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Updated Edition With a New Preface Lila Abu-Lughod lived with a community of Bedouins in the Western Desert of Egypt for nearly two years, studying gender relations and the oral lyric poetry through which women and young men express personal feelings. The poems are haunting, the evocation of emotional life vivid. But her analysis also reveals how deeply implicated poetry an Updated Edition With a New Preface Lila Abu-Lughod lived with a community of Bedouins in the Western Desert of Egypt for nearly two years, studying gender relations and the oral lyric poetry through which women and young men express personal feelings. The poems are haunting, the evocation of emotional life vivid. But her analysis also reveals how deeply implicated poetry and sentiment are in the play of power and the maintenance of a system of social hierarchy. What begins as a puzzle about a single poetic genre becomes a reflection on the politics of sentiment and the relationship between ideology and human experience.


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Updated Edition With a New Preface Lila Abu-Lughod lived with a community of Bedouins in the Western Desert of Egypt for nearly two years, studying gender relations and the oral lyric poetry through which women and young men express personal feelings. The poems are haunting, the evocation of emotional life vivid. But her analysis also reveals how deeply implicated poetry an Updated Edition With a New Preface Lila Abu-Lughod lived with a community of Bedouins in the Western Desert of Egypt for nearly two years, studying gender relations and the oral lyric poetry through which women and young men express personal feelings. The poems are haunting, the evocation of emotional life vivid. But her analysis also reveals how deeply implicated poetry and sentiment are in the play of power and the maintenance of a system of social hierarchy. What begins as a puzzle about a single poetic genre becomes a reflection on the politics of sentiment and the relationship between ideology and human experience.

30 review for Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (updated with a new preface)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jayme

    First off I loved this book. I read through it almost (not quite but almost) as one does through fiction. Lila Abu-Lughod's concentrated account of Bedouin life, from her semi-internal perspective, is beautiful. My eyebrows did raise in irritiation during the first chapter. I anticipated a dry, highly academic analysis of a people group. I was not looking forward to this. And in the first chapter of method-explanation, Abu Lughod does use that certain--often obnoxious--bank of anthropological voc First off I loved this book. I read through it almost (not quite but almost) as one does through fiction. Lila Abu-Lughod's concentrated account of Bedouin life, from her semi-internal perspective, is beautiful. My eyebrows did raise in irritiation during the first chapter. I anticipated a dry, highly academic analysis of a people group. I was not looking forward to this. And in the first chapter of method-explanation, Abu Lughod does use that certain--often obnoxious--bank of anthropological vocabulary that tends to make me roll my eyes. She likewise uses overly pretentious words where more modest ones would not only suffice, but would probably better match Abu-Lughod's rich, insightful narrative (cows need not graze 'desultorily', however factual that may be). I felt that she was trying to remind the reader that she was an athropologist, while explaining that she lived as a woman bedouin. It was unnecessary, but perahps a hazard of the field. That notwithstanding, Abu Lughod chose to focus first on the concepts of honor, propriety and autonomy in Bedouin society and she does this wonderfully and with a clear affection for the people she lived with and asked questions of. Being half-Arab she was given, perhaps, more leeway and access than--say--a white western male might have (that being a large number of anthropologists). She talks about how the Awlad 'Ali (this particular Bedouin tribe) find expressions of longing, attachment, dependance, concern and affection to be inappropriate and un-Bedouin-like. She speaks to how sexuality is considered highly dangerous, because it can evoke these inappropriate emotions and it is likely to disrupt the proper heirarchies and relationships between elder and younger, kin and non-kin, man and woman. The latter half of the book--and very emotionally compelling--deals with how the Bedouins say what they cannot say via their poetry: primarily through ghinawas (little songs) that express longing or loss in terms sufficiently ambiguous, so that one cannot be accused of breaching social protocol, and damaging the dearly-held honor code. In truth, the second half of this book almost brought me to tears because of how well and how intimately Abu Lughod describes the vital role of poetry in a society that holds itself to such strict codes of honor and standards of behavior. If you are an Arabic speaker, you have the added bonus of seeing the poems both in the English translation, and also in a transliteration of the original, which I greatly appreciated. I read them out loud to myself (or whispered them if others were around) and I could vividly picture the women of Awlad ‘Ali singing these poems to say what they cannot say about their lives. For anyone interested in: a more down-to-earth anthropological study, Bedouins, culture, poetry and the middle-east, this is highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    A popular work among undergraduate anthropology students, and for good reason. Like Karen McCarthy Brown's "Mama Lola", it contains reflexive anthropology, as the ethnographer is both friend and observer of her interlocutors. Feminists who view Islam as a religion oppressive of women should read this for an alternative perspective that comes from the heart of Muslim women themselves. The most fascinating segment of this ethnography is the discussion of Bedouin men and women's use of spoken poetr A popular work among undergraduate anthropology students, and for good reason. Like Karen McCarthy Brown's "Mama Lola", it contains reflexive anthropology, as the ethnographer is both friend and observer of her interlocutors. Feminists who view Islam as a religion oppressive of women should read this for an alternative perspective that comes from the heart of Muslim women themselves. The most fascinating segment of this ethnography is the discussion of Bedouin men and women's use of spoken poetry to cope with their disappointments and high hopes for love, relationships, sexuality and gender ideology. It is a bit romantic.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    Excellent analysis of discourse and ideology. Probably need to read Arabic to fully appreciate her arguments, as their strength lies in her analysis of poems. Was a bit rushed when I read this so will have to go back, particularly the parts about gender and honor.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    This year I've read a lot about "honour" in ancient Rome, and at various other junctures in human history. Nothing has been as thought-provoking as I remember Lila Abu-Lughod's book being when I read it some 5 years ago. Maybe I should read it again. There is not as much on poetry here as a literary critic might like to see -- indeed, I felt like I needed to read something else on Arabic poetic traditions to understand not the points the author makes, but why she emphasizes them as she does. On This year I've read a lot about "honour" in ancient Rome, and at various other junctures in human history. Nothing has been as thought-provoking as I remember Lila Abu-Lughod's book being when I read it some 5 years ago. Maybe I should read it again. There is not as much on poetry here as a literary critic might like to see -- indeed, I felt like I needed to read something else on Arabic poetic traditions to understand not the points the author makes, but why she emphasizes them as she does. On the other hand, this is a model work of "humble anthropology", which permits views into the ethnographer as well as the people she describes, but does so in a spirit of fair-play, rather than of self-indulgence.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mary Rose

