Bedouin Life / FYI

The Tahtib – An Embarrassing FYI

I purchase light-weight bamboo canes for my daughter every now and then as she loves to play with them. Some of them are quite decorative, others are plain Jane, like this one here.
Tahtib Sometimes we’ll tie shoestrings to the ends and pretend that we’re on a fishing trip, blow up balloons and play a game of “Don’t Let the Balloon Touch the Ground,” or we’ll play a game of “Whoop the Softball” (our version of hockey). If my daughter gets too excited, she’ll swing the cane in every direction and our game of “Whoop the Softball” accidentally turns into a game of “Whoop the Mommy.” – Lookout, duck, ouch! If I have enough energy left, we’ll duel it out in an imaginary sword fight. The canes don’t always survive our horseplay hence my multiple purchases.
I did not have an inkling regarding these canes -until now – and despite the fact that I wanted to ask a shopkeeper about them a long time ago, I never inquired. I do remember seeing an African woman at a local masjid keeping the children in check while their mothers prayed by waving a similar cane at them.
Oh the ignorance….
One night while running errands, I purchased yet another cane to keep my daughter occupied and out of trouble. She handed me the cane and after some time I noticed that people were staring at me…hmmmm?
Oh the ignorance….
I entered my favorite herb store. The shopkeeper looked at me and gasped (eyes and mouth wide open). Ok, I’m nervous now. I’ve been shopping at this particular store for the past 3 years and by Allaah’s Mercy have generated business for them and myself, so we’re more like associates.. so why is he looking at me like that? Here’s our conversation:
Shopkeeper: Umm Su’aad! Why do you have that stick?!
Silly Me: Oh, (gulp)…what’s it used for?
Shopkeeper: It’s used for beating and some women (professional “dancers”) use it while entertaining men.
Silly Me to Myself: OOOOOH MYYYYY GOD! I can’t believe that I walked around for an hour holding this stick. I’m soooo embarrassed! The men that were staring at me must think that I’m A DANCER. Ooooohhh God I can’t breathe! They must think that I was “advertising my services.” Ok Haneefah, pull yourself together…take a deep breath.
Silly Me to the Shopkeeper: Oh? Well…(gulp)…I buy these things for Su’aad. She loves to play with them – that’s all. I did not know that they were used for beating and dancing.
Shopkeeper: Oh.
Silly Me to Myself: I will never, ever purchase these canes again!
I Googled the keywords “Bedouin stick” and came across this…
“Egyptian men have always carried a long staff for herding, walking and protection. Their dance, called ‘tahtib’ is a mock battle set to music. The men strut and posture showing off their strength, then attack and parry in time with the music. The women’s version of the dance is all about femininity. They make the movements cute and flirty and omit the fighting. The women flaunt effortless control of their much smaller stick or crooked cane. They use it unabashedly as a frame for the body movements. Some of the women’s movements echo the ‘tahtib’ and sometimes the men imitate the woman’s style.”
Other web sites state that belly dancers perform the feminine, flirtatious version of the “war dance” that’s usually performed by men using much bigger, heavier sticks or swords. Bedouin men from several different countries all have their own version of the “war dance.”
I hope my ordeal saves someone else from sheer and utter embarrassment.
Haneefah :)

11 thoughts on “The Tahtib – An Embarrassing FYI

  1. Oh you get embarrassed easy! Don’t feel bad, my kids use to play with them and nobody said anything. Actually, they are sold by vendors outside of wedding halls and eid gatherings.

    The first time I saw them, was at this Ghetto Fab Walima, I attended. It immediately took me back to the step shows the black greeks did on my college campus.

    However, it is a great topic. You should do a blog on things lost in translations and cultural faux pas.

  2. Asalamua aleykum

    ROFL! I had no idea! I remember I was looking at them once, in a cheap souk, with a vague idea that it could be used for a play I was considering having students stage, and there was just a little snickering going on (the shopkeeper and an idler.) I didn’t like the sound of it, so I left.

    Now I know! Really, someone should publish a collection of potential gaffes to warn us Westerners.

  3. Wa ‘alaikumus salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh. A blog o’ blunders sounds totally hilarious! I’m in if someone is willing to assist me.

    Baarakallaahu feekunna for the comments ladies :)

  4. As-salaamu aleikum Sister,

    Here in Oman they are a part of the men’s national dress for formal occasions. Men carry them with them when they go to pray the Eid prayers, when they go to give condolences at a funeral, and yes, when they go to weddings. The men to use them here also for dancing at weddings, but I’ve never seen Omani women dancing with them. They are also used to ‘scare’ children: “If you don’t behave, I’ll get the cane…”

  5. That was very funny as well as enlightening, I really laughed hard. Mashaa Allaah, we live and learn.

    What I also realized from this is that it is from the custom of the ‘Iraab, that they don’t like to embarrass people, so it’s a good thing you were informed by an associate, or else………….

  6. As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh

    Yes I understand this post was a while ago but………………………….. LOL ROFL. Oh no I would have felt so so embarrassed.

    I can just imagine you walking around the streets with that stick and the unknown reactions / looks you would have been getting LOL…….. oh…… that tickled me………………..

    Fe aman Illah

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