Culture of Jordan
The culture of Jordan is based on Arabic and Islamic elements with significant Western influence. The Jordanian Kingdom had always been the intersection of the three continents of the ancient world and always seemed to have a form of diversity at any given point due to its location. Notable aspects of the culture include the music of Jordan and an interest in sports, particularly football and basketball as well as other imported sports, mainly from western Europe and the United States.
More than 60% of the population live in the metropolis of Amman, concentrating the culture of Jordan in that city. Jordanian pop culture is heavily influenced by the "West". European and American music, movies, fashion and other forms of entertainment are popular among Jordan's people. Clubbing and partying culture are present in Amman, especially in the Western half of the city. A small minority of youth, mostly the rich in West Amman, exhibit counter-culture traits like face piercings and tattoos. Amman is consistently stated to be one of the most westernised and modern cities in the region. Malls, Western-brand stores, and hotels are important elements in Amman's urban life, especially in West side. English is widely understood and even spoken in lieu of Jordanian Levantine among Jordanians in the upper class and upper middle class. Westernization is occurring due to the heavy Western and especially British and American influence on the nation's political life and foreign affairs. In addition, many people from western Europe and America had been moving to Amman and calling it their new home in the past few years, this increased trade links with the West and reshaped the culture. Cuisine is borrowed from other surrounding nations especially Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
Nonprint media has played the most important role in Jordanian culture. Television production in particular has thrived due to high quality acting and creative, interesting story lines that challenge and critique contemporary Arab society. Print media too, however, continues to play a large role in Jordanian culture; newspapers include ad-Dustour ("The Constitution") and Al Ra'i ("The Opinion"), the most widely read of the Arabic language newspapers. Additionally, the country has one daily English newspaper, The Jordan Times, and one weekly English newspaper, The Star. (See List of newspapers in Jordan.)
The traditional music of Jordan has a long history. Rural Zajal songs, with improvised poetry played with a Mijwiz, Tablah, Arghul, Oud, Rabab reed pipe and ADdaf ensemble accompanying is popular. Recently Jordan has seen the rise of several prominent DJs and popstars.
Jordan does not have a film industry. The only Jordanian film is Captain Abu Raed. Though this is the only Jordanian film made in Jordan, multiple Hollywood films have been filmed on location in Jordan, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The 2010 Oscar winner for Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, was also filmed in Jordan. Much more recently, The Martian was filmed in Wadi Rum.
Television and Musalsalat
The term "musalsalat" may be loosely translated as Arabic soap operas. Jordan produces a number of "Bedouin soap operas" that are filmed outdoors with authentic props. The actors use Bedouin-accented Arabic to make the story feel more authentic, but have incorporated aspects of the accent of Bedouins of the Persian Gulf region in order to make the dialect more widely understood. These musalsalat have become popular in Saudi Arabia, Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and Iraq.
Some musalsalat center around traditional village life during the time period just before World War II. Often, these dramas are permeated by themes of tension between the traditional and modern ways of life with specific emphasis on the patriarchal systems and the role of women within them.
Another musalsal genre is that of the historical drama. Topics of these shows range from pre-Islamic poets to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many of these are joint productions by Jordanian, Syrian, and Gulf television producers.
While the aforementioned musalsalat target a broader, Arabic-speaking audience, certain programs target Jordanians specifically. These shows tend to deal with social and political issues particular to current-day Amman. Acting in these programs, as well as Jordanian musalsalat in general, is often lauded as being superior to that of many Egyptian-produced soap operas.
Archaeological study of Jordan began in the 19th century with the discovery of Petra by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Most archaeological attention in the 19th century, however, was focused on Palestine since foreign archaeologists tended to be preoccupied with the proliferation of Biblical sites located there. The Department of Antiquities in Amman was established in 1923, and since then, there have been excavations at Amman, Pella, Gadara in Um Qais, Petra, Jerash, Kerak, and Aljun. Neolithic statuettes were found in 1983 at the site of prehistoric village Ain Ghazal. Fourth century mosaics have been found in the church at the Monument of Moses at Mt. Nebo, and Byzantine mosaics at various churches in Nebo and Madaba. Other mosaics are found throughout the Jordanian desert at various castles dating back to the Umayyad dynasty. Such castles include Qasr al-Hallabat, Hmmam al-Sarakh, Qusayr ‘amra, Qasr Kharana, Mshatta, and Qasr al-Tuba.
