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H.B. Tristram

Dances in Palestine

Tristram, H.B.: "Dances in Palestine", Tradition and Art 063, p. 18-19, Athens, I.O.F.A., May – June 2002. From his book: The land of Israel. Journal of travels in Palestine. London, 1882 (original 1865).

Dances in Palestine

Elisha's Fountain, Jericho, Palestine, 01/01/1864

January 1stt. - Under a bright sun and a cloudless sky, with a natural warm bath in the open air, we began the new year. It was a day of thankful retrospect and sanguine anticipation, and the happiness of the party was crowned when M. appeared in the afternoon from Jerusalem, and our mystic seven being complete, we formed a light-hearted and enthusiastic dinner party. In the evening our guards took it into their heads to treat us to a “fantasia,” or native dance, in honour of M.’s arrival and the completion of the party. It is hardly a dance, scarcely acting, but rude it certainly is. One of them standing with his drawn sword, and facing the others, gave the time as they commenced with a series of deep guttural grunts in 2/4 time, accompanied with a clapping of the hands. Then came an extempore song of endless verses in praise of the Howadjis, their success in shooting, the style of their horsemanship, and of course a prophetic intimation of their generosity in gifts. All this long tale continued confined within three semitones, and also in 2/4 time. Then the grunts and the ducking, and hideous gasps, as they clapped their hands -then the song again, and so on for nearly an hour, till we stopped them and distributed a backshîsh for this Bedouin concert. Neither the dance nor the measure was like those of the Zickars I have often seen in Africa, although the monotonous chant and the indescribable grunting or soughing recalled them.


In the afternoon we were serenaded by another fantasia or Zikkar ; this time by the women of Er Riha, the village which stands on the site of ancient Jericho. They came up and formed in front of the tents with loud shouts, and the strange “trill trill” with the tongue which we had often heard from the women of Algiers. The dance consisted in the movement of the body rather than of the limbs, and one woman in front of the circle, with a scarf in both hands, gave the time gracefully enough to the twenty-three performers who made up the party. They were a miserable and degraded-looking set, scantily clad in blue cotton, all very filthy ; and, excepting two or three of the younger ones, most repulsive in feature. I never saw such vacant, sensual, and debased features in any group of human beings of the type and form of whites. There was no trace of mind in the expression of any one of these poor creatures, who scarcely know they have a soul, and have not an idea beyond the day. They are the despised women of despised fellahin, who repay to their wives the contempt they meet with from the Bedouin. The women of the Ghor, unlike Moslems of the towns, do not veil, and truly there is no need for them to do so. In vain we told them it was our Sabbath, and that we did not wish for their performance. Still they persevered, till we left them and dispersed, in the hope of getting quit of them. But to no purpose. The Amazons of the party rushed in pursuit, and caught L., whom they forcibly dragged back. We saw resistance was useless, and were glad to purchase quiet by a liberal backshîsh. We now observed among them a little childish figure completley covered, and an old red silk handkerchief tied over head and face. It was discovered that this was a wedding celebration, and that the poor child was the bride, who was led round with only one hand exposed, into which every one was expected to put a piece of silver as a wedding gift. This done, they retired, dancing and singing our praises ; while we felt, as we looked after them, that if there is one thing more trying than to witness pain which one cannot alleviate, it is to behold degradation which one cannot elevate. And this, too, on the very spot where the Redeemer had taught and healed.

Tristram, H.B.: The land of Israel. Journal of travels in Palestine. London, 1882 (original 1865).



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