Al-Aardah is one of the few folkloric arts that are still in practice in modern Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.
Al-Aardah is basically the dance of war, which warriors used to perform before meeting with their enemy. It expresses that they carry no fear of fighting and it is used to fire up the enthusiasm of the army, soldiers and their leader.
Al-Aardah is the first indication of war. The poetry of Al-Aardah is a mix of war tunes that are chanted out loud declaring challenge or a victory celebration.
Al-Aardah may last a long period of time as it could continue for hours. This dance came to express the evolution of an ancient Arab tradition since the Jahileyah period (before Islam). It is highly associated with “war”, though we cannot find clear texts in the Arab old heritage that links the wars of the Arabs at that time to Al-Aardah as we see it today. Yet, it is more than obvious that the major pillars of Al-Aardah have been associated with war before the Birth of Islam.
For centuries Drums of Al-Aaradah were used to declare war. Swords are carried and epic poetry is recited. These elements are the defining components of Al-Aardah.
The word Al-Aardah might be derived from “Aard Al-Kheil” ( demonstrating the horses) as Arabs for centuries used to train their horses and show them in special celebrations when they prepared to go to battle. It could also be derived from “Iaterad” (i.e. intercrossing) of swords, as it is very well known that “sword” is one of the very basic elements of Al-Aardah. Since the Jahileyah era, Arabian knights used to meet each other with swords drawn whether in a form of exhibition training or in real war, all the while chanting epic poetry.
The Emergence and Development of Al-Aardah
Al-Aardah has developed over the centuries till it gained its current form, which is described by Saudi writer Abdullah Bin Khamis when he says: “War poetry is the accent being used and it shapes the statement they (the warriors) used to make and it represents the banner they all stand behind. When things get really tough at war and when the two armies (tribes) collide together, the caller cries out loud chanting certain words to inspire and move the ones around him. Then, this cry (the song) is propagated throughout the army and chanted by a number of people answering the first caller. The chanting flows through the first row, and then becomes followed with the second one and so forth. If they happened to like the voice and the tune, they hit the drums in a consistent and monotonous way so repeatedly. A group of drummers would take a certain beat, while the other takes a different one. The firs beat is called the Ithlath (i.e. the tertiary); as if it is the third hit that follows the first two beats, yet, it has its own tune and its own impact. Then, the lines start to move and people start to shake their swords in a way that responds to the rhythm. You see the people in that line moving as one block and singing as one voice. Their bodies are moving so similarly according to the beats of the drums. The movement would be so consistent and rhythmic. It reflects the homogeneity and balance of all elements, as if things are all desired to be that way in their nature and character. Thus, the first, second and third poems are chanted. Poems of war do not exceed 10 lines. They start with a description of the war gear, a description the horrifying clouds or taking the form of a certain call directed to certain people. Then, the poem deals with the enemies, describing them and swearing to tear them apart. Eventually, the poem describes the people / tribe of the poet showing their great characteristics, bravery, strength and knighthood. The lines also describe the extraordinary female beauties, telling them not to accept defeat or take the side of the humiliated and the shamed. The defeated do not deserve the gentle glaze or the sweet words of these beauties. Al- Aardah poem (the poem of war) usually tackles these aspects. The Sheikh of the tribe or the head of the people is the basic figure in the poem and he is the one who leads the talk. He is the leader that everybody submits to and believes in. These war poems have various rhymes that vary according to their purposes and atmospheres. Sometimes, having a variation of tunes and a good representation as well as a good rhyme decide the success of the poem and give it its value.
Al-Aardah: Different Kinds and Shapes
Al-Aardah as an art is widely spread in Najd in the center of Saudi Arabia. It is well known by urban people and it also exists in other parts of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Countries. Still, there are differences and variations that are sometimes narrow or and sometimes wide according to the geographic locality of Al-Aardah tradition. We may find another definition of Al-Aardah that differs from that of Ibn Khamis. Some people say that Al-Aardah is the organization of lines of men in a circular or a semicircular shape. Poets stand at the center of this grouping chanting their poetry. Al-Aardah people go on repeating the last line. Aardah poems are either reflecting wisdom where the poet is speaking of his experience, or extending praise and honor to a certain man or a certain tripe. Near to the poets stand the drummers. On the beat of these drums, al-Aardah people repeat the last line they hear. Each of them carries his sword in his right hand. The golden decorated belts are worn around the waist. Generally, people stand in two opposing lines. A third definition says that the Al-Aardah of Najd is one of the folkloric arts innovated by the people of Onaizah (one of the towns of at Quoseim area to the center north of Saudi Arabia).
It is well-known that this kind of folkloric art is a kind of “Art of War” that used to be performed by the people of Najd – after achieving victory over their enemies and that was by the time when wars prevailed in the Arabian peninsula before the whole country was unified.
Among the requirements of this art are the banner, the sword and the rifles for the people chanting the poems of war. And still, there is a group of drums carriers who hit these drums in a beautiful tune that corresponds to the chanting of Al-Aardah men. The people with drums standing at the back are called the drums of “Takhmeir”, white those in the center are performing special dances and they are called the drums of “Irkab”. In the center, we see the banner carrier.
In modern time, Al-Aardah of Najd is performed during feasts and at weddings. Although Al-Aardah has generally been associated with war, yet, it could be performed in other occasions e.g. various celebrations feasts and marriages. Al-Aardah is performed generally when a major festival is made to receive a dignified distinguished figure.
The poets of Al-Aardah
It is not necessarily true that the good poets in classical Arabic poetry can be good poets in Al-Aardah poetry. Many poets were very famous tackling various issues and aspects of poetry, but they were not at all famous as Aardah poets. Al-Aardah poetry has a certain configuration and some of those poets became very famous. The most distinguished names are the Prince of Onaizah Zamel Al-Seliem, Sheikh Al-Khayat (he is also one of Onaizah poets) and Mohamed Al-Ouny (some critics believe that he is the most distinguished Aardah poet). The prince of Shaqraa Abdul Rahman Al-Bawardy, Abu Jarrah Al-Sobeiy, Ibrahim AL-Quady, Nasser Al-Oreiny, Abdullah Al-Sabi (also Known as Mbeilish), Al-Sagheer Al-Houty, Abdul Rahman Bin Sifyaan and others.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khamis has been dedicated to this wonderful art. He wrote a book titled: “The Tunes of War, or the Poetry of Al-Aardah”. Another writer known as Al-Jamal also has a book on the same issues.
Some of the Gulf countries are deeply devoted to revive Al-Aardah and allocate a lot of attention to it. These countries used to hold Al-Aardah celebrations as an official tradition in feasts and major occasions. There is an annual Aardah held in Riyadh among the activities of the annual festival of Janadereyah. Many of the royal princes and top officials attend Al-Aardah performances.
In Bahrain, there is a special association on Al-Aardah called “the Bahraini Aardah Association”. Al-Aardah has been differing from one place to the other.
Sailors used to have their own songs with their special tunes in the so-called “Marine Aardah”, which to be performed when the ship is approaching the safe shore after weeks of sailing into the sea. The sailors carry their drums and they hit them to celebrate their safe arrival.