Al-Baleh: the Living Face of Yemeni Traditional Folklore [Archives:2001/52/Culture]

December 24 2001

Al-Baleh is a type of Yemeni folklore in which ballads of different poets but having the same rhymes and dances are mixed. They are sung on certain occasions like Eids, weddings, settling quarrels and during Ramadan by twenty or thirty men or women. Al-Baleh has many names like (Luabt il Baleh) in northern Yemen, (Dan) in Hadramout, ([Al-Rasfa il Hashdya) or (Al-Eidyah Al-Anseeyah]) but it is not sung in funerals.
Men also do it during ploughing and harvesting to activate themselves after being tired. Sometimes it is done with a pipe and a drum specially during weddings. On some occasions it has a bloody end.
In wedding, a piper and a drummer start with a singer. Sometimes the singer is the drummer himself while people dance in circles. Then two facing lines of twenty or thirty men begin a traditional opening. After that a poet attends the circle to recite a poem praising the groom and his family.
It is narrated that a groom called (shani) was wedded but the bride refused to surrender. The groom went out and entered the circle saying a ballad:
ya Ahmed Ali Saad ana daieek ghezalek midi
tgool shani mttannish aw hidi ma hidi, by which he indirectly accused the bride of being not virgin or having a love affair with another man. His brother-in-low, understanding the hidden meaning, went to check what was happening. On coming back he entered the circle and said a ballad indirectly exposing the grooms sexual weakness:
Heleft maad tera mithly mssahir gedi
Wadateha lek wdekhkheltek ila il mergidi
Tgool men il eib minkum? Nisal il meindi. 
At this point they were about to fight. Women rushed into the scene supplying canes and stones. A wiseman entered and changed the rhyme to change the whole subject and ordered the women to get back home saying:
Temmet ala kheir wil hikma li eggalha
Khiarah kiswet il meklef wtsella leha
Wil maaweleh ad hi tidhwi lijehaleha.
That was like a military order to go off. Finally the problem was settled peacefully.
In some balehs women take part in such circles but as reciters not as dancers because baleh demand high tones of young men who conclude them with fast rounding movements as they begin. Poets who exchange ballads come from the audience and go back after finishing their poems to give others a chance to participate. In Ramadan women do the baleh in villages at nights. They divide themselves into two facing groups holding one anothers hands and start with a poetic dialogue praising, condemning or flirting with one another for a long time till midnight. For example, one says:
Ala billah ya ammi ya sheibah
Ala billah ya jani il rumman
Ala widdeh bitha il girsh rummanah.
Which means: O my old-aged uncle who sells pomegrants. Sell me one for this rial
The baleh was renewed by the Yemeni poet, Mutahar al-Iriani who recomposed it artistically recording history of the whole Yemeni people not only mere village heritage.