In 1986, Marcel Kurpershoek, a Dutch diplomat, was posted to Saudi Arabia. There, he started exploring the country's vast deserts and hunting in the "Rub 'al-Khali", the Empty Quarter. Three years later, having familiarized himself with the Bedouin dialect and poetry, he set out to do five months of fieldwork among the tribes of central Arabia, travelling the Saudi desert in search of the living chronicle of the Bedouins. He established contacts with tribesmen and Bedouins in this remote corner of the desert and discovered the powerful tribes of Utaybah, Qahtan, Subay and Dawasir, whose poets celebrated bravery and feats of arms. His host, Khalid, a Utaybah Sheikh, told him all he knew of his ancestors' chivalrous feats and daring raids when the tribes were a law unto themselves. He also became the first Westerner to visit ad-Dakhul and Hawmal, two mountains mentioned in Imrul Qais' famous pre-Islamic ode. But his greatest discovery was an old, poor, illiterate and unruly Bedouin, the poet ad-Dindan, whose magnificent poetry offered contemporary proof of the authenticity of the great pre-Islamic tradition in Arabian oral poetry.
His encounters are recorded in this part travelogue, part book of poems and study of traditional Saudi society.
Marcel Kurpershoek was born in 1949 in the Hague. He studied Arabic at Leiden University, and at Cairo University. In 1974 he joined the Dutch Foreign Service and was posted to Egypt, Syria and in 1986 to Saudi Arabia. He is the author of several travelogues and books on Bedouin poetry, The Poetry of ad-Dindan (1994) and Bedouin Poets of the Dawasir (1999). He lives in the Netherlands.
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