A quarterly specialized journal
The Message Of Folklore from Bahrain To The World

Songs of the Water Carriers

Issue 64
Songs of the Water Carriers

Abdullah Zaqub


One of the most strenuous and tiresome occupations is that of the “al-jabad” (plural, al-jabada), which literally translates to “water carrier” and refers to the process of fetching water for farms. For centuries, farmers in the Jafra region and the oases of Fezzan endured great hardship when drawing water from wells to irrigate their crops via surface irrigation in fields, farms, and orchards on most days of the year, with the varying seasons and the varying needs of the crops, and they frequently relied on the donkey because it was the only animal able to withstand the gruelling workload.

The person who undertook this role was known as al-jabad, like other Arabic terms (such as al-haddad for the blacksmith, al-khabaz for the baker, and al-qassab for the butcher). During the autumn date harvest, he was responsible for obtaining water from wells in exchange for a share of the crop, typically between one-sixth and one-third, plus reimbursement for the daily expenses he incurred while working the crop. Depending on the farm's size, its grain and date production, and the number of people on it, including al-jabada and al-saqya (irrigators), a certain monetary amount would have been agreed upon.

The al-jabada left for us hundreds, if not thousands, of lyrical couplets and quatrains filled with wisdom. These poems reflect a pure experience, with words carefully chosen to portray a genuine human experience. Some were memorised, and most were forgotten. These short pieces have deep meaning and are rich in inspiring sayings, stories, and maxims.

These lovely, rhythmic, and melodious couplets and quatrains were spoken by marginalised common folk in the afternoons, nights, and mornings in heat, humidity, and severe winters at different times and periods and by generations. They were a means to express the emotional and psychological anguish of the impoverished peasants, who used them to convey their innermost thoughts and sentiments.

Through its depictions of marginalised and downtrodden people, as well as the harshness and poverty of life under the rule of governors, rulers, princes, and sultans who cared only about what they received from taxes, tributes, and customs on everything, by all means and in all forms, this art recorded, documented, and preserved for us the features of that segment of humanity.

And the simple people never stop repeating their saying “Umarakun”, which includes the timeless understanding that helps them improve their community and their way of life. This sage expression, full of meaning and a zest for life, implies that they were not prone to despair and pessimism despite the severity of reality and nature, with their innate knowledge that every cloud has a silver lining.

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