Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Darbawiya-The Saudi Punks

Remember the "Anonymous Saudi Man" who shared with us his insightful thoughts on tribalism, love and marriage in Saudi Arabia? (You can read that post here.)

I'm so excited to share Saudi Man's candid thoughts on Blue Abaya for the second time.
I really enjoy his open and to the point approach of analyzing the Saudi culture. This time he's bringing a very interesting and unheard of phenomenon to our attention. In his article Anonymous Saudi Man analyzes the sub culture of  the so the called "Saudi punks", the Darbawiya, in Saudi Arabia and its parallels in the west.
It's my first time to hear the term 'Darbawiya' and to learn such detailed descriptions from what is their drink of choice to power dynamics and sexual preferences.

Please leave a comment on the bottom and let him know what you think!

Darbawiya And Punk

"I like to consider myself an observer of western and especially American subcultures. I am Saudi/American but I always find other sub-cultures fascinating. I have hung out with punks, emo, classical hippies as well as neo hippies, Hip-Hop followers from underground to Hip-Pop (yes they branch out), pop followers and with anyone who really identified themselves as a sub-group of society. It was fascinating and very entertaining. When I got back to Saudi Arabia I found that I got detached from such interactions, this is part of why I get bored in Riyadh. Lately though I have discovered a sub-culture in my own backyard that I have never observed from a foreign eye. Those are now called Darbawiya, or “the people on the path”. They are a group that share lots of parallels with the punk culture in the western countries. I will, in this article, define both and talk about their parallels.
So what is punk?

This is a very debatable question, but lets summarize my observation in a couple of points that define “Punk”

     resistance to authority
     lack of sense of danger
     listen to high tempo rock music
     shocking and alternative fashion
     glorification of anarchy and chaos
     glorification of being unrefined culturally
     alternate sexual preferences
     Distinct Brands of Beer that they consume
     some are highly self educated

To me, this is what defines being Punk, regardless of fashion or music you listen to. The punk culture became more of a “for show” scene these days, but many still hold true to the punk spirit. Punk can be a positive force in changing societies and forcing them to question social norms. Sadly punk also became synonymous with substance abuse.

So who are the Darbawiya?

Darbawiya in their modern form have always existed under different names. They are a group of male Saudis in the central or eastern parts of Saudi Arabia, they probably exist in other areas too. They are usually from low income, uneducated families and they really didn't have a chance to become something. They lived a more simple and primitive life compared to city folk and still held tribal values strongly. They are young men who usually competed with each other on more traditional masculine testosterone driven traits and challenges like physical strength or fearlessness in the face of danger. This translated to their love of drifting with cars dangerously, love of firearms, constant fights and glorification of old tribal feuds. Like in most male dominated societies, many prisoner social dynamics start showing up. For example, domination of softer males through homosexual acts, similar to those that we see in high security prisons. These acts do have a presence in the darbawiya scene.

These people were called many things in the past, some call them bedouins, “sand dunes”, or nomads by city and educated folks. I was surprised to hear that lately they started to call them elves, “Darbawiya”.

So where does the word “Darbawi” come from? 

It's relatively new. After doing a little research I found that it's in reference to a web forum called “darb alkhatar” or “path of danger” where people post their drifting videos and talk about their adventures with other people from that same group. So people who attended that forum regularly started calling themselves the “Darbawis” or “Darbawiya”. Soon everyone who shared their interest started having the same name. I also backed up this theory by asking many people who have interacted with Darbawiya.

How is that Punk?

Darbawiya have some traits that are very similar to Punk. So what are the shared traits you ask? 

     Resistance to authority
Many Darbawis do illegal drifting and escape from police and drink and drive as a way to prove their “I don’t care” and “I don’t give a F***” attitude, which is the core principle of being punk. Some of them also hold illegal firearms. Since at its core darbawiya are more traditional, they still hold tribal authority dear to them and stay close to their tribal roots, which is a contradiction that is very fascinating to me. I wish to dig deeper into that one day. It would be an interesting topic for the discussion at the bottom.

