A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, December 18, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different: Bagpipes in Bethlehem

My second seasonal posting:

In case it hasn't occurred to you to search YouTube for "Arab Orthodox Scout Troop — Bagpipes Band" and "Christmas Day Bethlehem", for our current Christmas season, here they are:

The Palestinian love of bagpipes is something I must blog about someday, if I can ever figure it out. (Why are bagpipes so big at weddings? Does anyone know? Did some Scotsman or Irishman do this, or is it the tradition of military pipers from the British days? Sometimes it occurs in Egyptian weddings, too.) Don't get me wrong: my Celtic DNA loves pipers, but it always seems a little, shall we say, out of context when you see it in the Arab world? Anybody that knows, please post comments. [UPDATE: Read the comments. We're learning more. Sadly Wikipedia says they're widespread in Europe and the Middle East but doesn't talk much about the Middle East.]

If you think I'm making this up (Palestinians and Jordanians won't for a moment), how about this bunch of Jordanian pipers (actually pipes and drums) walking in circles in a Roman amphitheatre in Jerash, Jordan, playing Yankee Doodle? (In case you also forgot to Google "Jordanian bagpipes" and "Yankee Doodle" together.)


LJ Marczak said...

If I'm not mistaken, several bedouin tribes had a form of bagpipes. But without the drones.

Mizmaar or mizmaar algurba, habban, mu.

These would predate British (or perhaps more precisely Celtic) influence though no doubt the British helped spread this noble form of music.

And since I think there are also native forms of the bagpipe in the Maghreb (chekwa?), this would suggest an independent (of the UK) origin in the Arab World.

And pipes are in the GCC.

Bahrain's Police Band

Royal Oman Army Band

Anonymous said...

Have zero idea as to where they came from.

I've seen them in Syrian weddings as well. I always assumed they were some local variant; they also appear in North African countries (I've seen them among Algerians and Moroccans and I think those are somewhat different in construction than European ones). There are bagpipes that are native to Turkey and the Caucuses (according to what I've been told by Georgian and Turks). Whether they are actually "native" to any of those areas I have no idea. It might have been the result of British rule or missionaries (Protestants, I would guess). I have very little knowledge of bagpipes and they might be similar to the use of the banjo in North African music (which came from US troops during WWII and from Algerians who worked in France and was widespread until the middle 70's).

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Thanks, guys. I haven't done any research at all on this, but somewhere out there someone surely has. You've both already given me information I didn't know.

LJ Marczak said...

Not Xmas.


And the much less known words.


Michael Collins Dunn said...

For those who didn't click, LJ Marczak's post gives us both a pipe version of "The Barren Rocks of Aden" and the actual words to the song, which I'm not sure I've heard before,sung by someone with a pretty convincing Scots burr, and apparently posted by someone from the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. "Barren Rocks of Aden" probably deserves a post of its own, and I may yet give it one.

Unknown said...

From what I understand, the bagpipes have been in the Middle East for at least 3000 years (for example, they were found carved into Assyrian castles in 800 BC) and are originally from the MENA region, not Scotland. They are called the Mizmar or the Dulcimer usually in Arabic. They were imported by the British to Europe (not sure how they got to Scotland actually) and later used in British military campaigns that brought them back in a slightly different form to the Middle East via British colonialism. The number of drones the bagpipes in the MENA originally had I do not know but I know that most of them now have three drones, just as the Scottish bagpipe does. Hope this is helpful!