There is something about flowers that speaks volumes. Long before the John Philips’ song promoting the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, and which later became an anthem for the “Peace Generation” and anti-Vietnam War protesters, flowers in the hair was a cultural symbol that crossed time and borders.
Journey from Jazan northward along the paved roads and dirt tracks in the southern reaches of the Kingdom’s hilly Tihama and a strange and atavistically attractive culture reveals itself. Hard looking hill men with rifles and wearing colorful dress entirely unlike the Saudi thobe lounge in battered tow trucks in small towns.At first sight, it seems like a scene of potential violence, but when approached these quiet and reserved people can be drawn out into conversation.
The culture of hospitality overcomes their reserved nature. What is hugely reassuring to the visitor is that most of these tough looking characters sport a headband of local flowers and herbs woven into intricate designs. There is something disarming about the combination of a weapon brandished by a flower-wearing tribesman.
Further into the rift in the hills between Jebel Qahr and Jebel Zahwam lies Wadi Lajab. Hereabouts lean faun-like young men that scamper nimbly up the sheer sides of the mountains and descend into the wadi for water and to look at newcomers. Once again, curious to see visitors, they will be drawn into conversation but prefer to sit quietly and observe.
This is part of the Kingdom that few see. The culture, already becoming infested with mobile phones, will inevitably change. Perhaps it is time that before this happens to the extent that old knowledge is lost, we should study the traditions and cultural mores associated with the language of flowers so fluently spoken and beautifully worn.It may have a message for us; if it does, it is probably a peaceful one.