     Lack of sense of danger
High speed Drifting is scary enough, especially when people die regularly as spectators to races at illegal drifting parties. Also drinking home made alcohol, smoking cigarettes hashish and shooting guns while drifting is an extreme challenge for many darbawis.

     High tempo music

Many love more traditional songs that are sped up to be on high tempo. Of course there are some known musicians that Darbawis hold to higher levels, like “Azazi”. Sped up traditional music really resembles how punk might have started, and it has become a core Darbawi trait. Many sub-cultures get defined by the music they listen to, and this is no different with Darbawis.

     shocking and alternative fashion

Darbawis wear traditional garments and thobes. They choose not to wear fancy thobes or designer shoes, but rather wear really cheap traditional clothing and cheap eastern sandals, which makes them look raggedy and dirty. They also started showing up wearing only their undergarments as to shock people. They often use their shumaghs to cover their faces. that is also very punkof everyday life, and tend to commit many traffic violations.

     glorification of being unrefined culturally

This is a new trait that I started noticing, being proud of being uneducated or being from unrefined backgrounds is a really scary thing to see glorified. Here is where I see some differences between darbawis and punks. Most Punks have a cause or a purpose. Some of the punks I have met are highly educated and opinionated about politics and are very aware of the political atmosphere, but with Darbawis, it's different. I can’t help but wonder, will an educated few from them be the leaders of the pack in the future? Will it evolve to a movement with a cause later on?

     glorification of anarchy and chaos

I think that goes without saying with the first point I made. Glorification of anarchy and chaos gives them more credit in the resistance to authority arena. They don’t follow rules of ignorance. Being uneducated is a good thing for them as that feeds into the first points again, resistance to authority.

     alternate sexual preferences

In high security prisons we find people abusing others in homosexual acts due to power dynamics. Sometimes its not about the sexuality but about the power trips. This happens with Darbawiya. Not all of them participate in this of course, but there are some incidents that rose that supports this as a thing that happens in the scene of darbawiya. To me what people do behind closed doors is their own business, but once rape and pedophilia comes into play it starts to get disturbing. Many kids go to these Drifting parties that darbawiyas organize and they seem to get mesmerized by these “strong” “manly” men who do these dangerous things that they start following them and idolizing them. In many cases this leads to pedophilia since at the end, prison dynamics take place and the man with the most “pets” gets to be the most manly.

Distinct Brands of Beer that they consume

While there is no Brand of beer being sold in stores in Saudi, many Darbawiya drink home made alcohol called Araq mixed with their most popular drink, Miranda Citrus. Miranda Citrus has become their Drink of Choice, many drink it warm to show their devotion to the scene.

As for education, this is where I find the difference between Punk and Darbawiya to be strong. Darbawya might not have the education or political awareness as punks, actually they are far from that, but if some of those started to be more aware politically or highly educated, it might lead to a very unique punk movement in Saudi Arabia.

Well there you go everyone, my own observation on what the punk movements and darbawiya sub-culture have in common. Leave your comments below and lets start the conversation!"

-Anonymous Saudi Man


Kristine said...

Very interesting article! I was unaware of the label of this sub-culture.
When I first visited Riyadh in 1999, I was suprised to see some teenagers dressed "gangsta". They would hang out in front of a certain McDonald's that we frequented. I aways had the urge to roll down my window and shout, "Ya nu-nu, ya nu-nu, w'aish foge? Yo baby, you baby, what's up? :-)

Anonymous said...

Are all Darbawiya single or are some married? Also I believe the population in the gulf area is very young; is the birthrate such that groups, such as these will be increasing in the next decade?

Thanks so much to both the writer and Blue Abaya.

Regards, Annie

Layla said...

Kristine-I was very surprised about the gangs too, they all have the same clothes and look like american hiphop singers rather than Saudis! They even have matching shirts made with logos like "The tigers" lol

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how the anonymous saudi man know all these things :p is he a darbawi or his friends are??

