The Diriyah Gate Development Authority today announced an initiative to document the oral history of Ardah, the traditional celebratory Saudi group dance made famous by the rising popularity of the Kingdom’s culture and heritage the world over in recent years.
Oral History of the Saudi Arda is part of a series of similar initiatives to preserve the national history, reinvigorate the festive Saudi dance, popularize Ardah songs and their writers, and introduce people to the Saudi art form.
Ardah is a quintessential Saudi art steeped in tradition that was, and still is, the hallmark of historic Diriyah. Today, Ardah is Saudi Arabia’s calling card that combines the Kingdom’s culture and tradition in one popular dance.
As a collective form of expression, Ardah speaks volumes of the unbreakable bond between the leadership and the populace. Performed solely by men in a public space, Ardah is a manifestation of their upbeat enthusiasm as they reiterate their loyalty and love to the King and the Kingdom.
Originally, Ardah started as a war dance to instill vigor and gusto in the hearts of fighting men right before combat. The sword dance was a way to show off weapons and fearlessness to the enemy. Today, it’s a fundamental component of the Kingdom’s popular culture.
“Ardah symbolizes Saudi cultural heritage inspired by the heroism of the Kingdom’s unifier and founding father,” said Dr. Badran Alhonaihen, Director of Research & Historical Studies at DGDA. “Ardah was how warriors got their fervor before the battle. Today, it is a dance reserved for special occasions, such as national festivities – which is why it is important to preserve it as history for the benefit of posterity.”
Dr. Alhonaihen reiterated the Authority’s commitment to the preservation of the Kingdom's heritage, culture, tradition, and history. Part of that commitment is the documentation of the oral histories covering every aspect of Saudi heritage through initiatives across the various facets of popular art, in the form of audio- and videotaped interviews that are transcribed and kept as records.
"Ardah combines poetry, percussion music, and tap dancing to produce an evocation of the formidable respectability of a flag protected and defended with the sword," he said. "It is a spectacle to behold as men in uniform attire move in precisely choreographed unison in two rows of as many as 50 men each facing one another. As Ardah is a choral art, the two rows of men are part and parcel of the perfect Ardah; any deviation will ruin the rhythm of the dance."
Ardah relies on vigorous choreography to express the battle-readiness of yore, especially in the middle of the battle where the Arda caller or initiator "Mhorab" the cavaliers, the drummers, the pallbearers, and the poets are found.
One of many masculine popular arts native to Saudi Arabia, Ardah has changed greatly over the years – all the more reason to preserve and uphold it as a key part of national identity, including the preservation of the sprightly songs that told the stories within the tradition and the names of the poets who wrote them as only they could.
With these documentation initiatives, the Authority aims to highlight the parts of the Kingdom’s culture that originated in Diriyah. They narrate the stories of pride and honor that make up the history of the Kingdom in general, and particularly the history of the town where the First Saudi State was born, building them into a nuanced, inspiring cultural experience for the world to see and for Saudis to be proud of.
Oral History of the Saudi Arda is a continuation of many such programs that make up a massive project to document the oral history of Diriyah. One such program is ‘ Oral History for women in Diriyah,’ which started earlier this year to document the social lives of women in the city and their contributions to the local community. It is the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia.the Oral History of Diriyah documentation program, which was launched in 2020, includes interviews with the elderly people of Diriyah, in addition to the Oral History of the historical districts in Diriyah,’ which documents the social and urban history of the city’s historic districts through interviews with experts in the field.
Other programs for oral histories that cover all aspects of the city are set to follow soon. So far, the Authority has amassed more than 200 hours of audio and video recordings. The audiovisual material will then be methodically compiled into a granular timeline of events and narratives that document, perpetuate, and tell the story of historic Diriyah - the city of kings and heroes and the capital of the First Saudi State.