The echoes of Nadbah: How a war cry evolved in the Northern Emirates

From a battle cry to a celebratory performance, the Nadbah now plays a key part in ceremonies

The evolution of Nadbah

The evolution of Nadbah
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The Nadbah, a ceremonial battle cry that is regarded as an influential symbol of culture and unity, is synonymous with the Northern Emirates.

It has evolved from its origins as a call to arms into a symbol of pride and courage.

The Nadbah has transcended its martial origins to become a crucial part of the culture and heritage among certain tribes.

Celebrated across Ras Al Khaimah and Musandam in Oman, the Nadbah is now a staple of communal gatherings, transforming ancient echoes of war into declarations of peace and solidarity.

A cry of peace

Today, the Nadbah stands as a powerful symbol that acts as a reminder of Emirati culture.

It is a cry that has transformed from a call to war into one for peace, unity and celebration.

Through gatherings that bring together tribes and communities, the Nadbah continues to strengthen the cultural bonds among the Emirati people.

The Nadbah not only preserves the legacy of the tribes but also offers a glimpse into the inner workings of Emirati culture.

Origin and evolution

Historically, the Nadbah was a potent rallying cry to stir the spirits of warriors from tribes such as Al Shehhi, Al Hebsi, Al Dhoori, and Bani Shamili.

The Nadeeb, the name given to the person who leads the Nadbah performance, would shout the tribe's name as they carried traditional axes and daggers, their cry echoing across their territory. But this has changed over time.

Ali bin Hamdoon Al Shehhi, from Ras Al Khaimah, is known as the "heritage man" in his community.

“The Nadbah includes a person called the Nadeeb who is present in the middle and is accompanied by a group of people who respond to him, called the Al Nadeeba," he told The National.

Mr Al Shehhi explained the characteristics the Nadeeb must have to lead the Nadbah.

“The Nadeeb must have a loud voice, a good throat, master the Nadbah and possess good endurance.

“A father may be a good candidate for a Nadeeb, but his son may not be. There are specific individuals who practise the Nadbah," he added.

"If someone has a passion for it, they can learn the Nadbah but they must meet the conditions mentioned earlier.”

Mr Al Shehhi believes it is important to keep traditions and heritage, such as the Nadbah, alive.

“There are associations that support heritage like the Al Habous, Bani Shamili and Al Shihuh tribes," he said.

"These associations are there to keep the heritage and tradition alive for this generation and upcoming generations.”

The Nadbah is now a lively shout for peace and a celebration of life and community, and no longer a sign of imminent war.

Cultural significance

The Nadbah is part of the UAE's culture, especially in Ras Al Khaimah, where its sounds are most vivid.

This act is all about showing pride and bravery, reflecting the strong spirit of the Emirati community.

It plays a significant role in many social events, including weddings and other traditional celebrations, highlighting times of happiness and unity.

“The word Nadbah in the Arabic language means bringing people together towards a common goal," said Saeed Alharbi Al Shehhi, chairman of the cultural and media committee at Al Shuhooh Cultural and Heritage Association, from Ras Al Khaimah.

Mr Al Shehhi said older generations play a vital role in ensuring old customs are picked up by younger people in the community.

“Young people are now watching their fathers and grandfathers practising these customs and traditions," he said.

“Usually, young people imitate older generations.

“Now, of course, with globalisation and technology, it is very likely that people will move away from their families, [attending less] events and weddings so their desire to practise or perform the Nadbah might weaken."

Mr Al Shehhi describes the Nadbah as an “inherited folklore”.

The Nadbah becomes particularly meaningful after people eat together or when sacrificial offerings are made, showing the strong sense of respect that exists between the tribes.

The art of performance

The performance of Nadbah is an art and a ritual, consisting of elements known as Lahya, Zaaqa and Kasra.

The Lahya, with its elongated vowel sounds, sets the stage, followed by the Zaaqa's sharp glottal stop.

The ceremony reaches its emotional peak with the Kasra, imbuing the cry with a sense of sorrow and longing.

This sequence is repeated, culminating in a final Kasra that resonates with the collective memory and shared history of the people.

"There is no difference in meaning between the beginning, middle and end – they all have the same meaning. However, the Kasra ends the Nadbah," said Mohammed Al Hebsi, from Ras Al Khaimah.

“Nadbah is one of the mountain’s rituals. We will not neglect it and will continue practising it and inherit it for the future."

Updated: March 23, 2024, 9:46 AM