Thunderous feet, joyous hearts, and bright eyes; all which can describe the scene when the famed dabka dance is being performed. The dabka is an Arab folk dance arising from the Levant (a historical area of the Eastern Mediterranean equivalent to the greater Syrian region). This dance, combining both line and circle dancing, is now widely performed at community gatherings and joyous celebrations such as weddings.
There are multiple possible origins of the Palestinian dabka (also spelled dabkeh, dabka, dubki, and with the plural, dabkaat). Once such origin may have developed from Canaanite fertility rites wherein communities joined in the energetic foot stomping dance to scare away malicious spirits, clearing the way for healthy and secure growth of their seedlings.
However, the more popularly recognized origin is derived from traditional house-building in the Levant where houses were structured with stone and made with a roof consisting of wood, straw and dirt (mud). In order to have a stable roof, the dirt had to be compacted. To achieve this aim, it is said that family and neighbors would come together and perform what is now recognized as the dabka in order to make the roof work fun. The rhythmic patterns were a joyful way to keep things in sync and effective.
According to historical folklore, changing weather would create cracks in the mud and thus reduce the integrity of the roof. The inhabitants would yell, “Al-Awneh,” which essentially translates to “let’s go help.” Then, the communal dance would begin. Over time, the dance has evolved to strengthen neighborly bonds, signify aspirations, celebrate family and community, and as a way of expressing perseverance through struggle. According to Awj Al-Najali, who performs the dance around the world with a group of Palestinian refugees from Jordan,
"We deliver a message. It's not only dancing. We protect our heritage, our dances, our songs."
The dance has been celebrated for years and in recent times has more closely been tied to the Palestinian identity, especially within the context of social, political, and national aspirations.
The messages underlying the dance ring especially close to heart in accordance with National Roof Over Your Head Day, celebrated in the United States on December 3rd each year. The day was originally created to bring awareness to homelessness and to remind us all to be thankful for what we have. It serves as a reminder that many people in the US and across the globe are faced with the immense challenges of not having basic needs met. It is estimated that 100 million people globally do not have a roof to protect them and of 1.6 billion who do, it is inadequate for them and their families.
As Roof Over Your Head Day is, in essence, a call to charity and social awareness, it is an important time to consider those in and from Palestine who struggle for their basic needs. In Gaza, it is stated that 75% of people require emergency relief assistance, and 40% of children suffer from anemia and malnutrition. As of 2018, Gaza Ranks 3rd in poverty in the Arab region.
Although estimates vary, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East claims that there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees who qualify for their services. Thus, the number of Palestinian refugees living globally is even higher.
The importance of charity and on-site programs cannot be understated. PaliRoots takes pride in the fact that a portion of proceeds directly benefit Palestinians who need it most and we take the time to organize support projects like the Gaza Backpack Project (now 2nd!), Save Gaza Winter Project, the Water Tanker Campaign, Gaza Eid Gifts for Children, Gaza Chemotherapy Drugs for Children, and the Feed Gaza project, to name a few.
Governments alone will not (and likely cannot) solve the problems of the world. It will take the organization of communities, responsible social entrepreneurship, and power of the people to exact the change that is needed. This Roof Over Your Head Day, we ask that you consider things you might ordinarily take for granted. Please, think about all you have to be grateful for and we ask that you will deeply consider volunteering your time or perhaps a monetary contribution towards the efforts of those supporting people in need. We are grateful for our connection to you and hope it will last for years to come! Thank you for all you are and all you do.