All my life, I was so worried that I was going to turn into “fellaheen.” My mom would use it as a warning to keep my behavior in check. I found myself yesterday using it in a sentence. “Go brush your hair so you don’t look like fellaheen!” I yelled to my daughter.
But what I thought was labeled “fellaheen” and what it actually was are totally different. (“Fellaheen is the plural of “fellah,” meaning “farmer” or “villager”) I thought that a fellah was an Arab redneck or homeless person. All the negative connotations were attached to it. I had to do some research to find out that it is a group of people that are farmers or peasants. Actually, they own their own land and are choosing to live as farmers. Wikipedia says that the translation “misrepresents Palestinian fellahin society, because traditional European usage refers to someone who does not own the land they farm, whereas the fellahin of Palestine own the land, and the means of production, together.”
We have farmers in America and have our own stereotypes about them which may or may not be true. I picture a farmer to be wearing a cowboy hat, flannel shirt and jeans, speaking in a southern accent and driving a tractor. I also picture fellaheen to be draped in scarves, walking around with huge jugs on their head. But after looking further into it, you can see that is not the case. The modern farmers are business people, and some even own large companies. The fellaheen are not like the American farmers, but they are not like how I pictured them either. They sell organic foods in the markets and keep the agricultural economy alive.
They are choosing to live in the ways of their ancestors because of cultural and religious beliefs. These are people that are upholding traditions that go back thousands of centuries. That takes a lot of discipline and persistence. I think that some people look up to them for having those traits. For example, Jack Kerouac wrote about the fellaheen in Lonesome Traveler. Even though it’s a word with Arabic origins, he uses it to describe a group of Mexicans. Go figure! He makes them seem like they are not part of the modern world and writes, “…but you can find it, this feeling, this fellaheen feeling about life, that timeless gayety of people not involved in great cultural and civilization issues.” I also searched on Facebook and found a music band called Fellaheen. Weird music but I give them credit for coming up with a great name!
I’m not sure why I never found out for myself what fellaheen were all about until now. Like all types of cultures, you get an image in your head and a stereotype along with it. I even thought about Jeff Foxworthy… “You might be fellaheen if you…”
The fellaheen are very important to the Middle Eastern culture and history. They have been around since ancient times and their way of life will be around undoubtedly for many more centuries. So, what the heck was I so afraid of when I was told to not be like them? Now, if someone says I look like a fellaheen, I will just say “Thank you” and walk away with pride.