The Jordan Archaeological Museum was founded in 1951 in Amman, and museums at Petra, jerash, Madaba, and Kerak have also come into existence.
Society and customs
One of the key aspects of Jordanian culture is the hospitality shown by hosts to their guests. This is felt even by walking around the streets of Jordan where the phrase "ahlan wa sahlan" ("I welcome you") is heard nearly everywhere a person goes.
Old proverbs such as the following one show that traditions of hospitality date back many years:
- "The host must fear the guest. When he sits [and shares your food], he is company. When he stands [and leaves your house], he is a poet" (Lazim al-mu’azzib yikhaf min al-dhayf. Luma yijlis howa dhayf. Luma yigum howa sha’ir).
- Some of the traditions of hospitality come from Jordanian Bedouin culture. For example, often, the host and his/her guest are to share a cup of black coffee. The host drinks out of the cup first, ensuring that the coffee is the right temperature. The guest then drinks what remains of the first cup. A second cup is served to the guest, and then a third. The host also serves the guest copious amounts of food and is careful to make sure the guest is comfortable and stays as long as he/she would like. Such displays are referred to as karam, the Arabic word for "generosity" or "hospitality" that also has implications of "nobility," "grace," and "refinement."
- In addition to wanting to be hospitable, the host also has a reputation at stake when inviting over a guest.
Bedouin tradition favors marriage between first cousins on the paternal side of the family. This allows family property to stay within the family. When a man decides he would like to marry, he, his father, and the women of the family discuss who might be an appropriate choice for a wife. Then, a courtship begins. The young man is able to meet with his potential spouse multiple times until they decide whether the marriage will happen. The father of the bride meets with the young man and his father, who seal the agreement over coffee.
Traditional Bedouin wedding celebrations last anywhere from five to seven days. The week begins with small gatherings in the tents of the bride and the groom. These gatherings increase in size throughout the week, adding more guests and food as the days pass. The men gather in the groom’s tent where they dance and sing and use pistols and rifles to shoot celebratory shots in the air. The women gather in the bride’s tent, and on the final night they paint her hands and feet with henna. On the day of the wedding, the male relatives of the groom dress and prepare him; the women prepare the bride. The bride is dressed in an embroidered wedding dress and gold or silver jewelry, with a green silk cloth covering her head. The female relatives process her to the groom’s tent where the wedding takes place. After seven days of marriage, the female relatives of the groom wash and dress the new bride, who is now officially a married woman of the groom’s household.
Traditional weddings among non-Bedouin Jordanians involve a long process that starts with an engagement. Typically, the older women in the family lead the process and talk among one another their children and which among them might make a good match as husband and wife. When an agreement is made between two families, the deal is confirmed over rounds of coffee between the girl’s father and the prospective groom and his father. The groom's family then hosts a large engagement party. The two families work together to prepare for the wedding.
Traditional wedding celebrations last a week and begin with small gatherings of family and close friends. As the days pass and the wedding grows closer, the parties increase in size. More guests are invited and more food is served. The night before the wedding, the bride's hands and feet are painted with henna by the women in her family as they sing and tell stories. Traditionally, on the morning of the wedding, the groom’s friends take him to a bathhouse for an intense cleaning and a shave, singing and telling jokes all the while, but today this is less common. Once prepared, both the bride and the groom go to the house of the groom's parents. The bride is processed by a caravan of honking cars. The men typically sit outside the house; the women, inside. There is much singing and dancing done by all. Mansif is typically served as the noonday meal.
Today, especially in cities such as Amman, it is also common for the wedding celebration to be shortened to make the occasion more financially affordable, as well as less time consuming.
Many brides opt for Western-style white dresses; grooms, a formal black suit. The procession of cars still occurs, but often to a wedding hall rather than the groom’s house where guests may or may not sit segregated by gender.
Football is the most popular sport in Jordan, followed by basketball. The increase of interest in football can be attributed to the recent success of the Jordanian national football team, after they qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time ever in 2004. The Jordanian national basketball team also experienced success after receiving sponsorship by Zain.
