Riyadh, June 29, 2024, SPA -FANA: The Federation of Arab News Agencies (FANA), as part of its cultural bulletin, circulated the below report by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) within the Saudi intangible cultural heritage:

“Camels have been a cornerstone of life in the Arabian Peninsula for millennia. They are not just beasts of burden, but symbols of wealth, generosity, and travel. Over time, they became deeply woven into the region’s heritage.

This deep connection gave rise to a beautiful folk art called “Alheda’a”, passed down through generations across Arabian societies. It is an oral tradition whereby herders use a combination of sounds, gestures, and sometimes musical instruments to communicate with their camels.

Inspired by poetry, these rhythmic expressions form a unique vocabulary the camels understand. Herders use Alheda’a to guide their herds through the desert, find pastures for grazing, and prepare them for watering, milking, and riding. It also serves as a critical warning system, allowing for s
wift assembly in case of sandstorms.

Historical accounts credit Mudar bin Nizar with having invented Alheda’a. After a fall from his camel, he kept weeping: “Waidah! Waidah!” (Oh my hand!). The camels, captivated by his voice, started moving. This sparked the tradition of using vocal cues to guide camels.

Early Alheda’a mimicked natural camel sounds, with herders urging their animals with sounds like “heh”, “doh”, and “dah”. These vocalizations, along with “Rajaz” (short, improvised poems), are still used today, though their use varies depending on the environment.

Over time, Alheda’a evolved into a more poetic form with distinct styles and vocabulary. It incorporated deeper meanings, sung verses, and balanced rhythms, reflecting the beauty of the Bedouin soundscape and culture.

According to Saudi folk heritage researcher Ibrahim Al-Khaldi, Alheda’a was essential for nomadic caravans. It typically involved two people reciting simple rhyming verses in unison, a practice that helped encourage the camels whi
le extracting water from wells. For larger water extraction tasks, where gathering distant camels was crucial, up to four people might recite Alheda’a. Their voices, carried in the quiet of night or dawn, would travel a great distance.

Alheda’a does not adhere to a single melody; it varies based on the environment. The poignant words resonate with the camels, and the meanings are deeply tied to the herders’ daily lives.

Chairman of the Saudi Society for Camel Studies Dr. Mohammed Al-Otaibi said Alheda’a existed even in pre-Islamic times. It is sung during a camel’s return to water, journey to pasture, or simply while traveling. These short, impactful chants help gather camels, guide their movement, and direct them back to their resting place.

Inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2022, Alheda’a has various applications, with chants for departure, travel, watering, gathering, and even for camels drawing water from wells, to encourage them.

Camels hold a
unique place in Arab society and even more so in the Saudi society. Recognizing this rich cultural heritage, the Camel Club was established under the directives of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Further solidifying this connection, the Ministry of Culture declared 2024 as the “Year of the Camel’, an animal seen as a cultural treasure, a pillar of national identity, and a valuable piece of Arab heritage.”

Source: National News Agency – Lebanon