honor (1)

Tony Hanna’s Moustache

I’ve been playing the mandolin every day since I got it, and songs like Speak Softly Love (from The Godfather) and For Elena (Cinema Paradiso) are getting easier to follow through. But it seems that between exercises for songs I want to play, I always end up playing tunes that I remember from old times. The introduction to You’re the Love or “Enta el Hob” (Umm Kulthum) is a constant for some reason. It is a catchy tune!

Yesterday I was playing For Elena, and I ended up with Tony Hanna‘s “La thalifini bil shanab“. Don’t ask why, the mind works in strange ways. And after I finished going through it the first time (slowly) I started thinking of the cultural implications of this song. Let me try to translate the first part in English and see if it makes sense:

Don’t make me swear on my moustache
Don’t try to shame me with reproaches
From the bottom of my heart I swear to you
That I will always be faithful to your love
But keep the moustache out of it

The moustache has a very important part of the male look for centuries. In Arabic many idioms, sayings and even curses are related to the facial hair on the upper lip. At one time, the only guarantee needed from a man in Lebanon was him touching his moustache. That was the same as saying “you have my word” or “I swear on the Bible/Coran”. Tony Hanna was in fact saying, you can have anything you want and I’ll offer all the guarantees you need, but don’t even think of mentioning the moustache in a derogatory way.
But in this day and age where men are clean-shaven and won’t live up to their end of any bargain even if it’s written, sealed and notarized, does Tony Hanna’s Shanab/Moustache mean anything?

Here’s one saying I heard from my dad a lot during my early teens (when I had a moustache), translated: if the moustache makes a man, a [scaredy] cat would be the most manly man. [that really needs a better translation!]

Sorry Tony Hanna, this is really not about you. It’s about the image of virility and manly honour you represented in that song.

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