Status: Currently working on "Our Swalif on Mahd" research project. Organizing group discussions around emerging themes from the research project. Building network of people across the Arabian Peninsula (bio)region.

Mahd foundational question
How do we move our current culture towards an appropriate relationship with the land?

You can also learn more about the nuances of the project in a yarn I had with Tyson Yunkaporta's The Other Others podcast.

A human is born into a culture, that which has ancestral link to a maternal / paternal lineage, and a survival link to the landscapes and environments we live in. We are sculpted by our ancestors (Nature) and environment (Nurture). Now, in an era of globalization and normalization, our ability to form enforceable structures and rhythms has disconnected us from how our ancestors have lived in a long-established wrestle and collaboration with the environment and the web of life.

Since then, we forgot how to look to the moon’s cycle and the sun’s angle to guide our movements through the season; We forgot how to know time through observing the flowering of plants, animal movements, and birdsong; We forgot how to work with the land and how we can provide well for our local animals and plants so they provide plenty for us; We forgot how the water flows and the sacredness of its source; We forgot how to make homes out of the earth beneath us.

The homogeneous nature of our thought, design and way of life has become (or something only now realized) dangerous and unsustainable to the integrity of all life, including ours.

Mahd, a cradle
The Arabian Peninsula has always been a dynamic and ever-changing region, yet recently, with the advent of rapid development into an oil-based economy, the change has been traumatic. We have quickly stumbled into the mechanical and chemical industrial ages, where our educational, organizational, and spatial infrastructure and systems were modeled on Euro-American perspectives.

This has enabled the region’s societies to propel, within a few generations, in education, monetary wealth, and global engagement, yet has created a stark separation between the old and new, the traditional and the cosmopolitan. Under the pressure of economic, environmental, social, and spiritual instability, we are now forced to reflect upon this “fleeting” past and distant origins.

Mahd is a vision in this moment of time, where a group of people come together to discuss and explore our past, present and future. As an emergent culture-making process, Mahd seeks to find a common narrative of the “ecological human” in the Arabian Peninsula. Mahd is temporary, a cradle, there to hold us together - to give us a collective space to explore how to establish our communities' awareness and action of our place in the web of life - only to dissolve when an appropriate foundation is established.

Much like the child stepping out of her cradle when she is ready to walk.

Our Swalif on Mahd
“Swalif - سوالف” is a contemporary Arabic term used in Bahrain and the GCC (and other Arab countries) describing conversations, thoughts, happenings or stories (with meaning interchangeable depending on context) that happen between people in an unofficial and spontaneous manner. It is derived from the root word “salaf - سلف” meaning what has come before (the past happenings), and in another meaning describes the origins of one’s family (ancestry).

The swalif process lends its meaning to its sister English term “yarn” - in the Cambridge dictionary it means a story, usually a long one with a lot of excitement or interest; those stories usually contain imaginative and/or mythical narratives. More specifically in this context, the process of yarning is inspired by indigenous Australians’ use of the word - here defined by Tyson Yankaporta, an indigenous Australian scholar, in his Sand Talk book as (paraphrased): “The traditional form used to transmit knowledge as a structured cultural activity grounded in story, humor, gesture and mimicry for consensus-building, meaning making and innovation... It has protocols of active listening, mutual respect and building on what others have said, enabling the emergence, not the transfer, of knowledge between people.”

This research project explores the question of our relationship with our land and sea through placing it in dialogue between the research curator and socio-ecological practitioners (anyone interested in the wellbeing of our human and non-human systems) in Bahrain. The curator explores elements of the Mahd question in relationship with the practitioners' current "living inquiry," practice, and/or experience. This "living inquiry" can be anything that is engaging the person's mind, emotions, and body in a curious and/or passionate matter; Something they cannot stop thinking and/or talking about, as they are actively trying to “figure it out.”

Through this dialogue, the attempt is to share knowledge and perspectives to explore potential pathways into dreaming the deep time processes we need to shift our Arabian Peninsula culture towards living in balance and reciprocity with the rest of life. To engage with deep time means to imagine how we will shape our cultural processes and knowledge sharing from now to prepare a ‘mahd’ for future generations to live in intimate participation with the land we inhabit.

This is an emergent and long process, and its purpose is to shape a collective narrative around Mahd’s question, which in itself will change as the conversation moves. The current intention behind these swalif is to co-create, with the Mahd participants, two things: Weave, through the perspectives of many, an initial manifesto under Mahd; and Identify the first form a Mahd community might organize into.

Related Documents

Our Swalif on Mahd proposition, March 2023

The initial Mahd Concept presentation, April 2018