Feddah

If you would like to learn more about this woman and Bedouin poetry, read

The American Magazine, Volume 21, p. 666,  1886
"A Bedouin Tribal Poetess," by Albert Leighton Rawson

"Veiled Sentiments; Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society," by Lila Abu-Lughod, 2000
Got Henna? Contest #3:
  1. Who was the person in the picture?
  2. Where was the person above from, what was her tribal group?
  3. As a princess, what was her bride price in 1886?
  4. What are the poems called that have a traditional form of fifteen syllables divided into two hemistichs?
  5. Why were these poems important to this tribal group?
Write a one of these poems:
Write a poem in this traditional style, with fifteen syllables divided into two hemistichs, mentioning HENNA.


Answer by Noam Sienna:

The posted engraving shows a portrait of Feddah bint Ali, an Adwani Bedouin woman of the Diab clan living in the deserts east of the Dead Sea in what is today Jordan. In the summer of 1874 she entertained an American traveller, Orientalist, and Freemason named Albert Leighton Rawson (1828-1902). His account of their meeting was published in Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, volume 1, in 1886. Her father was an important sheikh [tribal leader], and Rawson records that her dowry was set at 4000 [Ottoman] Turkish pounds, which he says is $16,000 (equivalent to $320,000 USD today). He notes that "she might be worth many times that sum in the United States as a star actress", but she remained unmarried.

She was renowned as a poet and reciter of tribal legends — Rawson calls her "makelled", possibly a corruption of the Arabic muqallid, meaning "imitator" or "comic performer" (he also calls her a "histrion", an archaic word for a stage actor). He describes her poetry as long epics (one having about 200 lines) about legends and histories of her tribe, and having "smooth rhythm" with rhymes in the middle and end of the line, as is typical in most forms of classical Arabic poetry. He records his translation of the beginning of one of her poems, a description of the ancestors of the Adwani tribe (interestingly, he also notes the frequently voiced approval of the audience in three different Arabic dialects: "meleeh" [sic — malih, literally 'handsome'] from the Bedouins, "tayeeb" [sic — tayyib, "good"] from the peasants, and "zane" [sic — zwin, Maghrebi dialect, "good"] from visiting North Africans).

And here's my (sad attempt at a) poem. I know that technically speaking, in this kind of Arabic poetry, you have to carry the rhyme scheme all the way through but it didn't say that specifically, and it is WAY easier to do that in Arabic than English. But it does have 15-syllable lines with rhymed hemistichs (in an alternating scheme, albeit), so if you (and Feddah) will forgive me, here it is.

I stare at the palms of my hands / and listen to shifting sands

By the glowing embers' light / with only the whispers of night

To send me to other lands / where once you obeyed my commands.

But you have gone from my sight / and for once you may have been right:

Everything fades, time demands / and only henna understands.
Answer by Sue Brittain:

The woman in the sketch is Feddah the Makelled,  Feddah the gifted.  The daughter of Alee Dieb, sheik of the Adwan, princess of the Beckla Tribe, specifically of the Nimmers who had seperated from the Diab in her father's generation, of the Bedouin from the uplands of Moab, which is in Jordan. 

 She was  betrothed to Fendi el Fayz (the hawk), and her dower was 1000 waheta, ( 4,000 Turkish pounds, or 816,000$)  Feddah  means silver in Arabic, and she was a poetess of the tribe, trained by her grandfather and another great poet of the previous generation. 

She was a celebrated poetess of her tribe by the age of 20, reciting the ghinnawa, a genre of lyric poem in the oral demotic tradition.  Having a poet in the tribe allowed the tribe to preserve their history and to be entertained by the adventures and ideas of it's prominent members.  It also provided an outlet, within a very restricted, structured society for expressing and articulating feeling around personal situations and the closest relationship that they would not ordinarily be able to express. They could speak, indirectly of their frustrations, politically or personally, through the medium of poetry and song.   Ghinnawa provided a mode of social interaction where the ordinary rules of social relations are suspended.  Poetry and song could contain stories of love, of marriage, of politics, adventures and heroes.

Palm to palm, one red, one callused,

Speaking as one voice, we join lives.
Answer by Danny Roberts:

The 'Mystery Princess' is Feddah, Makelled of the Adwan, a Bedouin from the uplands of Moab, East of the Dead Sea. A Makelled is a poetess/historian that keeps the stories, songs, and traditions of the tribe, and she was notably talented, and trained from a young age, and while only 20 very gifted in her knowledge and skill. Her bride price was set at 4,000 Turkish Pounds, or about $16,000 U.S. in 1886 when the source article was published in 'The American Magazine', vol. 21. The meter of the poetry follows the form of Greek poetry known as Political Verse, or Cretan Mantinada, but I didn't find an exact reference to it's title in the Bedouin culture. Here is my attempt to use the poetic style including HENNA.

Henna stained palms stretch towards

the eternal expanse of stars.

Henna stained soles anchored firm

on shifting sands of endless change.