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Ghinnawas (literally "little songs") are short, two line emotional lyric poems written by the Bedouins of Egypt, in a fashion similar to haikus, but similar in content to the American blues. Ghinnawas typically talk of deep, personal feelings and are often an outlet for personal emotions which might not be otherwise expressible in Bedouin society. Ghinnawas may also be sung. Lila Abu Lughod - the Arab American graduate student in Anthropology, who studied the Awlad Ali Bedouins in Northern Egypt in the late 1970s, and collected over 450 ghinnawas, has published the most comprehensive work on ghinnawas to date.
Ghinnawa is a form of folk poetry, in the sense that anyone in Awlad Ali society could author a ghinnawa. In a broader context, ghinnawas may be looked upon as non-standard discourse which are a means of coping with social reality, similar to other discourse forms in the Arab world like the Hikaya folktales of Tunisia, or the Gussa allegories of the Bedouin of the Sinai.
Ghinnawas usually have sad themes - typically being the lament of lost love, unless sung at celebrations like a circumcision or a wedding. Ghinnawas are sung by women, boys and also on rare occasions by men. Ghinnawa semantics are well-defined only in context, because of their personal nature. Contents of ghinnawas are considered personal, even sensitive to the extent that Lila Abu Lughod was warned "never to reveal any women's poems to men".
The Awlad Ali do not have a strong history of public displays of emotion. Modesty or deference and boasting or anger are typically the most commonly expressed public emotion. Most other forms of expression take place through ghinnawas. Ghinnawas thus play an important role in social expression and inter-gender discourse, especially for women.
Delivery and structure
Ghinnawas may be written down, which is often the case for inter-gender communication, but can be spoken as substitute to normal conversation, or sung. The structure of the ghinnawa is very different in written and oral forms.
the oral form unspools into 16 lines as follows:
Each ghinnawa typically has many variations, and may even be sung with minor variations in a single singing.
- Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, by Lila Abu-Lugodh, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1986
- Between segmentation and desegmentation: Sound expressions among the Berbers in the Sous region (Southwestern Morocco), by Horiuchi Masaki, Cultures Sonores d'Afrique (ed. J. Kawada), Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Tokyo, 1997
- The Ghinnawa: How Bedouin Women's' Poetry Supplements Social Expression by Martha Blake
- Songs from the nomadic heart, Literary Review of Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin society by Lila Abu-Lughod; by Inea Bushnaq; New York Times, February 15, 1987