A Rich Heritage, A Historic Celebration

August 2, 2016
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BY VICKY MCFARLANE

The sun is about to set. Excited children, dressed in traditional white thobes and colourful jalabiyas, are gathered by the seaside holding baskets of bright green grass and chanting words that have been passed down through the generations.

The joyous spectacle is Heya-Beya, ‘Heya’ representing the Hajj, and ‘Beya’ or Biaaji, standing for return; a much-loved centuries old tradition that sees youngsters throw baskets of grass into the sea as an offering for the safe return of their parents and elders from the Hajj Pilgrimage.

The roots of this tradition however, may have been entrenched much earlier in history. Ancient Egyptian and Indian civilizations according to legend, sent beautiful young girls dressed in bridal clothing sailing in deep waters as an offering to the gods.

Although the rules of this tradition have changed somewhat since that time, the concept is thought to have passed on to the Gulf States by local merchants, who were enjoying a booming trade with the Indian subcontinent. Early pearl divers of the Gulf, who in an attempt to safeguard their lives, offered ‘food’ to the sea on the eve of Eid Al Adha. It was their belief that the sacrifice would ensure the waters were not ‘hungry’, and as such protect them from being consumed or drowned the following year.

Heya-Beya is also a celebration of Eid Al Adha, or the second Eid. Held on the 9th of Dhul-Hijjah or Arafat Day, the day Hajj pilgrims stand on Mount Arafat in prayer and supplication.

Back home, the baskets of grass, or Heya-Beya, are often grown by the children from seed, and painstakingly cared for, long before the event. Therefore, the act of throwing the beloved basket into the sea is thought to be the Bahraini Child’s first lesson in sacrifice. As the children cast their baskets into the sea, they sing a song that is roughly translated to mean “Oh Hajj, go to Mecca and drink from ZamZam. I have brought you up, watered you, and taken care of you, so bring me joy throughout the days of Eid and on the day pilgrims return home”.

Today, many Bahraini children still take part in the tradition, however the custom is slowly fading in many gulf countries. In an effort to preserve the valued tradition, and embed it as an integral part of Bahrain’s culture, Bahraini heritage societies and organisations are working hard to revive the custom. Upcoming Heya-Beya celebrations are held across the island and are announced in local media. The annual festivity can now be enjoyed by the whole family, whether Bahraini or expatriate, and entertainment such as folklore bands and traditional food and craft stores, make the Heya-Beya an event not to be missed.

PHOTO BY RASHA YOUSIF

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