When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Wedding in Ṣaḳr

“Welcoming” collective reǧzīt (Ar. reǧzīt maydānī tarḥībī) recited by three different groups of celebrants at a wedding party in Ṣaḳr, recorded by Sam Liebhaber, January 2004. The first clip contains footage of the different squadrons of guests and hosts arriving at the wedding party and chanting their couplets. This clip is followed by individual recitations of three different couplets. 

Group A:

1a) bālī ṭalbeyye tēk // ḏēd yḳawder w-yehmūm // we-hdeʾ leḳā ṣfēʾLord, I ask you // He who is able and capable [of performing any deed] // and makes [the weather] calm and clear
2a) w-neṣwōl men amweǧ // wet neǧǧem līn lbūd // b-śōn ḏ-habzēʾTaking away the turbulent seas // when the rain-stars are triggered for us // with a sea-storm on the East Wind.
Group B:Translation
1b) ġayber hes tenḳawf // be-źhīr ḏ-ābrōt // tedḫīḫen hayyerēmUnexpected news, you load up // on the back of pack-animals // and travel down the roads
2b) etteh ṣrōme ḥawṣawl // be-mdīnet aḥnōb // hel kesb we-ġlē [*krēm]Until arriving just now // at the large town // where there is profit and gain [*generosity]
Group C:Translation
1c) ġayber śettel ke-nbēʾ // we-śnēǧ ḏ-heh ādīd // rōkeb we-ǧzē ḥmūlThe guests packed up and went with the news // people of dear relations // the traveller has brought [his] kin
2c) w-lyēh mṯemmənīn // yźayṭem erǧəḥāt // we-ḥmul l-boh myūlTo those who are precious // and take the grosser weight // that tips the scales to this very place.
Group (a), the family of the bride, welcomes the guests with a couplet signifying their hope that the journey was an easy one. The poet, Sādayn Kalšāt, beseeches God (bālī) to quiet the waves during the summer monsoon season (ḫarf).  Ṣaḳr is a fishing village and the ocean is closed to traffic during the monsoon months due to strong winds, powerful currents, and ripping tides. Knowing the time of the season is critical for the fishermen of al-Mahra because the ocean can go from placid to deadly in a single day during the transitional periods and stay that way for months. Each month is broken into a period of twelve days, and each period has its corresponding constellation (neǧǧem). The sea storms (śōn) come when the rain constellations are “struck” or “triggered” (lbūd). When the storms do come, they arrive on the East Wind (ezyīb), which is perhaps rendered here with metathesis and the archaic definite article as habzēʾ.

The poet of Group (b), the family of the groom, playfully describes their journey as a type of business trip. Thus, the family of the groom loaded up their beasts of burden and set out as soon as they heard the good news. Ṣaḳr is a small village, so describing it as mdīnet aḥnōb (“a big city”) is probably tongue in cheek, but not kesb we-ġlē [or krēm] (“profit and gain”), which points to both the value of the bride-to-be and also the hosts’ generosity. This couplet can also be understood as a description of the groom who has loaded his camel with merchandise to trade with “the people of the city” (Ṣaḳr) for a profit (his bride). Thus, the groom is depicted as a young man of means and ambition who is willing to take a journey for substantial gain.

In a similar vein, the guests of Group (c) emphasize their kinship to the parties involved; śnēǧ ḏ-heh ādīd and ǧzē are two phrases that signify the closeness of their mutual blood ties. Building on the imagery from the previous couplet, the poet of Group (c) uses the language of the marketplace. Their hosts are thus “precious” (mṯemmənīn), and the poet’s regard is like a scale on which their friendship to the hosts has taken “the grosser weight” (yźayṭem erǧəḥāt). The implication here is that the hosts ought to requite the high opinion held of them by both Groups (b) and (c) in the form of a lunch of rice and meat. In short, this exchange has the hallmarks of friendly banter between close friends and family: humorous, affectionate, and slightly badgering. 

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