Jordan — History and Culture
The history of Middle Eastern countries is often quite complicated and Jordan’s is no exception, telling a tale of occupation and the battle for control between world powers. To complicate things further, Jordan’s past is also a land over which religious battles continue to be fought. Luckily, their culture is a bit simpler.
The region’s first known inhabitants were the Nabataeans who were responsible for building the remarkable city of Petra on the wealth they derived as traders between Europe and Asia, along the Silk Road. Soon after, the land was included in the Byzantium Empire. Following the Roman decline, the Umayyad took over the area shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammed in AD 632.
The powerful Ottoman Turks seized control in 1517 and ruled over both Jordan and Syria as one. Only after WWI, when the Turkish Empire was disassembled did their rule end. Following the battle, the land was divided between Western powers. The area known as Transjordania, including the Jordan River and Palestine came under British Mandate which ended in 1946 when Transjordania gained independence.
The troubles had only really just begun, with much of the West bank and Palestinian territory being granted to the Jews who had already migrated to Jerusalem a decade earlier to set up their homeland. The struggle between the Arabs and the Israelis has been an intense news focus ever since, with Jordan losing the West Bank permanently in the Six Day war, and becoming the home of millions of Palestinian refugees. At the same time, that land became tentatively part of a semi-formalized Palestinian State, while Jordan strives to conduct more cordial relations with their neighbor than any other Arabic state.
Following independence, the country was under the powerful control of King Abdullah ibn Hussein who ruled from 1953 to 1999. King Hussein, a member of the Hashemite Dynasty, was the Emir of Transjordania in the 1920’s – a position which was mostly title-based under British rule.
After King Hussein’s death in 1999 his eldest son, King Abdullah II assumed the throne along with his wife, Princess Muna. King Abdullah II has opened up Jordan politically and economically far more than any past ruler ever intended. In 2000 Jordan signed free trade agreements with the United States and the European Free Trade Association.
Jordan’s location, at the meeting point between three continents, has helped to shape its culture rather strongly. While Arabic and Islamic elements are quite powerful, Western influences have been just as strong. Now that the country is opening up economically, several American and European cultural markers are seeping in.
Jordan has a strong musical tradition and a long history spanning centuries. From traditional instruments like the shababa (flute or pipe) and the gerbah (bagpipes) to the improvised poetry, Jordanian musicians have been getting it right for a long time. Although Western music is starting to become popular, local tunes continue to reign supreme.
The culture of the Bedouin people has also strongly influenced that of the entire region. One of the main examples of this can be seen in Jordanian dance, which stems greatly from Bedouin roots. The most famous national dance, dabke, in which participants hold each other’s shoulders and move around the room in a circle is a clear legacy of the cultural imprint.