When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

A Message from Sinǧēr

Poem composed and recited by ʾAḥmad ʿAlī Mbarek from Sinǧēr (in the mountains above Ḥawf, not far from Kzeyt). Recorded by Sam Liebhaber at one of ʾAḥmad’s seasonal settlements, March 2004. Translated with the assistance of Thabit al-Mahri (February 2, 2012) and reviewed by ʿAlī bir Nǧēma ʾĀmr Ǧīd al-Mahrī (February 4, 2012) and Muḥammad ʾĀmr Ǧīd bir Nǧēma al-Mahri (February 5, 2012) at the Ṣalālah Hotel, Ṣalālah.

The poet addresses a bird in this poem and asks it to deliver a message to his beloved. He narrates the path that the bird messenger must take to find his beloved: up the śḥeyr (the steep mountainous slopes and deep ravines that face the ocean) to the highland regions of the ḳāṭen (the uppermost ridge of the coastal range that levels off into the plateau and wadi systems of the inland nōǧed). Although this recording is difficult to hear due to ʾAḥmad’s soft voice and ambient noise, the poem was viewed by three of my consultants to represent the highest calibre of Mahri poetry. This appraisal was likely due to the intricate, location-specific lexicon used by ʾAḥmad Mbarek in which he crosses the line between descriptive metaphors and specific geographical designations. While the poem hews to conventional thematic tropes, ʾAḥmad uses metaphors in unprecedented ways. For instance, my consultants praised ʾAḥmad’s description of his beloved’s settlement as a mendīr (“busy commercial port” < Persian bandar) as well as his likening of a road along the highland ridge to a “visible line.” They also commended ʾAḥmad’s discretion: his command to the messenger to speak thoughtfully and hold back some information struck my informants as the height of etiquette and a good use of specific, yet evocative vocabulary.

1) ġlē [sic. ġlēḳ] ṣwākār // ṭāṭ men eṭyīrLook at the falcon // one of the birds!
2) ber ḏ-ḳyīs // ḫā heh l-mōǧīś // we-m ǧed lesfērIt has made a decision // like one setting out in the evening // in all seriousness, [about] to travel.
3) baḫta ḏ-heh šūk // leḳtīleb sʿīf // faḫra we-sinǧērFortunate is he who is with you // I would become your travelling companion // together in Sinǧēr.
4) ʾār ḏ-heh memḥayn // led emettənī lā // le-ḫṭār wel-sērThe one who has been worn down // has no capacity to desire // to go for a walk and head off.
5) ḏ-līḳef bḳāt // melzīm be-mkōn // brek ḫeydīr[I am] one who is sticking to this area // stuck in [this] place // inside [my] little thatch cabin.
6) aḥalyen lūk // šey ezehd ḏ-āḳā // ḥḏōr teḥyīrI’ll explain it to you // I have certainty concerning the land // be careful not to lose your way.
7) ṭar ʾamḳəyōt // mśeb we-ḳfōd // w-bīs śīǧērTake the middle way // going up and going down // there are narrow, ascending paths.
8) w-ḳāṭenyōt // šūk ḥōrem smeḥt // hṭeyres eddērThe path along the ḳāṭen // you’ll have a nice road // keep going along it.
9) erkēt mesǧīd // we-ḳešbāyōn // ḏ-ʾālēy ḏ-kaḥrērWalk to Mesǧīd // and Ḳešbāyōn // in the heights of Ḳaḥrēr
10) w-śōnī šēk // ḏ-ḫaṭṭ w-ʿālūm // we-ḏ-fūḳaḥ ṣbērYou will see the asphalted road // [made] of a visible line // which has divided Ṣbēr.
11) we-ǧreh ṣwēnēḳ // wet ʾaymel effeyt // beyn ḳaʾrērPass by Ṣwēnēḳ // until the road opens up // between Ḳaʾrēr
12) śōnī smōd // ḏek bāl ʾaršīf // men ḫōṭer śḥērYou will see Smōd // the one that has a curve // down below, [everything] is visible.
13) w-śēn meḳṣayd // berkeh heryērSee the shortcut // there is [???] in it.
14) w-ǧīd metḫōf // le-bʿeli ʾāḳōn // merkē w-mendīrAn evening is well spent there // with the folk of ʾĀḳōn // a haven and a trading hub.
15) aḫalḳ ḏ-beh // eḳsāʾ ḏ-rīḥōm // aḫeyr  śǧērThe people there // are the utmost limit of beauty // it’s better for you to be thoughtful.
16) w-hem šeḫbīr // ʾazemhem neṣf // w-fōṣel ḫbērAnd if they greet you // give them half [of the news or the poet’s message] // and explain the news clearly:
17) ʾāmēr śdīd // w-ḳeybel ḥal // we-lbōd meḳśeyrSay: “He is tired and ill // before the solution (?) // and has become a solitary outcast.”

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