In the Bible and the Qur’an, the prophet Solomon is said to have been able to converse with animals, a miracle that only he can claim to have accomplished. Today, a semblance of this ability exists. In the deserts of Arabia, shepherds manage to communicate with camels, but through song.
This age-old polyphonic oral expression, known as Alheda’a, is generally accompanied by melodies and gestures. Included on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, alheda’a is recognized for its importance in Bedouin history and in the heritage of the Arabian Peninsula.
Alheda’a has above all a technical purpose: it is used to guide herds through the desert or pastures to essential areas for watering, feeding and preparing for milking. In the event of immediate danger, such as a sandstorm, rhythmic expression enables the camels and their guardians to be quickly rounded up and saved.
The essence of this practice lies in the herder’s repertoire of sounds, refined over generations, which guide the camels’ actions and responses. Camels, for their part, develop a startling ability to recognize their owner’s voice and obey his commands.
“There is a particular language between the owner and his camel,” explains a 36-year-old Saudi breeder to the Malgor media.
“Dromedaries recognize the sound of their owner’s voice and respond immediately.”
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Camels, a symbol of Bedouin culture.
Camels have played a prominent role in Bedouin culture for thousands of years, embedded deeply in the region’s history and identity. Domesticated some 3,500 years ago, these hardy breeds became essential pack animals, enabling the transport of goods and facilitating trade across the vast expanses of desert thanks to their lower necessity to consume water. Beyond their practical value, camels symbolized wealth and prosperity in Arab society, and were even used to measure a person’s social standing. Owning a large number of camels was synonymous with affluence. Arab proverbs, poetry and folklore frequently evoke camels, presenting them as icons of endurance, resilience and adaptability to the harsh conditions that prevail in the desert.
Saudi Arabia, snow and camels 🤍✨ pic.twitter.com/vFAGyfRDRA— Saudi Arabia (@_ThisSaudi) January 13, 2021
“There are numerous rock inscriptions showing painted dromedaries and telling their story, whether in times of war or for trade,” points out Jasser al-Harbash, head of the Saudi Heritage Commission.