    I can't deny that this book is well written, and I would call it a must-read for anyone who wants a female perspective on the Bedouin people, but I really couldn't get into it. I don't want to be one of those White Western Feminists who looks down on other societies, but page after page on female subservience to men does get a little exhausting after a while. It wasn't my cup of tea, and I read it for a class, but if you're interested in the subject matter definitely pick up a copy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laszlo Szerdahelyi

    Abu-Lughod succeeds in crafting a wonderfully empathic, sincere and yet well documented and fundamented etnography of an Egyptian Bedouin tribe with its internal mechanics of an honor based ideology of social order with it's parallel discourses of 'structured resistance'. The ways in which this etnography succeeds in going past merely analytically describing those observed and they dynamics through a dry, overtly academic lense, are closely tied to Abu-Lughod being Arabic herself and being a woma Abu-Lughod succeeds in crafting a wonderfully empathic, sincere and yet well documented and fundamented etnography of an Egyptian Bedouin tribe with its internal mechanics of an honor based ideology of social order with it's parallel discourses of 'structured resistance'. The ways in which this etnography succeeds in going past merely analytically describing those observed and they dynamics through a dry, overtly academic lense, are closely tied to Abu-Lughod being Arabic herself and being a woman, which gave her entry to the female collective of an otherwise heavily gender segregated society. Her approach is heartfelt and one can feel that she formed genuine attachments to the people in the community in her 2 years researching this book and that her immersion into this world was very thorough. This poetry presented in this book are a fascinating look at a form of discourse on life from individuals coming from a highly formalized, paternalistic, honor-based society of independent minded people who value honor, independence and stoicism/modesty in expressions of sentiments and characterized by an intense repression of sexuality. The poems, Abu-Lughod shows, used and valued especially in the specific social contexts in which they are expressed and by whom uttered, seem to go against the grain of the values of society. Reciters often speak of romantic love, attachments that imply emotional dependence and a sort of emotional incontinence expressing longing, despair or sorrow in different forms and contexts, all of which are anathema in an otherwise public, formalized Bedouin discourse. However, exploring the dynamics of Bedouin society and its value system, Abu Lughod shows that the ghinnawas (poems) are in fact part of a parallel, sanctioned discourse, where, despite its apparent defiance of fundamental Bedouin values, these expressions are allowed as both a form of personal independence, which is itself highly valued and due to their structured, quite formalized setting in which they are uttered, based on the gender, age and lineage segregations are permitted as channels of emotional expression. All in all a fascinating look at the often paradoxical and even somewhat contradictory dyamics of Bedouin society, where an apparently suffocating social paternalistic hierarchy both permits forms of resistance that in essence sanctions outbursts of human emotions that would not otherwise find expression that both permits the continuation of said system through a sophisticated social dynamic enshrined in a type of very beautiful and expressive oral art form.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Ondrus

