Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Qatar National Day 2012

18th December is Qatar's National Day and as part of the celebrations many family/tribal groups set up huge tent majlis around Doha. The land on which the tent's erected is allocated by the government and the various families use their allocated land for weddings or important occasions. Most of the time the land looks like bare, rocky wasteland and you'll see these seemingly abandoned areas all over Doha.  However, everything changes when there's a function and the area is transformed into a tent palace. Huge marquees spring up seemingly overnight, carpets are laid on the ground, huge generators kick into life to provide electricity, sound systems are set up, lighting's installed and seating for the visitors is brought in. Often, two of these tents are erected, one for men and one for women. For the national day celebration most of the families had erected long tents with large carpeted areas at the front surrounded by chairs.  Some had camels in pens to one side for the younger guests to ride.

We were guests at one family majlis and we sat in two of the plush armchairs that lined the inside of the tent.  There were also seats lining the entire outside area as well, there must have been hundreds. The tent area, the area outside and the walkway to the public footpath was covered in carpets, you'll see them in the video.

Inside the tent we drank cardoman coffee and watched the dancing, the drummers and the poets. The dance being performed is the ardah, the traditional male dance in the Gulf region. Two lines of singers face each other and are led by a poet who moves between the lines directing the next lyrics to be sung. If its a 'performance' these singers are the only people moving, howevr in a community setting such as National Day, everyone of all ages joins in most carrying their sword, singing along and moving in an anti-clockwise circle on the carpet while the drumming group stand in the area between the two lines of singers.  In Qatar and Saudi the dancers traditionally carry swords, I'm not sure about Bahrain but I assume it would be similar. Over in the Emirates the dance is called 'Al Yolla' or one of the many variations on the name.  The Emirati singers carry canes mostly but I've also seen swords used occasionally. In the Emirates and also in Oman, there are often two or three young boys or teenagers moving up and down in the area between the lines of singers expertly tossing swords or imitation rifles. While  I've seen this here in Qatar, it doesn't seem to be a regular part of the dance here.

This evening, while the adults had a break, the little boys had their chance to dance. They all seemed to be under the age of 10, outrageously cute in their celebratory dishdashs. Some enjoyed a chat and a play sword fight with their mates, others were serious, they were there to practice hard.  The very young ones clutched their fathers' hands and walked around earnestly clutching their swords.  So, as you'll see, some of the dads joined in with their sons showing them the steps and the sword movements.

Thank you to the family for their hospitality.