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  • Samar Erman

A Hoopoe Bird and the Stories She Carries



Does seeing a hoopoe bird spark symbolism, meaning or a message for you?

Our personal stories live in the connections we have made. In the oral tradition of Umm al-Jimal those connections are made through the symbols in the stories. Are they true in whole or in part, or even at all? I personally listen to these stories with interest regardless of their scientific or historical accuracy because they are part of our oral heritage. Their telling transmits and preserves our mythos from one person to another, generation after generation. The story of the hoopoe bird and the rain is one of them.


There are many stories about the hoopoe bird as a messenger. In fact, the hoopoe appears in the Holy Qur'an carrying messages between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Qur’an 27:20-28). Here in Umm al-Jimal, as the story goes, the sight of a hoopoe brings good news, and indeed that good news is often the forecast of rain.

Rain is always good news in the desert region of Umm al-Jimal, with only 150 mm of rain per year. Umm al-Jimal sits in the watershed of Jabal Al-Arab / Jabal Al-Druz, 50 km to the north, currently inside Syria. The topography of the land here has played an important role in the surface runoff of rainwater which collected in the local valleys, or wadis. The archaeological site was originally built at the intersection of two major valleys (Wadi Al-Lus, and Wadi Wadi az-Zaa’tari). Those who have made this their home over time have devised ingenious methods to capture the water when it does flow, including an ancient system of channels and over 40 water reservoirs to collect and store the water for livestock, agriculture and other uses. Water makes life possible here.


I often see this beautiful hoopoe bird flying over the basalt stones when I walk through the site with visitors. Sometimes after I see it the rain does indeed come. So far, I have resisted the urge to stop a tour to tell its story because it is myth, not necessarily a fact. But now I am telling it here because seeing the hoopoe always moves me; the story of the hoopoe is a part of me and a part of the history of this place and the people here. It is a personal connection local people share and I want to share it with you too, as is our tradition, so that you will also be moved to remember the meaning of the hoopoe in Umm al-Jimal.

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