Anonymous Saudi Man said...

I observed their forums and read reports from people who have been to their gatherings.
as well as seen videos and met some of them during school years as well as later on.

Asma said...

This is a truly interesting post. Being a British Indian Muslim means I have seen a variety of groups in different places that each have their own practices but nothing like the Darbawiya! It was fascinating to read this especially from the point of view of a Saudi man. I feel that young people are starting to behave this way in order to express themselves and their desire to go against conformity. By behaving in ways that we would call "absurd" they feel that they are unique to everyone else and this may be a result of social, religious and sexual frustration. It may even be argued that they are "rebellious" as all that they are doing is a perfect reflection of what is the total opposite to Saudi Arabian norms and the expectations Arab culture has from youth. Just a thought :)

Anonymous said...

are darbawiya the ones responsible for the drifting and other crazy videos we see on youtube? I thought they were just call bedus?Pretty disgusted actually about the sexual practises but I recall reading an article years back about how common the gay sex is in KSA. There was a man in Jeddah explaining how they meet at cafes or bluetooth.
any ideas how darbawiya meet sexual partners and how can they even be so many gays I just assume that Saudi is so strict?
Anyways this is interesting so thank you for posting!

Dianne said...

Interesting article. Thanks for giving us your insight about this.

Every country or culture has their own "punks" but I'm surprised that they (correct me if I'm wrong) refuse to be educated. Also, their sexual preference is disturbing since they tend to have "pets" and juveniles tend to idolize them. I'm ok with gay people but, like you've said, if pedophilia is involved it's a whole different level.

Are there other kinds of punks in KSA? Or is it just the Darbawiya?


Anonymous said...

are these darbawiyas in the military? i know that rape of men is common in the saudi military.

Umm Gamar said...

I am not sure of the tone of this article but I hope it is not about promoting anarchism and sick social behavior like drinking, drifting and reckless driving, and breaking human norms. I appreciate the effort to make aware of the topic though. Just hope it is not promoting juvenile mayhem.

Layla said...

Umm Gamar I have no idea how anyone would take this as promoting of the darbawiya.. Myself at least find this phenomenon mostly disturbing, somewhat sad, and partly disgusting.

Layla said...

Great thoughts Asma, thank you for sharing!
They certainly seem to be doing everything they possibly can to go against the cultural norms here.

Layla said...

Dianne and others, thanks for the comments and questions, will await Saudi Mans reply, am also curious to know the answers!

nicole said...

so interesting! i think this is something my husband knows about but hasn't really talked to me about, lol...a few days ago we were in tamimi and the two young guys behind us were checking out with a cart full of miranda. my husband shook his head and said, "stupid kids!" i was like, "what?" he said, "they're obviously going to get wasted!" i had no idea how he knew that...despite his years of saudi teenagery, i'm pretty sure he's never been a "saudi punk." :)

Anonymous said...

This is so sickening, seriously these young boys who put others lives in danger by driving recklessly will all hopefully kill themselves in the process as well as those dumb enough to be watching by the side lines. They are all cowards in my eyes..acting so shocked and saddened when they witness arms and legs flying around..really?? didn't you see that coming?
The sexual lewdness that was spoken about is so disturbing. The concept doesn't make sense? Playing copy cat with that of a prison system where there is a hierarchy and men are raped in accordance?? Sounds like a lame reason. Maybe they are just pedophiles; lets not try and make excuses for it.
Ya Allah destroy these animals inshallah ameen.

bigstick1 said...


Umm Gamar said...

Ah I apologize Laylah. I was swayed by the intro that you wrote. Certainly the darbawiyas and punks are not something Saudi needs nor any country for that matter. Saudi has too much social problem as it is without anarchists added.

Layla said...

