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Culture of Jordan

Cartoons by Emad Hajjaj
Cartoons by Emad Hajjaj

Jordanian culture combines elements of the past and the future, the Islamic heritage and modern culture; it embraces Eastern and accepts Western cultures. It is an extension of the surrounding Arab culture, even in its cuisine, but it has its own characteristic features. Its unique geography and history and the contributions of Palestinians enrich Jordan’s culture. This distinctiveness encouraged the country to work to revive its Jordanian identity – beginning in the 1960s and 1970s – in folk dancing and music, clothing, and other aspects of its cultural life. Each ethnic and religious group in Jordan – such as Circassians, Turkomans, Chechens, and Christians – still enjoys its own culture. Jordanians have learnt to accept each other and become more open-minded.

The majority of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims. About 3-4 percent of the kingdom’s population is Christian and about 2 percent Shiite Muslim. Arabic is the official language, and most young people speak English.

Literature

Jordanian literature – both prose and poetry – is the pre-eminent form of artistic expression. Jordanians have long enjoyed poetic contests between two teams, the winning team being the one that could recite the most poetry; such contests are still held today. A young Bedouin used to be taught poetry – in addition to fighting and horse riding – even before he learned to read and write.

Jordanians appreciated the Arab language, and a person who spoke eloquently was highly esteemed. Poetry was an important form of expression. One of the pre-eminent Jordanian poets of the 20th century was Arar (Mustafa Wahbi al-Tall), famous for the social content of his poetry, which deals mainly with the poor, the underprivileged, and the life of Jordan’s gypsies.

The Jordan Writers Association was formed to help Jordanian poets and writers to stimulate literary life in the kingdom.

There are many short-story and novel writers in Jordan, and many Bedouin television series have been based on their works. Short stories written by local writers between 1970 and 1998 focused on social issues and problems, as well as on the Palestinian cause. Jordanian poetry has matured over recent decades and is beginning to focus on national issues, such as women, poverty, education, workers, and pan-Arab affairs.

Music and dance

Jordanian music is not as popular as that of other Arab countries, such as Egypt and Lebanon. Perhaps the most popular form of music in Jordan is patriotic songs that celebrate country and king and are strongly influenced by Bedouin culture.

There is also a type of Bedouin music that relies mostly on one instrument, the rebab or al-rababa (a stringed instrument) and sometimes the mijwiz (reed pipe). Songs of this type usually tackle issues such as raids, battles, and generosity, and they often have a melancholy sound.

Jordan’s famous traditional dance is the dabke or dabka, a group dance that involves stamping one’s feet. This dance is performed by men and women, and it employs a variety of steps that differ from region to region. Another form of dance famous among the Bedouin is the sahja or sahaja, which involves groups of men as large as twenty.

Most gyms have recently started offering belly-dance lessons, which are popular among Jordanian women, and dance schools offer Latino dance lessons – e.g., in salsa – as well as ballroom dance. Many DJs and rappers have appeared in Jordan in recent years.

Crafts

Jordan is known for its handicrafts, including rug making, carpet weaving, baskets, pottery, ceramics, and embroidery. The country’s traditional handicrafts have been passed from generation to generation, from times when most Jordanians made things themselves to meet their own domestic needs. Islamic and cultural diversions have affected Jordanian crafts, especially the decoration of pottery and ceramics. Crafts produced on a smaller scale include decorated sand bottles, sculptures, and handcrafted silver jewellery.

The non-profit, non-governmental Jordan River Foundation, which was established in 1995 and is now headed by Queen Rania, has been improving the quality of life for many Jordanian women and their families in rural areas, by encouraging handicraft production and undertaking other projects to empower youth and women.

Traditional arts

Jordan’s traditional ceramics and famous mosaics incorporate Islamic motifs and are all handmade. The calligraphy on some ceramics depicts the art of the Umayyad and Mamluk periods. In 1992, the government started a mosaics school in the city of Madaba, which is home to the oldest mosaic map, which depicts the Holy Land and dates to the 6th century CE. The school aims to preserve and restore old mosaics on archaeological sites.

