Friday, September 05, 2008

Baghdad: Moons and Whales

“Hey you sculptured whale
Leave our moon soon
And if you don’t leave it
We will strike for you with a tray”

I was preparing to present a paper entitled ‘affective disorders in Iraq: by Widad Bazzoui” when I thought about using some photos representing Iraq culture because the paper was about the cultural differences between western and Iraqi culture. I typed “Iraq” in the Google image search and all I saw was war. I typed “Iraq culture” and all I saw was war again. Hence I thought about publishing something talking about Iraqi culture.

They were waiting for the lunar eclipse. And because Baghdad these days is so much religious they only talked about how should they do the lunar eclipse prayers. They forgot about going into the houses’ roofs holding metallic trays and spoons to sing that song:

Hey you sculptured whale
Leave our moon soon
And if you don’t leave it
We will strike for you with a tray

The words in Arabic don’t go in rhyme as one may expect. Songs and poems which have no rhymes are the strongest. They are the most primitive. The most childish. The most true. Aziz Ali a very famous monologist in the early 20th century in Iraq had included this song in one of his monologues. Here is a picture where Aziz Ali is standing in the back. Picture is taken from an Iraqi Arabic internet site ( in the link you will see very nice pictures representing Iraq culture:

The origin of this song is a very complex one. First let us go to a visit to my friend Mwnqithe who will tell us: “There was a scientist living in Baghdad in the 11th century AD when the Mongols invaded Baghdad .They killed all famous men and women. That scientist I am talking about said to the chief of Mongols:

- Don’t kill me, I am a scientist and I can help you, I can know the weather during the coming days.

- And how I can that you are not lying on me?

- I know exactly when the coming lunar eclipse will happen.

The scientist told the Mongolian chief about that day and the chief ordered his guards to put the scientist in jail till that day. If a lunar eclipse will happen then the scientist will be free. If not, he will be killed.
That day did come and a lunar eclipse happened. The scientist told the guards to tell the Mongolian chief. The Mongolian chief was asleep; they told him and added that he doesn’t want anybody to wake him up. The scientist said loudly:

- Oh then it is the last time we will see the moon.

- What? (the guards asked frightened).

- There is only one way to safe the moon.

- Which is?

- It is a difficult thing to do…

- What should we do?

- The army should strike on its drums heavily urgently….NOW!!!

They did that. The Mongolian chief woke up and knew what happened. The scientist was released.”

- So the scientist did that to wake up the chief? (I asked Mwnqithe with a childish smile drawing itself on my face).

- Yes he did (Mwnqithe answered with a smile of a wise man).

Mwnqithe also told me that that scientist’s tomb is in al Kathumiya in Baghdad. He told me his name but I forgot it. I searched for it in the internet in vain. I phoned Mwnqithe hundred times but all in vain. His mobile phone is switched off. He is preparing for his final examination to have a Ph D in dermatology and be a fellow in the Iraqi Board of Dermatologists in few weeks. I thought I should not wait to publish this. The name may be added later.

I searched the internet in Arabic for Baghdadi traditions and what people do think about lunar eclipse. And found very wonderful stories. Here are two of them published in an Arabic forum by someone ( I don’t know how much they are true:

People from (kanbar Ali, an old quarter in Baghdad) think that the moon was searching for his lover (the moon in Arabic is masculine). He lost his way between deserts and mountains where the whale (a feminine in our language) was waiting for him. She swallowed him.

While people from Al Fathil (an old quarter from Baghdad) says: “oh no, the lady Amsha Um Sattoury, had seen the moon on summer night coming down to drink from the river Tigris. The whale came from the water and swallowed him. Amsha started yelling but people of Baghdad was drunk that day because they drunk ARAK of HIBHIB (Arak is an alcoholic drink classified as a spirit; Hibhib is a quarter in the governorate of Dyala).


Abbas Hawazin said...

very nice.
i have two books about old Iraq in PDFs, one is البغداديون اخبارهم و مجالسهم
لابراهيم الدروبي
and the other one is
بغداد القديمة - محمد رضا الشبيبي
if you're interested I might send them to you.
by the way there is a very great book talking about the Baghdadi sayings (amthaal), it is also not a censored book (dirty words appear freely in it). (and it's not جمهرة الامثال البغدادية) I don't remember its name but be sure to look for it, it's very entertaining.

tracy said...

Dear Sami,

Oh! Thank you sooooo much for sharing your stories of Iraqi culture, i loved them very much, There is waaaaaay toooo much talk of war and no talk of the real people and culture of Iraq, thanks be to G-d for you. i am especially thinking of you since it is Rammadahan (sp?) and i so remember your post of the tea pot and how much you missed it during the daylight hours and how you wanted "to hug it"....thank you for being there for me. i have a diferent e-mail and will write to you.
much love (and tea!), tracy

saminkie said...

Thank you Abbas Hawazin for your nice words. I have send you my email in a comment on Maroof Il Risafi post but I was late in doing so. Here is my email again

thank you

saminkie said...

Oh dear Tracy you still remember that. I do remember it very well and I still look at the pictures of that huge pot. I am fasting these days again and missing tea. But because it is too hot in Baghdad I miss cold water even more. Water is really a bless from God. ok dear Tracy thank you for always being there for me you too. Your words always have a positive impact on my psyche.

Laura said...

Ramadan Mubarak, Sami dear.

Laura said...

Ramadan Mubarak, dear Sami:

tracy said...

miss you, dear Sami. Hope everything is okay.

blessings, tracy

saminkie said...

Dear Laura thank you for all those moons which were circular foci for some magical musical harmony reaching them from above the mountains... sorry to be late ot come back again...

Tracy thank you for your nice words....I do really miss you my friend. this commin post was not there in my mind till you stimulTED ME. tHIS COMING POST IS FOR YOU.