Reply from ANonymous Saudi man to above comments:
"about being single, I dont really know, but I would assume that they are until more information could be dug up.
some darbawiya are in the military, but they keep their identities a secret and use aliases and nick names
darbawiya are the ones responsible for the crazy drifting and stunt yes
darbawiya is just one of the names that they are called by these days
as for different types of "punk", I would think that most of the attempts are just to copy other culture's fashion and not copy the true essence of what is punk.
I find darbawiyas having the closest attitude to punk movements in the west
as for promoting anarchy and this type of behavior. I try not to be biased with my observation. as someone who is trying to understand a group of people you cannot really be judgmental or encouraging of their acts. just observe and try to be as neutral as possible."

Layla said...

another one from him:
"going back to the different types of punks, I actually do think there is a more "punk attitude" movement, but its less extreme and actually very intelligent. I would say its more social activism which could be considered "post punk movements". those are usually exist on the cyber online space mostly."

Layla said...

Nicole-thanks for the comment, so it seems your husband does know something more than he is telling you ;)
Did you ask him about the darbawiya yet?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post Layla. I was told about the Darbawiya recently and I was told they're the people behind the driving stunts and drifting. However, I was surprised about the music and dress. And the sexuality? I've never been told this by any of the people I know, especially 'shabab' friends. Has anyone else got more to say about the Darbawiya?

Dianne said...

"some darbawiya are in the military, but they keep their identities a secret and use aliases and nick names
darbawiya are the ones responsible for the crazy drifting and stunt..."

Isn't that quite dangerous? Military men doing dangerous stunts and chaos as opposed to keeping order in the kingdom?
Do you feel like there's a good chance that they might use their experience in the military while being a darbawiya? Like the use of firearms or they might get carried away in using their authority to other people (while keeping their identity secret).


Layla said...

Reply from Saudi Man:
"sadly most military or security personell are from less educated families. thus the darbawiya mentality can easily take over.
military personel can get access to alchohol as well as fire arms very easily
but they also get harsher punishments when caught
even though police and military personel do cover for one another in case something happens
nicknames are very popular amongst darbawiya
for that reason, and for the reason of things not coming back to haunt their tribes."

Anonymous said...

I work with Saudi Military daily and I am AMAZED at the level of disregard for laws and authority among these men. They want to take on the American freedom but ignore their religion and any other laws. It is sad really because I respect Islam so much even though I am not Muslim. I pray that these guys will find a good path, but it is sad to see and hear from these guys after they have left my class. Many of them go crazy and probably continue this behavior back in Saudi. He is correct about the education of some Saudi military. Some of these guys have a minimal education and also a minimal understanding of cultural differences but are so tribal. It is sad really, but I think this rebellious nature is a way for the young Saudi men to have an individual identity without shaming their family. Everything is done in secret and they keep it under wraps.
It makes me sad because I want the best for these guys, but this sub-culture comes on when they visit the USA very easily.

Coolred38 said...

Now the interesting thing would be whether the females of Saudi have similar adventures?

Dianne said...

Thanks Anonymous Saudi Man! That's really an informative piece and thanks for answering my questions.

Laylah, you should tell him to do his own blog or to be a contributor here in your blog! He's like a detective and he writes really well :D


nicole said...

i did ask my husband about it! he said, "the word 'darbawiya''s just about being a stupid kid with your friends. like if your friends say in the middle of the night, 'let's go to bahrain!' then you go to bahrain. if your friends say, 'jump in a hell,' then you will jump in a hell. this 'darbawiya''s a very cute word, a very formal word. it doesn't mean gangs or subculture or whatever." in other words, most teenagers, anywhere in the world, are "darbawiya" at some point. :) he says better, more slang words that apply to the male saudi youths as described in the post is "mut'asa" or "mahnasa."

Layla said...

"I do not think that there are woman who take this culture seriously.
I do think that some girls try to mimic these guys in clothing or attitude as a joke or just for the sake of doing something outrageous, but I do not think they participate in core darbawya activities."

