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Arabic: دودحية (girl of the Dawdahi). Often incorrectly written "Daw Da Hiya", probably because the word is broken up that way in Arabic, where certain letters do not connect within a word. Circle dance by Israel Yakovee, 1992.
The song has its roots in a true story that took place in Yemen in March, 1938. The following is a condensed account from one source; see the Notes for details.
A wealthy Muslim landowner known only as the “Dawdaḥī” lived in a village due east of Ibb. Despite his wealth he was humble in his comportment and righteous to boot.
The Dawdaḥī had four daughters and the eldest had been designated the future bride of his brother’s son as a means of keeping the family fortune intact. The boy did not want to marry her. His family pressured him, but he stood firm in his rebellion. Meanwhile the girls all reached maturity. Many suitors asked for their hands but as long as the eldest was not married to her cousin, the Dawdaḥī would entertain no offers. The eldest daughter, who saw that she was being used as a football, decided to get vengeance on the lot of them. She allowed herself to get pregnant through premarital sex.
The authorities were alerted to her pregnancy. The judge in al-Nādira, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Iryānī (later president of Yemen, and at one time falsely reported to be Jewish!), sent soldiers to the village to apprehend the woman and her paramour. In court she stated that the father was none other than her cousin. In doing so she and her father wanted to force the stubborn boy to marry her. However, he denied his paternity. The judge ordered the two to undergo a public shaming ceremony. The two were bound together with a single chain, large drums were mounted on each of their backs and group of soldiers beat the drums and paraded them around the town while onlookers hurled insults at them. The boy’s father happened to be in al-Nādira. When he heard the drumbeats approaching and realized that his son and niece were being publicly shamed, he had a heart attack and died. The Dawdaḥī died a few months later. Songs about the “Dawdaḥīya” (“the Dawdaḥī girl”) spread throughout Yemen.
The song used for Yakovee's dance is by Ofra Haza and Bezalel Aloni, lyrics by those two and Grant Morris, and appears on her 1992 album Kirya. Note that despite the song lyrics, nothing close to capital punishment was imposed. Also, 1938 is hardly "ancient times"; the judge was in fact still alive when the dance was created!
Translation of the Arabic portion of the Ofra Haza song:
You won’t do any more whoring, nor will you ever enjoy the pleasure of sex.
O Dawdaḥīya, your honey has been licked up,
He took my heart and left.
He took my heart and left.
Now like mud
That has been stomped upon.
Better death, better death, than a life of shame.
Go put on perfume, go put on perfume, O Dawdaḥīya.
They paraded you shamefully into Wadi Banā.
Now all of us mourn you.
Ofra Haza and Bezalel Aloni (co-author of the lyrics and music) came to Los Angeles to record Kirya, the album containing Dawdahiya. They knew of Israel Yakovee and his work; he had choreographed other dances (Achot Lanu Ktana, Agadelcha, etc.) to tracks from her earlier albums. They asked him to promote the album by making a dance to Dawdahiya, which he did; the dance was introduced at Hora Keff. He later created dances to other cuts from Kirya, including Galbi.
When Yakovee choreographed the dance, he didn't understand that the heroine was stoned to death for being pregnant; he was not familiar with the euphemism "with child" until it was explained to him by his wife Michele.
Yakovee's visualization of the song is a snake in the desert. In the first part of the dance, the dancers' legs move along the line in the zigzag movement of a snake. The whole dance is structure as a snake moving along, low and slow.
Reference and Notes
- Personal interview with Yakovee, 10/13/2021.
2. This material is taken from:
Mark S. Wagner, “A Murder Ballad between Yemen, Israel, and the Internet: The Mystery of the Dawdahi Girl,” in Jews and Muslims in the Modern Age: Place, Language, and Memory, ed. Nancy Berg and Dina Danon (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming)
and is used by permission. Unlike most HoraWiki content, it does not fall under the Creative Commons ShareAlike license and may not be reused; the copyright remains the property of Dr. Wagner. See HoraWiki:Copyright for further details of licensing and copyright.
Wagner's paper contains much more on the Dawdahiya story, including versions from other sources, description of the story's spread, and text of other songs written about the tale. He also develops a fascinating connection between the story of the Dawdahi girl and the life of Ofra Haza herself, introducing his analysis thus: "Haza’s death in 2000 of AIDS-related organ failure might be seen as an echo of the tragedy of the Dawdaḥī girl in several ways."
The village of Ibb, Yemen.