Withering traditionAl-Madraha needs new life [Archives:2005/808/Last Page]

January 17 2005
Yemeni madraha (swing) is not meant only for children. It suits adults as well. It is one of the Yemeni traditions threatened with extinct
Yemeni madraha (swing) is not meant only for children. It suits adults as well. It is one of the Yemeni traditions threatened with extinct
Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Al-Madraha, or the swing, is a folklore theater that Yemenis have invested to mark the very important religious occasion of the journey to Mekka to perform Hajj.

When someone declares his intention to go for this religious ritual, his family sets up the Madraha at the yard or his house or in an open space. It becomes a center of attraction for a variety of rituals throughout the pilgrim's journey-from departure to arrival.

Activities including prayers, dancing, folk-songs particularly al-Madraha chants, animal slaughtering, gunshots and fireworks all bring life into the whole zone.

But such a tradition is withering away.

In an attempt to record this folklore audio visually which has lost its essence, the House of Folklore in collaboration with the Foundation of the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage recently organized the first Madraha Festival.

“The 3-day festival that wrapped up last Friday aims to revive the Madraha tradition and others associate rituals after they have died out in many parts of Yemen as well as introducing the Hajj traditions in Sana'a,” said Arawa Abdu Othman, House of Folklore director.

Al-Madraha was usually made of the wood of solid trees like acacia, and its pillars are tied firmly by special ropes which were sometimes made of leather braids.

Decoration of the Madraha was an important tradition; initially it would be covered in “hajj covering,” a dress similar to the pilgrim's uniform during pilgrimage. Then, children, men and women would swing according to a specific schedule as women and children swing in the morning and men from dusk to midnight.

It usually takes a pair to swing, one sitting while the other standing, singing some verses which have to be repeated by the swinger.

The songs associated to the Madraha rituals are usually chants full of emotions and sentiments that reflect the people feelings towards this occasion and the departure of the pilgrims.

It is a good occasion also for the people to show solidarity and rally even if emotionally with the families of the pilgrims which are usually overwhelmed with sadness to depart their loving ones, and have to wait for almost four months for them to come back home from Mecca.

Going for pilgrimage to Mecca was not an easy task, it was risky, arduous and tiring. People used to either ride camels or go sailing which used to take almost for months.

Therefore, people used to have some called al-Mubashir or good news carrier who is the first pilgrim to arrive from the Holy Land; he used to play an important role in communicating information from pilgrims who had not arrived yet to their relatives. If he brings good news about a pilgrim, then he would be rewarded handsomely by the concerned family.

The role of the al-Mubashir has diminished in this age of telecommunication technology and has become just live in our memory.

During the festival days, some people like Dr. Raufa Hassan, Ahmad al-Dhahbani and Ali Saleh al-Jamrah presented very beautiful memories on al-Madraha during their childhood.

Of course, there is a complete change since then where the al-Madraha rituals are withering away and becoming something of the past. But, the most important thing is the initiative taken by the House of Folklore which took individual initiative to bring this tradition back into the life and memory of the people, and also preserving this tradition through audio visual recordings.

The al-Madrah was not at all considered by the Sana'a Arab Cultural capital programs despite its importance in the public life of the Yemeni people, mainly in Sana'a. Despite the broad participation of local people as well as from the diplomatic community including the Japanese ambassador, the ministry of culture was almost absent from this event despite the fact that it should have been the main sponsor of the event.