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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

The Liver in Egyptian Song and Language


by Priscilla Adum




An Egyptian friend of Priscilla's provided this cultural background information about the use of the Arabic word kabed (liver) in Egyption song lyrics and everyday language idioms.

The liver is an essential and vital organ in the body. It lies on the right side, approximately in the middle of the body.

The Liver in Arabic Poetry

The word "liver" in Arabic (kabed) is used very much in poetry to express love. For example when someone writes and says "Your love fills my entire body and organs and my liver," this means that the other person's love fills him completely. It's also used to express sadness or a depressive mood due to losing a lover or a relative. For example, when someone writes and says "I feel a burning in my liver", or "My liver bleeds from losing you," it means that he is sad, depressed and in a lot of pain due to losing someone important to him. This someone can be a lover or a relative. The word "liver" is used to express sadness or a depressive mood in Arabic poetry.

[Editor's note: For examples of songs that use the word "liver" in the lyrics, see Ghanili Shwaya Shwaya by Oum Kalthoum or Eina el-Layali by Asmahan.]

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo shows Oum Kalthoum as a young woman.

However in everyday life, it is not customary or suitable to use the word "liver" to express love or to refer to love. This means that if we want to say words of love to another person, we will use other words such as:

3akli my mind
qalbi my heart
habibi my love
rouhi my soul

We don't use the word liver to express love in our normal life. Sometimes sha'abi women use the word liver in their conversations with each other to express their concern about something, or to express sadness about something bad that has happened to one of their relatives, neighbors, or friends.

Since the liver lies in the middle of the body, it's also sometimes used to describe something that is located in the middle. For example, when we say "There is a star in the liver of the sky," this means that the star is in the middle of the sky. Or if we say someone is "in the liver of the desert," this means that someone is in the middle of the desert.

Falzat Akbadena

We have a well known expression that has the word liver in it. It's "falzat akbadena'. "Falzat" means "a piece" and "akbadena" means "our livers" We use this expression to refer to our children. We say that our kids are falzat akbadena which means that to us, our children are just like a piece of our liver and that we love them very much because they are a part of us. This expression falzat akbadena is used very much in Arabic poetry and can also be used in daily life by regular people to express their love for their children.

Gesturing to the Liver

As for the dance gesture that involves holding both hands to one side of the body, yes it's used in sha'abi dance. But nobody would use this gesture in normal life. Once in a while when sha'abi women (bee2a women) fight, they'll make this gesture to each other while they scream and swear at each other.



About the Author

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 




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