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

Status of Folk Culture in Arab Societies

Issue 2
Status of Folk Culture in Arab Societies

Dr. Nour el-Houda Badiss - Tunisia

This article sheds light on the shortsighted view of society and informed culture of what is called folk culture, or folklore or oral tradition in general. The author asserts that despite the strenuous efforts to maintain the status of folk culture, it has not yet obtained official recognition as it is absent from education at all levels, especially higher education. Not only this, but it has also been marginalized in academic research.

Researchers have always considered any oral tradition as being improvised and arbitrary, and as such it lacks objectivity and scientific methodology. This view has captured literary works such as poetry, story and proverbs which are passed over from generation to another. Therefore, the question that arises at this point is: How can we eagerly listen to folk stories and poetry while societies and academic institutions do not recognize folk culture? Why has our culture remained bound to classical poetry and our academics separated from the public? Why have we waited so long till anthropological and philosophical studies have developed so that the status of all social classes can be restored and all aspects of human life investigated? What criteria can we use to sift and assess different aspects of our tradition? Is it valid to classify a text as inferior just because it is oral or colloquial?

The author posits an essential question: Is it not possible that an old oral text can be so distinctive that it has survived up to the present? She also confirms that this is the attitude of most civilizations, and not only the Islamic civilization. While endeavoring to seek an answer to that question, she has assumed that Arab Islamic civilization must have its reasons for relegating the status of folk culture. The first reason is historical which may not directly relate to Arab societies but rather dates back to the time when Islamic societies had been ranked according to their general and particular conceptions. This reason is based on the classification of creatures into homosapiens and homofabers and the historical and metaphysical factors which rank intellectual men higher than working men due to the glorified status of thinking in ancient philosophy.

The writer argues that there is a dual relationship between thinking on the one hand and knowledge and learning on the other in the historical situation of Arabic, which is due to the difference between standard Arabic and colloquial Arabic. Accordingly, two conceptions have come to the fore: informed official culture and folk unofficial culture which is expressed via colloquial Arabic. This situation has resulted in a number of opinions that which we hold accountable for this duality. This is the reason why only standard Arabic, which is strongly related to religion, is recognized as the only channel of genuine intellectual works.

The view that folk culture and its vehicle, colloquial Arabic, are incompetent to produce highly dignified literary and intellectual work has been implanted in the subconscious of the Arab public.

The author points to the role of current research which has addresses diverse cultures in changing this attitude toward culture in general and isolated cultures in particular. This has given rise to consequences of great concern to the relationship between informed culture and folk culture. Such opinions have swept through the solid barriers separating the two types of culture and putting an end to the false claim that informed is superior to folk culture. This lesson has launched a revision of all the conceptions stemming from ancient metaphysical views that paved the way to the superiority of the intellectuals’ culture.

Folk culture plays important roles in the life of Arabs and Muslims. It maintains their cultural identity even if they do not know standard Arabic. These research works have contributed to lifting the hindrances that have led to marginalizing folk culture and belittling its status to the extent that has deprived it from the offificial recognition it deserves.

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