    I found it fascinating how in Bedouin society (in Egypt) it was taboo to talk of love or of sexual desire in direct discourse; however, saying the exact same thing but via poetry was very socially acceptable. I look forward to reading more from this author on this subject. I was surprised that the poems in this society are only two lines. I wondered why. The repression of women's sexuality is appalling. Women are shamed if they want to have sex with their husband and are in old age or have finis I found it fascinating how in Bedouin society (in Egypt) it was taboo to talk of love or of sexual desire in direct discourse; however, saying the exact same thing but via poetry was very socially acceptable. I look forward to reading more from this author on this subject. I was surprised that the poems in this society are only two lines. I wondered why. The repression of women's sexuality is appalling. Women are shamed if they want to have sex with their husband and are in old age or have finished bearing children. Honor killings (killing of women) were mentioned or alluded to as possibilities. I wondered if the author tried to participate in this poetry culture by creating poems herself.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Fiachra MacFadden

    Lila Abu-Lughod’s ethnography, Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, details honor, gender relations and poetry among the Awlad ‘Ali, a Bedouin community living in western Egypt. Based on two years of fieldwork conducted from 1978 to 1980, Abu-Lughod goes to great lengths to understand the Awlad ‘Ali on their own terms. She does this by portraying them as best she can through careful and patient observation, rather than going into her fieldwork with a set of questions and spe Lila Abu-Lughod’s ethnography, Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, details honor, gender relations and poetry among the Awlad ‘Ali, a Bedouin community living in western Egypt. Based on two years of fieldwork conducted from 1978 to 1980, Abu-Lughod goes to great lengths to understand the Awlad ‘Ali on their own terms. She does this by portraying them as best she can through careful and patient observation, rather than going into her fieldwork with a set of questions and specific objectives. This, to some degree, enables her to reexamine and complicate tired, chiefly western, notions of so-called totalitarian and sexist ‘Muslim societies’ that tend to present their women with little to no agency. We are left with a gripping book that not only reexamines conventional notions about ‘the Muslim woman’ but dramatically reorients the reader to fundamentally rethink what many so often take to be obvious and self-evident—and the violence done in even thinking this way towards any society or subject. Veiled Sentiments is divided into two parts with four chapters per part. In chapter 1, we are introduced to Abu-Lughod as the author, her own positionality and how she gained access to the Awlad ‘Ali community. She explains that her father, a Jordanian of Palestinian descent, insisted on introducing her to the Awlad ‘Ali, causing her to feel somewhat incompetent. Nevertheless, she recognized that if she were to approach the Awlad ‘Ali alone, as the single woman that she is, in the context of Awlad ‘Ali thinking, it could be seen as her family not caring to protect her and therefore not valuing her. With her father accompanying her, such suspicions could be laid to rest (Abu-Lughod 12). She goes on to speak about further insecurities such as “suffering from fever and being eaten alive by fleas or annoyed by” children in the heat of the day, and questioning whether what she was doing could carry the “dignified labels” of “research” or “data collection” (10). In portraying this vulnerability at the opening of the book, Abu-Lughod intimates that she will not speak from above as an authority on Awlad ‘Ali society. Indeed, as she states herself, she is not interested in the “the conventional fictions of objectivity and omniscience that mark the ethnographic genre” (10). Even her careful word choice throughout this opening chapter is reassuring. When explaining something new, she states that she “chanced upon something critical” and is “led” to discoveries, rather than actually discovering something for herself (24). This level of care assures us that sweeping statements are unlikely to be found in this book. Abu-Lughod introduces us to chapter 2 with her own concern that many Awlad ‘Ali may be losing their tradition and sense of identity because of how many of them sported “shiny wristwatches and plastic shoes, listened to radios and cassette players, and traveled in Toyota pickup trucks” (40). But she is immediately corrected and told that Bedouins do not define themselves in these ways, but rather on the “basis of social organization: genealogy and a tribal order based on the closeness of agnates (paternal relatives) and tied to a code of morality, that of honor and modesty” (40-1). In describing this, we see how easily one can misinterpret the meaning of ‘loss of identity’ and how careful the author must be to seek these answers from Awlad ‘Ali on their own terms. We are also introduced to the term asl, meaning the blood of ancestry. The Awlad ‘Ali cite asl as something that distinguishes them from Egyptians whom they consider an immoral, “unmanly race” (47). They do, however, consider themselves Arabs which gives them an affinity with the larger ‘Arab world,’ but this Arab world excludes Egyptians. Thus, the Awlad ‘Ali do not consider themselves Egyptian and do not wish to be assimilated into Egyptian society. The Awlad ‘Ali feel a connection