Anon Saudi

Anonymous said...


Now I get it. These punks might be the ones behind the alleged stalking that I mentioned on my blog :)

Layla said...

Reply to nicole from Anon Saudi:

"he says better, more slang words that apply to the male saudi youths as described in the post is "mut'asa" or "mahnasa."
this is a very expected response from someone who is from my generation too
as those terms that you described are terms that outsiders of their cultures used to call them, and still do. they are also negative terms that mean "sand dune" or something that degrades that group. there fore, they came up with the word Darbawiya.
to describe themselves of course

from an outside observer's point of view, lots of kids are mimicking darbawiyas with fashion or attitude but dont really involve themselves in any dangerous activity. We also see this with punk movements around the world too. most of us have been sort of "punk" while growing up, but that doesnt mean that punk is not a way to describe someone who is truly involved in the culture.

many older folks like me who have seen these group of people before they called themselves darbawiya tend to brush off new changes within their movements and assume that our older knowledge and terminology is what holds true when the younger generation is much more dynamic and is deeper that what we think.

your husband is right that a lot of group of kids call themselves darbawy but they dont involve themselves in dangerous activities, but that also doesn't mean that the core group they are mimicking dont exist or dont call themselves darbawiya too.

Kwiaciarnia Poznań said...

Czytam twoje posty. Są na prawdę przyjemne.

nicole said...

i don't think that my husband was saying that the core group of "darbawiya"--saudi punks, however you want to refer to them--and their movement don't exist at all, but i do think it's treading a line to suggest that all saudi guys who drink miranda citrus or a certain type of beer, wear a shmagh over their faces, have their music loud, or wear raggedy, dirty sandals are dangerous "darbawiya" who imitate prison sexual hierarchies and advocate for anarchy and not know, saudi teenagers. it's easy for outsiders--and by my use of that term, i'm referring to people who are not saudi and don't interact with saudis much--to see a kid imitating the "darbawiya" style and consider him somehow dangerous. of course, the same concept exists in the states--there are some groups that are truly "punk," truly into the music, the subculture, etc. (and there are offshoots of such cultures, like straight edge), and then there are kids who imitate them in certain ways but aren't really involved in the core of the movement, nothing beyond superficialities like music, clothing, etc. the number of people who are truly involved in the dangerous elements of "punk" culture(s) is pretty low (and i say that as someone who was a superficial pop-punk in college--i was a pretty sad excuse for a punk, lol, but my best friends were much more hardcore).

Layla said...

hey "sahar" I'm not going to publish your idiotic comment and btw I caught your IP address so you can stop pretending you're Saudi when in fact you're from KL Malaysia.

Dianne said...

Lol! I wonder what this "sahar" put in the comment section?

Laylah, you should do another blog about people who make comments on your blog just to bash you or just plain being annoying. It's a good way blow off steam. ;)


Layla said...

Hi Dianne, it was so pathetic it's not even worth a mention. I feel sorry for her, poor woman! Must be a tough life.

Unknown said...

OMG!! I'm hearing about Darbawoyah all times, but I didn't know anything. I thought they are silly boys. Thanks Laylah!! Apparently, you are more Saudi than I am:)

Layla said...

Anonymous Saudi Man reply to Nicole:

Quote "but i do think it's treading a line to suggest that all saudi guys who drink miranda citrus or a certain type of beer, wear a shmagh over their faces, have their music loud, or wear raggedy, dirty sandals are dangerous "darbawiya" who imitate prison sexual hierarchies and advocate for anarchy and not know, saudi teenagers."
you are right, that is just common sense. you cann't really find anyone wearing urban street clothing and assume they are thugs. Your mention of straight edge is pretty interesting as I am seeing a simular trend in the darbawiya sub culture too. i still didn't analyse them as well as I should, will probably update this post when I do.
with every movement there is a much more mainstream movement that is less about the values and more about the fashion. This is just the basics of any subculture and I expected the readers to be aware of this.