x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Art of healing song may be relegated to history

The healing songs of the Habus mountain tribe may be lost when the last two women who know the tunes die.

FUJAIRAH // The medicine women in the mountains of Fujairah had songs to mark the passages of life, from birth to death.

Local knowledge of medicinal plants has been passed to the younger generation who continue to use the herbs and collect them after the rains for their grandmothers who can no longer hike the mountain trails.

But the songs risk being lost forever.

Aisha and Afra Al Dabdoob, 74 and 67 respectively, are two of the last women to remember these healing songs in the language of the Habus mountain tribe of Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.

For Afra, nothing compares to the curative power of song.

"For each illness there is a song and a poem," she says ."If I can sing, you will forget the pain."

For stomach aches, she sings:


I don't sleep,

I count the night by night and day by day

Emotions across high waves, my lord, help me

The song for the wheat harvest is a plucky tune that invites women to join in:

Auntie, finish your work

My sister, the sun is rising up

Wonderful girls, go quickly, hurry up

Afra, who married a man 35 years her senior when she was 15, sings lugubrious weddings songs that capture the hope and responsibility of a new bride. They bid: girls come and dance and don't be shy. But they also warn: Don't think about a divorce, it is not good for you, it is not good for the children.

Song is as important to the healing process as medicine, Aisha says. In the 1960s, those who were very ill would travel to Kuwait for modern medicine but those who could not travel relied on her melodies.

"Sometimes it helps but sometimes I don't know if it will heal people or not," she says. "If people were very sick they went to Kuwait but if people cannot be healed here or in Kuwait then we could sing and maybe the singing will make them feel more active.

"Doctors just say you must take more pills."