Sword dances: raqs al saif.


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Libyan tribal sword dance

A traditional Libyan dance on a drawing of the 18 th century by Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778 -1823). The Italian explorer Belzoni crossed through many countries of North-Africa. He visited Egypt as well as Lybia. His drawing of a tribal sword dance is the oldest account of this special dance style. It it not entirely clear if the dancers are women or men. Most likely they were women performing the raqs al saif, a wedding dance where the woman dance with the sword of their husband as a sign that they now carry the pride of their spouse and warning to all other men to guard distance.

Libyan tribal dance

Out of the darkness of a corner, the first dancers enter the middle of the square: two little boys, with a large colorful cloth over head and shoulders, and completely veiled. They hold a stick in their right hand as a sword, which they slowly lower while they dance until the end of the stick touches their left hand.

At another musical moment, they jump with a small lateral swing swing side by side towards the middle, and tripping slow on the points of their feet, first backward and then sideways to the beat of the music, the left foot, with small trembling steps, almost no place to get away. This lasts for a fixed number of measures, then the boys return to their corner to rest.


Ernest van der Hallen travelling through Lybia, 1937

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