Embroidery is another famous traditional Jordanian art. Women of Palestinian origin make traditional embroidered dresses, using varied colours and patterns, based mostly on geometric designs.

Contemporary arts

There are many art galleries in Amman, especially in older parts of the city, such as al-Weibdeh and Jabal Amman. These galleries host contemporary artists from Jordan and other Arab countries – mostly Iraq – and showcase various contemporary arts, including painting, sculpture, and ceramics. Many Iraqi artists fled to Jordan after the American-led war and settled in the kingdom, where they now present their work. Some have started their own galleries.

Popular culture

Jordan’s popular culture is much influenced by Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, and, most recently, Turkish music and television series, which young Jordanians have been watching and listening to in the 21st century. Jordanians grew up watching Egyptian and Syrian soap operas and, because they are broadcast on satellite channels, Turkish soap operas have become very popular over the past three years.

Abu Mahjoob, a caricature character created by cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, has become very popular for depicting Jordanian’s lives in a satirical manner. Abu Mahjoob represents the average Jordanian citizen, with his or her daily struggles and aspirations.

Recently, T-shirts lettered with popular Jordanian slang have become a hit with young people.

Theatre and film

Jordan’s movie theatres show foreign-language films, primarily in English. Most movie theatres play modern American commercial movies, except on culture nights dedicated to international movies, which are usually sponsored by international entities such as the European Union. Theatres also host national and international dance groups, singers, and actors.

Jordan’s Royal Film Commission was established in 2008 to develop the competitiveness of the Jordanian movie industry regionally and internationally.

Sports

The Jordanian National Football team at the AFC Asian Cup 2011 quarter-finals (where they beat Syria, with 2-1)

Sports play an increasingly important role in the lives of Jordanians, most of whom are football fans. There are twelve professional football teams, the most popular of which are al-Faisaly and al-Wehdat. There are also ten women’s professional football teams, men’s and women’s national football teams, an Olympic football team, and a youth football team.

Jordan’s Prince Ali ibn al-Hussein, a major football supporter who has been the President of the National Football Association for a decade and President of the West Asian Football Federation as well, was elected earlier this year as a FIFA Vice-President. Jordan’s national football team reached 37 in the FIFA rankings in 2004, their best ever, though its ranking has now fallen to 81 in the FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking issued in April 2012.

There are 34 sports unions in the country, all under the Jordan Olympic Committee. Jordanian youth also enjoy basketball. Most private schools have basketball teams that take part in local championships. Jordan’s national basketball team represents the country at international championships; it qualified for the World Cup in Turkey in 2010.

Some Jordanian players have excelled in table tennis and have represented the kingdom in international championships, returning home with medals. Fast walking has taken Amman by storm since it was organized in 2006 to encourage a healthy life through walking. Twice a week, hundreds – sometimes more than a thousand – Jordanians and foreigners walk the streets of Amman wearing green vests. Organizers, wearing orange vests and carrying red lights and stop-signs, stop traffic while the walkers cross the streets.

Museums

There are thirteen museums in Amman, ranging from heritage museums to children’s museums. These include the Children’s Museum, the Jordan Archaeological Museum, the Jordan Folklore Museum, the Jordan Museum of Popular Tradition, the University of Jordan Museums, the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts, the Haya Cultural Centre (for children), the Municipality of Greater Amman, the Darat al-Funun, the Royal Automobile Museum, the Martyr’s Memorial, and the Numismatics Museum of the Central Bank of Jordan.

Outside Amman are the Madaba Archaeological Museum, the Salt Archaeological Museum, the Salt Folklore Museum, the Jerash Archaeological Museum, the Aqaba Archaeological Museum, the Petra Nabataean Museum, the Petra Archaeological Museum, the Irbid Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Jordanian Heritage, the Dar al-Saraya Museum, the Umm Qais Archaeological Museum, the Karak Archaeological Museum, the Mazar Islamic Museum, the Ajloun Archaeological Museum, and the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex.

Further Reading

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