The Jordanian cuisine is a traditional style of food preparation originating from Jordan that has developed from centuries of social and political change with roots starts with the evidence of human activity in Jordan in the Paleolithic period (c. 90,000 BC).
There is a wide variety in the Jordanian style of cooking. The authentic Jordanian cuisine can range from baking, sautéing and grilling to stuffing of vegetables (grape leaves, eggplants, etc.), meat, and poultry. Also common in the Jordanian style of cooking is roasting, and/or preparing foods with special sauces.
As one of the largest producers of olives in the world,olive oil is the main cooking oil in Jordan. Herbs, garlic, spices, onion, tomato sauce and lemon are typical flavours found in Jordanian food. The recipes to the meals of the cuisines of Jordan can vary from extremely hot and spicy to mild.
The most common and popular of the appetizers is hummus, which is a puree of chick peas blended with tahini, lemon, and garlic. Ful Medames is another well-known appetizer. A worker's meal, today it has made its way to the tables of the upper class. A successful mezze must of course have koubba maqliya, labaneh, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, olives and pickles.
The national dish in Jordan is mansaf, a dish that is associated with Bedouin traditions. Despite these rural roots, it is shared by Jordanians of many diverse backgrounds, not just Bedouins or those who can trace their ancestral lines back to Bedouins. The dish is composed of a bread called sherack, lamb meat, and yogurt (jameed). Recently, rice and nuts have been added to the dish, and some regions in Jordan add seasoning. It is served on a large, circular platter. The ingredients are combined to form several layers. The first layer is made of thin, unleavened bread, shredded and soaked in yogurt broth. Next is a layer of rice which covers the bread. Large chunks of lamb that have been simmered in the same type of yogurt broth are placed on top of the rice. The head of the lamb is placed in the center of the tray. Pine nuts, almonds, and parsley are sprinkled atop the meat and rice. The final step involves pouring a yogurt broth over the entire dish, which is then added periodically throughout the meal to keep the dish warm and moist. Traditionally, mansaf is eaten while sitting on the floor, using ones hands to eat from a large, circular communal tray. This tradition still persists, although in modern years, many people have taken to eating the dish with silverware. Most admit, however, that mansaf tastes better when eaten with the hand. The dish takes hours to prepare and thus is primarily served only on special occasions.
Another famous meat dish in Southern Jordan, especially in the Bedouin Desert area of Petra and Wadi Rum, is the zarb. It is a Bedouin style barbeque containing chunks of meat which have been marinated in spices, as well as bread dough and vegetables which are prepared in a submerged oven called a taboon. It is considered a delicacy of that area.
Breakfast usually includes a variety of white cheeses, olives, pickled vegetables, and freshly-baked breads served with various fruit spreads, butter, or honey. Most opt for tea or fruit juice as a drink with breakfast.
Lunch is the main meal for most Jordanian families. It typically includes a main dish containing meat, as well as a wide variety of salads and dips. Some common salads are tabbouleh and salatah ‘arabiyah (chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and onions, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice). Dips include baba ghanouj and tahini.
Dinner is generally a smaller meal than lunch, but this can vary family-to-family depending on work schedules. If traditional practice is followed, the meal is usually a type of soup or stew or the leftovers from lunch.
Although simple fresh fruits are often served towards the end of a Jordanian meal, there is also dessert, such as baklava, hareeseh, knafeh, halva and qatayef which is a dessert made specially for Ramadan.
Imported culinary customs
The large Palestinian population in the country has led to the rise of another popular dish among the people of Jordan: maqluba. This dish is made of meat (typically beef or lamb), fried onions, and a variety of vegetables. The word maqlubah means "upside down" and the dish draws its name from the fact that the pot it is prepared in is turned upside down on a plate before it is served. The dish falls out of the pot with what had been at the bottom of the pot during preparation now sitting on top of the dish.
The Ottoman legacy also lives on in Jordanian cuisine, as evidenced by the presence of such dishes as one called kabsa or Riz Bukhari which is made with chicken, onions, carrots, tomatoes, orange or lemon zest and juice, and spices. This mixture is served on top of rice and sprinkled with raisons and chopped almonds. This dish originates with Turkish-speaking Uzbeks from Central Asia who came to Jordan in the decade after World War I.