When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra


One of the three easternmost districts of al-Mahra that border on the Sultanate of Oman, Ḥawf comprises the narrow coastal strip where the the towns of al-Fatk, Damḳawt, Rēhen, and Jāḏeb are located and the steep coastal mountains — the westernmost arc of the Jibāl al-Qamar — that include seasonal settlements for the horticulturalists and pastoralists who migrate among the inland steppe, the mountains, and the coast according to the season. The mountains of Ḥawf capture rain and fog during the South Arabian monsoon (Ar. kharīf); this carpets the coastal mountains in lush growth for three months a year. Thanks to its seasonal verdure, Ḥawf is considered the most scenic district in al-Mahra and its people enjoy, perhaps, a more easygoing lifestyle than folk elsewhere in al-Mahra. The Hobyot language was once widely spoken across Ḥawf; this is no longer the case.

Thanks to its relatively clement climate, the residents of Ḥawf pursue a variety of seasonal professions including fishing, animal husbandry, and small-scale horticulture. During the kharīf, Ḥawf hosts tourists from Yemen and Oman looking to relax and enjoy its greenery, pristine beaches, and dramatic scenery. The limestone mountains that frame Ḥawf are riddled with caves, and rumors abound of forgotten treasures secreted away in them.  

Among the most numerous tribal and mšōyeḫ lineages that live in the district of Ḥawf are Bayt Kuddah, Bayt Mhōmed, Bayt Raʿfīt (including its shaykhly lineage of Āl Yāsir), Bayt Qumayrī, Āl Bākrīt, and Āl Kathīr. Due to the fact that the shaykhly lineage of Āl Yāsir — the most authoritative arbitrators of tribal-customary law (Ar. ʿurf) — is based in Jāḏeb, Ḥawf was traditionally the destination for Mahra seeking the services of Bayt Āl Yāsir in resolving interpersonal and tribal conflicts.

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