to other tribes though, through what is called garaba, the blood of relationship. Unlike Egyptians who “know no one but their immediate kin” (51), the Awlad ‘Ali think of themselves in terms of tribal bonds that are not tied down to one geographic location, and also thinks of themselves in terms of “ties to a common patrilineal ancestor” (50). In chapter 3 and 4, Abu-Lughod reemphasizes the importance of delicately selecting her words so as to lay the ground for later more complex explanations. She expounds that even though there are “relationships of inequality” among the Awlad ‘Ali, there are “reciprocal obligation[s]” that must be observed within such relations. She states that it is a mistake to view these relations as relations “of domination and subordination” but instead to see them as relations of “protection and dependency” (85). Such points are not entirely clear to the reader until later arguments are presented. For example, it is shown that though one can be born with a degree of power, due to gender (being a male), having wealth, and good blood for example, this is not enough in itself to gain authority—thereby separating two words that are often linked to each other: power and authority. In other words, authority is never a given simply due to blood, gender and one’s means. Rather, it derives from one’s moral worthiness—this “authority must be earned” (85). Abu-Lughod then very smoothly takes us into a discussion on how this authority is derived from the consent of dependents—largely women and younger men. In doing so, Abu-Lughod helps to illuminate two things. First, women and those with less authority have the moral agency to judge and assess the worthiness of those in authority. Second, we come to see how the choice of the word “dependent” over “subordinate” that was introduced to us earlier, is appropriate. Lughod is complicating our notions of justice and equality, showing that someone can be dependent on a person with a higher status, but still not necessarily be subordinating to them. Thus, those with authority are always in a state of precarity. Indeed, being in such positions of authority indicate moral worth, which entails “more stringent requirements of conformity, rather than license to break the social rules” (97). This goes against prevailing beliefs that those in power are free and everyone below them are simply being dominated and exploited. Part two consists of chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8, each chapter consisting of about twenty pages. In part one, Abu-Lughod shows tremendous restraint in delicately laying out the often-challenging groundwork that is needed for us to understand the concluding remarks that we see in part two. It is in part two where we see the true force of this book in its ability to pull all the sperate strands of arguments into one masterful conclusion. It is only in part two where we are truly brought into the world of ghinnawas (little poems), gaining insights into their structures when sung, and given contextual understanding of ghinnawas through stories of loss, love, heartbreak, longing, disappointment and anguish. We learn that there are always three elements to a ghinnawas. First, there is the poetry itself, second there is the person who utters the poetry, and third there is the audience who has to connect the dots about the circumstantial issues that gives meaning to the poetry. For much of the book, there is a presumption that there may be some distinction between public life (abiding by the honor code) and private life (ghinnawas and their anti-structure). But, in part two, Abu-Lughod ceases her restraint and no longer allots us this comfortable position. The ghinnawas are not done in ‘private’ per se. They are done with people to whom one doesn’t need to tahashsham (an intensely difficult word to translate, but in this context we can say that it means to act modestly before an honorable person). Poems are not spoken brazenly, they are tactfully used at certain moments in time, in certain places, which is not contrary but consistent with the careful conduct that honor requires. Abu-Lughod’s momentous first book shows us the importance of not taking societies and traditions at face value and to interrogate how academic disciplines and long-held western beliefs of the so-called ‘Muslim world’ can catch even the more well-read of us in its grips. Indeed, our academic disciplines often encourage this “notion of culture as text” and our appraisal of verbal and textual authority (Asad 193). Abu-Lughod strives to break beyond these constrains and show how Bedouin poems “have little impact in the abstract,” they must be given context and the Awlad ‘Ali must be understood as much on their own terms as one can possibly do when translating into English and when squeezing descriptions of their society between two book covers (175). This book is by no means a definitive answer or outline to who the Awlad ‘Ali are. And once you have read this book, you will understand how damaging such an intention can be.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Terry

    The author lived with the Awlad 'Ali Bedouin tribe for two years, 1978-1980 while she was working on anthropology graduate work. Even though I'm sure the differences between modern Bedouins and ancient Middle Easterners is vast, I felt like I was reading an ethnography of Old Testament people, which was very helpful and interesting. The first half of the book gives a cultural context and the last half places everyday ghinnawa poetry in that context. Expanded my understanding.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Diane Omari

