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Bedouin Poetry

Clinton Bailey, author of the book “Bedouin Poetry”, states in his introduction that it is a shame that the Bedouin people are moving farther and farther away from their traditional culture. The new, modern world has at last taken its toll on the Bedouins. However, Bailey still remembers life living with the Bedouins before all of these changes. One of the best ways to examine the undisturbed old culture of the Bedouin people is through their poetry. Observing Bedouin poetry is also a good way to look at how the Bedouins view their ultimate integration into the modern world.
Poems from the Bedouin people usually can be grouped into one of four groups: poems of expression, poems of communication, poems of instruction and poems to entertain.
Poems of expression are interesting to say the least. It is important to note that these types of poems are one of the few ways that men in Bedouin society can vent or show their feelings. In the Bedouin society, when a man shows his feelings it is considered a sign of weakness. Even when a man shows his emotions through poetry the emotions are often controlled and sometimes confined. However, this factor does not play a large role in Bedouin expression poems because most of these poems are negative; most of the poems deal with loss, anger and grief. According to Bailey, all of these poems, regardless of the thematic emotion, are in response to either an insult or an injury. These poems of sorrow and anger are meant to be used as weapons that do not directly harm anyone. Rather, the poems are meant to defend. If an insult is not acknowledged and retaliated against the person who was initially insulted is considered to be weak and below the strength of the insulter. It is for this reason that most of the expression poems by the Bedouins have common themes of loss, anger and strife.
The poems of expression, while directed specifically at a person or group of people, are more rhetorical than anything else. These poems are not meant to be responded to. However, the poems of communication are direct messages, in a sense, that are meant to convey a story or statement that will then later be acknowledged or declined by other Bedouins. These kinds of poems range from apology poems to threats. Again, we see the common themes of anger and strife within the Bedouin people.
Poems of Instructions give advice and, you guessed it, instructions on how to accomplish certain tasks. In everyday Bedouin life, no one explains how things get done. For example, there are some Bedouins who can name about 300 different types of vegetation that grow around their living settlement. But the Bedouins with this knowledge memorized these names and plants on their own; no one taught them this. They simply used their own experiences to memorize the different vegetation. Adults might, from time to time, pass on their knowledge of certain plants, but there are no formal instruction botany classes or even village gatherings in which people share their information. Poems of Instruction often literally give others advice without actually telling someone directly how to accomplish a task. Asking for someone’s direct help, depending on the situation, can be seen as a sign of weakness among the Bedouins.
Finally, we have poems to entertain. These poems recant stories, legends, or simply fun whimsical rhymes. These poems are often the definition of “Bedouin humor”. Many of these poems are just silly and meant to make others laugh. It is through these poems that we can finally see a lighter side to the Bedouin people, at least through their art of poetry. One poem actually “ridicules swiftness to anger”, as Bailey puts it. In other words, this poem talks about how silly it is that the Bedouin people are so quick to turn to anger in any given situation. This is an important realization by an actual Bedouin person because it highlights the fact that while these poems may be light hearted, most other types of poems reflect anger and strife.