When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

ʿAbd al-Saʿīd bir ʿAfrār (“Shaykh Hamza”)

ʿAbd al-Saʿīd bir ʿAfrār, also known as “Shaykh Hamza,” is closely related to the ʿAfrārī sultans of Qishn and Soqōṭrā and currently resides in Qishn. While many individuals belonging to the ʿAfrārī ruling family who lived in Soqoṭrā were killed by Marxist cadres in the early years of the PDRY and others (including the sultan himself) fled to Saudi Arabia, a few members of the ʿAfrārī lineage remained in relative comfort in their mainland capital, Qishn. ʿAbd al-Saʿīd bir ʿAfrār projects a degree of social privilege, and the size of his house and retinue and the number of guests who enjoy his hospitality attest the residual wealth and esteem enjoyed by the remaining members of the ʿAfrārī lineage.

ʿAbd al-Saʿīd bir ʿAfrār had excellent recall of a large quantity of poetry in Arabic and Mahri that related to political events during the era of the ʿAfrārī sultanate and could speak at length on the historical context and significance of each poem. The recording session that he organized at his home for my benefit — which included a number of other Mahri poets and rāwīs — was one of the most interesting and informative sessions I experienced during my fieldwork.

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