    A beautiful, descriptive, and insightful ethnography. It really opens your eyes up to cultural relativism, and provokes thought on the purpose behind beliefs and practices of the Bedouin society in the context of the deserts in Western Egypt. I really enjoyed reading this for my first anthropology course. It not only made me more interested in the field of study, but I feel more open-minded and understanding in my own life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lani

    An academic and somewhat dry book about Bedouin society that I accidentally stole from my womens studies professor. It's been quite awhile since I read it, but I do remember that the topic is the book's saving grace. Bedouin culture and their way of expressing themselves was engrossing, and I enjoyed learning more.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jamie is

    loved abu lughod's musings on bedouin culture and her interaction with it, as well as the poetry which she recorded. however, the use of the veil as a metaphor or main theme for middle eastern cultures is hackneyed and misguided and is the reason why i removed a star from my rating.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    Very tight analysis linking kinship, ideology and oral narrative. An excellent introduction to ethnographic writing for undergrads and forms part of the conversations on the ethnography of speaking, or text, texture and context of oral narrative.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    Beat some of the points to death, but overall it wasn't a bad read. It was enlightening and thought-provoking. If I had more time, I'd like to read more about the Bedouin society as they seem to be a fascinating people.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cass

    Read for anthropology class at uni. Great book that offers amazing insights into the Bedouin world - one I didn't know existed before I read Veiled Sentiments. Can't wait to read the rest of Lila's works.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    This was one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. If you have ever wanted a deeper understanding of the Bedouins or the Muslim practice of veiling, you should read this.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joann

    This is a beautiful book and will totally change your understanding of the veiling practices of certain cultures. Read with an open mind.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Very good ethnography and one of the few that is pleasant to read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Vashti Puls

    I shouls have been poor there. Alot of the same type restrictions for women in my strict Catholic family.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Maitha

    I liked it but the one thing that kept me hesitant throughout the book is that she wrote it without the Awlad Ali's permission.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lorelei

    I couldn't finish this book

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    3.5 Stars. An interesting and well-written insight into another culture.

  23. 4 out of 5

    John

    Had to read for anthropology class. Did not enjoy that class much.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Siri

    Veiled sentiments of modern understanding I have read this book for my own education. It’s part of a masters in anthropology, and as a white university student for Norway the idea of life in a Bedouin society is far from my understanding. Still the book is well written and the last part of this book makes it a very powerful experience.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dima Karara

    this book made me want to diiiiiie i rlly don't want to read the rest of the books for school

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    A bestseller by the most popular postwar writer for children of all ages.

  27. 4 out of 5

    A

    Chapter 1 contains the realities of fieldwork (author's father had to initially accompany her).

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Had to read this for one of my courses, and it was surprising good.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    read for a class at hampshire

  30. 5 out of 5

    herb

    Some intense days followed—days of aching affection, forced cheeriness, and hidden tears. Days when I had to watch this extraordinary man, now returned home, reduced to physical helplessness, surrounded by women and young men lifting him, feeding him, hovering. No longer in intense conversation, no longer telling the young people what to do, no longer sitting cross-legged in dignity. These were days when I was reminded again of how close families are in this community. Married daughters arrived Some intense days followed—days of aching affection, forced cheeriness, and hidden tears. Days when I had to watch this extraordinary man, now returned home, reduced to physical helplessness, surrounded by women and young men lifting him, feeding him, hovering. No longer in intense conversation, no longer telling the young people what to do, no longer sitting cross-legged in dignity. These were days when I was reminded again of how close families are in this community. Married daughters arrived and held young grandchildren close to his face so each could plant a kiss on his cheek as he turned feebly toward them. Other daughters propped him up in bed and fed him bits of fish and salad, healthy foods that his diabetes forced him to eat when he'd rather have had his old desert favorites, dates and samna (clarified butter). People came into the room, encouraging and babying him. He would whisper for the young men, his sons and nephews. What he wanted from them was cigarettes. They delayed as long as possible but he persisted. I could not make out what he was saying most of the time, this man who had been so articulate and sharp. He had told me stories and history, taught me poetry, and explained to me so much about Bedouin life, from customary law to the dynamics of his own marriages. As I sat next to his bed, I held his lifeless hand, looked at his grizzled face and rumpled clothes, and strained to understand him when he tried to speak. After a life of receiving respect for his gifts as a judge and mediator, a shrewd reader of changing economies, and a person of integrity and piety, as well as for his role, from a young age and then as an "elder," as the charismatic leader of his family unit, the Haj now lay there quietly I tried to reminisce about the past with him; he followed me with his eyes. We still had a living bond that reminded us of some sort of life-time together. They call it ishra, or living together. Being together now brought back the past and all those people we had loved and lost. The intensity was heightened because of the moment when that connection had begun.

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