Saudi theater artist to shatter stereotypes in Edinburgh fest

Updated 12 August 2013
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Saudi theater artist to shatter stereotypes in Edinburgh fest

She may not be one of those “Hey, I recognize her!” performers yet, but her one-woman play ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia’ that will kick off at the largest international festival in the world, the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (EFF), will definitely make her rise to fame.
Maisah Sobaihi, a Saudi academic, playwright and performer, is all set to stage her amusing yet enlightening roller coaster ride into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia, whose husbands choose to marry more women.
Sobaihi will be the first Saudi woman to perform at the EFF and is confident that her performance at the festival will help expose a true illustration of Saudi women, as well as portray a common womanly bond expanding past national boundaries.
In her play ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia,’ Sobaihi puts together two interesting characters in the forefront. Layla, who is ready to get married but tired of waiting for true love, and Maryam, whose husband chooses to marry for the second time.
Sobaihi’s mere charisma in her classic solo comedy at the festival splinters the stereotype of the timid Arab woman, veiled and voiceless.
“Women’s positions continue to change in many ways,” says Sobaihi. “But I think what is unknown to many is that they feel that women were not active and have become active. I think that women have always been active and a very positive force in Saudi society. It’s just that I don’t think they were as visible as they are now. They have developed in many ways, and the most particular way is that they have become more public.”
Sobaihi describes that character Maryam in her play as more upper class of society while Layla is more in touch with the other level of society. Maryam’s husband marries another bride Layla, which results in Maryam flying off the handle at Layla and trying to dig up dirt on her.
Journeying into the lives and challenges women in Saudi Arabia face, Sobaihi’s play strokes on the rights of men in Saudi to espouse four wives and how the preceding wives react.
Brought up partially in the United States and Saudi Arabia, Sobaihi holds a doctorate in English Literature from the University of London, and a Bachelor’s degree from the King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia, while currently lecturing at a university in Jeddah.
“As the Arab temperament in general, we tend to be more private about our lives so the public has always been a challenge,” said Sobaihi.
A divorced mother of two sons in their 20s, Sobaihi begins her play by narrating her life story and eventually takes into the lives of other women in Saudi Arabia.
“I was very conscious that I didn’t want this play to be about bashing men or bashing anybody at all,” said Sobaihi. “I did stage this play in Jeddah a couple of times, though in a private gathering, and the reactions from Saudi men were positive.”
‘Head over Heels in Saudi Arabia’ educates us that women have an ordinary and widespread view, however secluded they appear in terms of culture, positively in affairs of the mind.
“We have a very private culture. Saudi women don’t really like the spotlight. But we have a responsibility to become more vocal,” explains Sobaihi in a report in Scotland’s Daily Record.
The 2013 Edinburgh Fringe will play host to 2,871 productions starting from the end of July through to August. Sobaihi performs ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia’ at Spotlites @ The Merchant’s Hall, from Aug. 11-26.
Sobaihi’s 3-minute promo video of her one-woman play promises you that you’ll go head over heels for ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia.’


India’s singing village, where everyone has their melody

This photo taken on July 12, 2018 shows an Indian child whistling her name, in Kongthong village, in East Khasi Hills district in India's eastern Meghalaya state. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2018
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India’s singing village, where everyone has their melody

  • The origin of “jingrwai lawbei” isn’t known, but locals think it is as old as the village, which has existed for as long as five centuries
  • The custom is known as “jingrwai lawbei,” meaning “song of the clan’s first woman,” a reference to the Khasi people’s mythical original mother

KONGTHONG, India: Curious whistles and chirrups echo through the jungle around Kongthong, a remote Indian village, but this is no birdsong. It’s people calling out to each other in music — an extraordinary tradition that may even be unique.
Here in the lush, rolling hills of the northeastern state of Meghalaya, mothers from Kongthong and a few other local villages compose a special melody for each child.
Everyone in the village, inhabited by the Khasi people, will then address the person with this individual little tune — and for a lifetime. They have conventional “real” names too, but they are rarely used.
To walk along the main road in this village of wooden huts with corrugated tin roofs, perched on a ridge miles from anywhere, is to walk through a symphony of hoots and toots.
On one side a mother calls out to her son to come home for supper, elsewhere children play and at the other end friends mess about — all in an unusual, musical language of their own.
“The composition of the melody comes from the bottom of my heart,” mother-of-three Pyndaplin Shabong told AFP.
“It expresses my joy and love for my baby,” the 31-year-old said, her youngest daughter, two and a half years old, on her knee.
“But if my son has done something wrong, if I’m angry with him, he broke my heart, at that moment I will call him by his actual name,” rather than singing lovingly, said Rothell Khongsit, a community leader.

Kongthong has long been cut off from the rest of the world, several hours of tough trek from the nearest town. Electricity arrived only in 2000, and the dirt road in 2013.
Days are spent foraging in the jungle for broom grass — the main source of revenue — leaving the village all but deserted, except for a few kids.
To call out to each other while in the forest, the villagers would use a long version lasting around 30 seconds of each other’s musical “name,” inspired by the sounds of nature all around.
“We are living in far-flung villages, we are surrounded by the dense forest, by the hills. So we are in touch with nature, we are in touch with all the gracious living things that God has created,” says Khongsit.
“Creatures have their own identity. The birds, so many animals, they have ways of calling each other.”
The custom is known as “jingrwai lawbei,” meaning “song of the clan’s first woman,” a reference to the Khasi people’s mythical original mother.
And unusually for India, this is a matrilineal society. Property and land are passed down from mother to daughter, while a husband moves in with his wife and takes her name.
“We consider the mother the goddess of the family. A mother looks after a family, after the inheritance we get from our ancestors,” Khongsit said.

But according to anthropologist Tiplut Nongbri, a professor at Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi, it is something of a “disguised patriarchy.”
Women “don’t have decision-making powers. Traditionally, they can’t take part in politics, the rules are very clearly demarcated between male and female,” she told AFP.
“Taking care of the children, that’s the women’s responsibility. Statecraft and all that is (a) male function.”
The origin of “jingrwai lawbei” isn’t known, but locals think it is as old as the village, which has existed for as long as five centuries.
The tradition’s days may be numbered, though, as the modern world creeps into Kongthong in the shape of televisions and mobile phones.
Some of the newer melodic names are inspired by Bollywood songs.
And youngsters are increasingly going off singing out their friends’ melodic names, preferring instead to phone them.