When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Prophetic Poetry

The following exchange is popular across al-Mahra because it is believed to attest to the prognosticative powers of poetry (Ar. al-shiʿr al-tanabbuʾ). The exchange involves two poets from the rival tribes of Raʿfīt and Ḥbēs. The poet from Raʿfīt claims that his is unassailable in his stronghold of Ḥawf, while the poet of Ḥbēs counters that, even in their mountains, Raʿfīt is still vulnerable to their enemies who will attack them “like a downpour…from the sky.” Not long after this exchange, the British Royal Air Force bombed Jāḏeb, a village largely inhabited by Raʿfīt, in the course of Operation Simba, which was launched in 1972 in order to staunch the flow of supplies smuggled from the PDRY to Marxist insurgents in Dhofār. A statement made by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG) described the airstrike as follows (Halliday, 1974: 338):

On May 25 the RAF attacked Hauf throughout the day and did not spare any civilian targets: they bombed the school, the medical centre, the literacy centre, and the houses of the people.  Five PLA [People’s Liberation Army] and many women and children were killed, and 6 people were wounded.  On the other hand, two Strikemasters were shot down.

The original village of Jāḏeb was abandoned after the attack, and the ruins are still visible next to the sea.

This couplet is commonly recited by young and old throughout al-Mahra. I initially recorded this poem in Rēhen, October 2003, but the recording was subsequently lost. However, I heard this couplet multiple times afterwards from a number of different transmitters.        

1a) ḥamd ellāh lēk el-ḥamd // šī mǧawnī men eḫawfPraise to God, to You is Praise // I have a refuge from fear
1b) ḫāṣem yelḥaḳḳī lā // b-leǧlīǧ w-bātīḥawfThe enemy can’t come near me // at Leǧlīǧ or the domains of Ḥawf.
2a) heh w-lū leḳā nwōh // b-leǧlīǧ w-bātīḥawfIf he so desires it // at Leǧlīǧ or the domains of Ḥawf
2b) yekhabsen ṣbīb // mḏelleb men eġawfHe will come at you like a downpour // the unceasing rain-star from the sky.

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