Diversity, Creativity and Sustainability of Epic Tradition: Al-Sirah Al Hilaliyyah (Epic) As an Example
Affiliation: Cairo University
The epic genera of Al Sirah Al Hilaliyyah is one of the most loved of all Egyptian folk forms. It is a poetic tradition which is familiar throughout most of the Arab World. The Sirah (epic) of Bani Hilal tribe records the tribe's massive migration from its homeland "Najd"  in the Arabian Peninsula, today known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, their sojourn in Egypt, their subsequent conquest of North Africa (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) and their final defeat one hundred years later. The immigration, the conquest and the defeat are historical events which took place between the 10th and 12th century AD. While many of the Sirahs (epics) from the past fallen its oblivion, Al Sirah Al Hilaliyyah is the only one that has survived in its complete form with all its four episodes intact and in its various forms of performance. Extremely rich technically and culturally, Al Sirah Al Hilaliyyah constitutes a multipurpose document.

The language technique of Al Sirah employs a highly stylized kind of verse language and its performers enact it in a theatrical fashion, making different vocal sounds, changing their voices to suit the personalities of the various characters and employing hands, facial expressions and body motions to act out some difficult parts. Compared to other Sirahs (epics), Al Hilaliyyah remains the only one performed as an oral fol tradition.

Furthermore, in referring to places and events, it represents a historical document while references to traditional food, customs and practices give it a significant sociological value. It contains poetry and riddles, offers a reflection of art tradition, costumes,jewellery and cosmetics as well as showing norms, habits and rituals of community and social interaction throughout the centuries. Involving different geographic locations and ethnic groups in the community, Al Sirah Al Hilaliyyah exerts a considerable influence in shaping community ethics and can be commended for its clear allowance of cultural diversity.

It is now hardly ever heard in the urban centers of Egypt, but in rural areas, it continues to be performed in prose, poetry and song. The most famous versions are those sung in Upper Egypt by Sirah-singers who perform their versified narrative for nights at a time while accompanying themselves with musical instruments such as The Rababa, The Tar or Kamanga (violin). These Sirah-singers perform at wedding ceremonies and during some other occasions.

The Sirah is divided – as it's known by the singers and also the scholars – into four parts: Mawaleed (Birth Lineage), Al-Reiadah (Exploring, Pioneering), Al-Taghribah (Going Westward) and Al-Aytam (The Orphans).

The first sections recounts the history of the tribe, the birth of the main heroes, their adventures as youth and their marriages. Then a severe drought strikes their homeland "Najd" and the tribal council decides new pasturage must be sought if the tribe is to survive. A scouting party is formed consisting of Abu Zaid and his three nephews. The second section describes the adventures of Abu Zaid and his nephews as they travel to Tunisia, seeking a new homeland for their tribe.

The third section, is an elaborate series of battles and romances which the tribe encounters on a not very direct route though Iraq, Syria, Cyprus Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya before their arrival in Tunisia. The fourth and final section (Al Aytam) is found in some regions especially in Egypt, the Bani Hilal who in unity were victorious are divided after the death of Abu Zaid and other heroes. At the end, all heroes die, the clans are decimated and dispersed.

For the Sustainability of Egyptian Traditions, The Egyptian society for Folk Traditions was founded in 2000. Its main objective is to safeguard and revitalize Egyptian Folk Traditions, Tangible and Intangible.