Tag Archives: Middle East

Ewiha Chant (Zalghouta): Folklore Song/Gesture

Text: Ewiha Chant (Zalghouta)

Context: AH’s relationship to this piece stems from his Lebanese culture which allows him to have various experiences as he heard this song/gesture within his childhood and early adult life. His relationship relates to his connection with his aunt as she is the specific woman in his family that is in charge of leading the performance. He typically hears this chant at weddings during the dinner portion of the event or after the ceremony. Within his family, they typically use this song/gesture as a Lebanese tradition as they wish good luck to the newly wed couple. Within the tradition, self-expression is evident as yells, screams, yodeling and ululations are present. AH interprets this tradition as a good luck charm and as a sign of felicitations as his family believes that if this song/gesture is not performed, it is considered bad luck on the newly wed couple.

Analysis: The overall cultural value within this song/gesture is based on the act of ululating (zalghouta) which is practiced all over the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. Given that this act stems from Lebanese tradition, it holds cultural values within women considering this song/gesture is typically done by women given they are the only ones that can perform an ululation which is a high-pitched tongue trill. I see this gesture/song as an overall expression of happiness, joy, and celebration. Considering that I have not experienced this tradition being performed, I believe that this song/gesture during family events is a momentous moment that is filled with positive affirmations as two families conjoin together where luck, love, and unity is emitted within the atmosphere.  

“As busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad”

Text: As busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad.

Context: Tom says he’s “as busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad” when he finds himself extremely busy with his tasks at hand. He uses the term in all settings, including academic, social, and professional, and sometimes modifies the phrase but always keeps the alliteration aspect of it. He first heard it from his Western Australian uncle, who, in a conversation with Tom’s dad (Tom overheard), employed the simile to explain how busy he was with work as an entrepreneur. He found it very funny the first time he heard it. 

Analysis: This simile is a tool used to liken the sisyphean task of rebuilding a warzone, made even more difficult by a major physical impairment, to occupation with an overwhelming amount of work. Tom explained that in Australian culture, people tend to make funny comparing statements: one-liners that are intended both to convey information and to be comical. I interpret the phrase not only as clever wordplay, but also as a store of historical value as it doubles as a reference to current events (war in the Middle East).  

Commonplace Reincarnation

During high-school, my dad studied abroad in Brazil for a year. He stayed with a family of Lebanese, Druze immigrants who showed him both Brazilian and Lebanese traditions, and always included him in everything. Growing up, I heard tons of stories from his time there. The Brazilian stories were relatively tame – beaches, clubs, schools, etc. But the Lebanese culture was of particular interest.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And they also believed in reincarnation. Very strongly. Cause my – the Brazilian father of the family I was with never talked about it, but his wife said as a boy growing up in Lebanon, uh, when he was a young boy he started remembering his death as another person. His life. And he kept remembering more and more about it. And he was a young guy and, uh, a middle aged man or something, and there was a feud going on with another family.  And every year he started to remember more about this past life.  And uh, one day he remembered going to the water and he was bending over, washing his face, and looking up in the water and seeing one of his enemies behind him swinging something down. And he remembered his own murder. And after that he never talked about it. But it was common knowledge in the family, when he was growing up, as a kid he remembered this other life. So they all, they all believed in reincarnation. But it was interesting because, I would never have imagined this serious businessman recounting past life experiences. But he was a boy. But there was some story of him going to the house of the person who had been killed when he was twelve years old. And he knew the family and he told the family. And he knew where things were hidden in a drawer and things like that. Yeah, cause he remembered from his.. from his past life. So, but – the family – I was going, ‘weren’t they amazed’? But when they were telling me this story – it was the old uncle Rashid who was telling me this – and he said, ‘oh no, it happens all the time in the Middle East, it’s no big deal’. Like it’s common. ”

Holy cow this story is incredible. I’ve only ever read about these sorts of reincarnation stories online, but to hear it from my dad was a whole other experience. In America, stories such as these are usually scoffed at and forgotten in a matter of hours The same is true in the Middle East, however their reasoning is the exact opposite of ours. Whereas we think of reincarnation as being wholly impossible, there, it is so commonplace that stories such as this are considered drab and boring. It’s insane to think that there is a whole group of countries that believe in reincarnation so readily that they never really talk about it at all.