

This is usually followed by ululations and the firing of guns into the air. It is common for several poets to rotate singing, with songs usually focusing on the nature of the celebration and the individuals in whose honour the ceremony is held. The badie usually concludes with songs preparing for the entry of the hashi (the sole or lead female).

During the marbou, a female dancer (called the hashi) comes into the dance area. She is covered by a sheet from head to waist, to ensure her anonymity. She holds a shawl or a stick, which she uses to keep tempo and thus control the rhythm of the performance.

The hashi stands in front of the semi-circle of men and gyrates, mostly with the head and shoulders, while the men clap in a rhythmic manner. The role of the hashi is to entice the men and encourage them to sing and dance with more vigour. In some weddings, more than one hashi come to the dance area, impelling the men to sing and dance with more energy.

       Next and finally comes the dehheyya, which is the third part of this song-and-dance performance. It is faster in pace and more energetic than the previous two parts. The male chorus may opt to clap from a seated   position, which impels the hashi to do the same.

It is customary for a tribe to invite badie singers from distant places to participate in their celebrations. The visiting poets are rewarded by new robes in a gift from the host.

Competition among the poets is a source of pleasure for the audience, who rate the event by the quality of singing and the level of competition among the poets.  Those attending such celebrations often comment on the performance by saying things like, "They set the samer on fire," or, "They were like fighting cocks."

The samer is usually held in a large open area in the desert, and often goes on until the early hours of the morning. Recently, samer events became less frequent than before, mostly because of 'religious' claims that such celebrations were sinful.

It is, however, common to hear similar singing performed in hadra (sufi) nights, communal religious song-and-dance events. Reluctant to part with its artistic past, the community tries to maintain its musical legacy through religious, if not social, performances.

Compiled by Adel Abdel-Moneim

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