Accepted paper:

Domestic Utopias: Emirati al Nabati poetry as an agent of personal, social and national transformation


Elizabeth Rainey (Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), UAE)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the transformative role of a traditional poetic medium to realize dynamic debate and movement within a family context.

Paper long abstract:

Emirati vernacular poetry has been used as an agent of social expression and protest since pre-Islamic times. Known as al Nabati, this traditional Bedouin medium is still widely applied in the UAE in a contemporary, cosmopolitan setting and a small corpus of co-translated work will be modeled to review the nature of the poetry, its ability to resolve family disputes and subtly negotiate a very pragmatic form of the ideal (al adab) through composition and practice. Food, hospitality, public speaking and spell binding performances were central to social, political and cultural brokerage in Arabia and seen through the eyes of three generation of women, as such are still enjoyed today. The success of such a strategy may be gauged by al Nabati's continued popularity and impact, whose composers and transmitters may earn patronage, political influence or social status. While today's male contributors are televised, the voices in this study are female, more intimate, debating family issues through robust poetical dialogue, beyond the camera's gaze. The decisions based on this oral tradition, while underscoring personal and cultural identity, still robustly support the status quo, while counteracting dinomia that may have resulted from the linguistic shift to English, through a familial form of argumentum ad antiquitatem. Journeys both literal and spiritual are initiated in the verse, emphasizing ethical conduct, through deontic appeal. The exemplarity the poems reinforces community practices, as pathways from desert to global stage are revealed, in what may be arguably an authentic Bedouin voice.

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Gesturing toward utopia: the politics of exemplarity