When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Hays and the Saudi Prince

Composed, recited, and sung by Muḥammad bir Marṭayf, and recorded by Sam Liebhaber at the home of ʿAbd al-Saʿīd bir ʿAfrār in Qishn, January 2004. The poem is sung to the dānidān melody.

Topically speaking, this poem is nearly identical to the poem “Jamīla and the Sultan” by Raġbōn birt Saʿīd: a young woman’s beauty is praised, and word of her virtues travels beyond al-Mahra, where it captures the attention of a wealthy foreigner. In this case, the non-Mahri is a Saudi from Riyadh. The Saudi resolves to marry her and initiates a massive PR campaign: telephones ring, information is gathered from all points, an airport is built, and gardens are planted where there was once only blank, white desert. Everything is set for his success except that the young men of al-Mahra refuse foreign encroachment on a natural resource as precious as Hays, a “lady of good blood” [2].

Departing from the expected sentimental tone, the poem pivots to the issue of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Thus, word of the Saudi prince’s marriage proposal arrives at the foot of Jabal Shamsān, the extinct volcano that looms over Aden, capital of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Jabal Shamsān, the iconic symbol of southern Yemeni fortitude, will not be moved and “doesn’t allow her home to be violated” [18]. Because the marriage proposed by the Saudi from Riyadh infringes on the PDRY’s territory, the crisis is referred to the realm of international law, where “all the nations have made pacts [to preserve] what is under each” [17]. The refusal of the Mahra to accept Saudi interference and the nationalistic rhetoric of their opposition are likely tied to the border disputes between Saudi Arabia and the PDRY over the oil reserves that both nations hoped were located under their borders. Moreover, opposition to the marriage comes from “the masses” (Ar. al-jumhūr), a term redolent with nationalist-Marxist rhetoric of the PDRY, and their response takes the form of armed resistence: “Their vigor burst forth and their weapons were brought out from storage // heading upwards to get ready for the enemy” [16-17]. Confronting the threat of a “resource grab” by a wealthy neighbor, Muḥammad Marṭayf relies on the nationalist-Marxist rhetoric of the day to defend communal honor as symbolized by Hays, a Mahri maiden of unblemished virtue.


Poem:Translation
1) sīn l-hays sīn l-hays // mōṭī ṭayṭ men ḫšōnYā Sīn for Hays, Yā Sīn for Hays, // a single branch from a sturdy tree
2) bālīt addem eǧīd // we-māǧōbes ār mkōnA lady of good blood // whose good qualities have no equal
3) naṭḳ we-ġrōy ḏ-mens // ḫā eḫawber ḏe-mzōnHer conversation and voice // are like the report of a weighing scale
4) lā tkūs sreh ḫṭaʾ // w-temyēzeh men mkōnYou find no fault behind her, // though you should mark the measure anywhere.
5) tē sʿūdī men eryāḍ // hel ysūken w-yeḏḫōnEven to a Saudi from Riyadh, // in the place where he lives and dwells,
6) śīḥem hēh blōġ // w-amūr le-bōh nkōnThey brought her description // and he announced: “Let’s go there!”
7) ber awelmem heh mṭār // we-mʾawden haydōnThey made an airport for him // and gifts just prepared,
8) berḳīye ber aġyīṭ // we-ḫbēr men kel mkōnHe confirmed it by walkie-talkie // and received information from all points.
9) w-ātūm ḏī-ṣrayf // he-mzēre w-bestōnIn the irrigated fields [around the airport], // they readied farms and gardens
10) we-ǧwōbī entwūr // hel khēn leḳā lbōnPools of water blossomed // where once it was only white.
11) mēken ḏ-ǧemhūr enūf // we-šbāb l-hamtōnBut the masses refused, // young men with strong backs,
12) bōlī yeshīl w-ġayb // we-srīyet mhedfōnA people [for whom] discretion is easy // and who keep secrets buried.
13) hes eweźḥ ettenīn // aṭṭebōbe yemḥōnLike a groan that arises // and disturbs the doctors
14) retted be-mḥawmel kel // šaʾb kelleh hēh w-ḳōmIt echoed in every load (?), // through all of the people and the nation.
15) hwēt šṭelḳōt // we-slāḥ meḫzōnTheir vigor burst forth // and their weapons were brought out from storage,
16) ḫaṭrēye heṭṭeleyn // metʿaddī lūtlōmThey might take them up // and get ready for the enemy.
17) ber ʾāṣṣeb le-dwēl // we-yḳā nḫālī mōnAll the nations are bound [to preserve] // what is under each,
18) ḏ-šemsēn mhaġrayb // le tdūrem eťḫōnAnd Jabal Shamsān is well known, // she doesn’t allow her home to be violated.
19) w-lekēn twōṭī lā // mīrēḥ wlū mlōnShe will never submit to another, // even if the platter is filled (with enticements),
20) fōḳet be-ḥrō yrēs // we-nḥāt hendwōnHer position is fixed // and can even turn away iron.
 

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  1. Hays and the Saudi Prince Recitation
  2. Sīn Hays_sung