When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Homesick in Najrān

Dāndān composed by Muṣabbiḥ bir Ḥamtōt bir Ḳamṣayt, who took up residence in the province of Najrān in Saudi Arabia. This poem expresses Muṣabbiḥ’s longing for home after his sons, Nashūr and Muḥammad, returned to al-Mahra. The poem traces the route from Najrān to al-Ghaydha that he hopes to take back home. In the final lines of the poem, Muṣabbiḥ switches topics to address a recent crime: the kidnapping and murder of a member of Kalšāt by number of tribesmen from Maʾrib. Muṣabbiḥ hopes that Kalšāt will rally together to take their vengeance. When Yemeni unification occurred in 1990, there was an uptick in violence in al-Mahra as northern Yemeni tribesmen came to al-Mahra to steal and create trouble for the locals. A number of unsolved murders are attributed to bands of young men from Maʾrib and many of its tribes are still viewed with deep suspicion and hostility in al-Mahra.

This sound file was initially played for me as an MP3 file on a cell phone in the possession of a Mahri speaker from Shiḥn who was visiting al-Ghaydha (July 2008).

1) nḥā b-neǧrān // bālīt ekṯīfWe are in Najrān // she of the sands
2) seh meǧrī lā // w-ḳā mahzīfIt is not on our path // and is a land of narrow mountain passes
3) w-mens yeǧhōm // ke-ḏ-bēr eźyīfHe has departed from it // the one who has completed his duties as host
4) l-ād ār emdīt // hēkā w-zefzīfOnly the cold, southwest wind remains // blowing back and forth
5) mezrūt b-ǧawf // w-źeyḳī erīfIt blows into my chest // and makes the countryside constricting
6) men hād l-āmēr // men śī mhaksīf[Let not] one say // that [this feeling] comes from something actually constricting me
7) k-bīt eslōm // semrēt we-hdīf[Or that this feeling is due to] Bīt Slōm // staying up all night and chatting
8) śī ḳāṭer w-ṣawb // w-mēken ḫǧīfThere is straight talk and correct talk // and a good amount of chit chat
9) ḏ-ār ḥeyb le-ḥbūn // ḳlūb yerhīfIndeed the father for his sons // his heart is forgiving
10) yeshōr we-yśeyḳ // hēm yeškīf[The father] stays up all night and tires himself // while [his sons] sleep.
11) lkēn ennəšūr // we-mḥammed wlīfBut Nashūr // and Muḥammad, his friend
12) hēs śīnem awaḳt // mḥeyḳ we-kšīfWhen they saw that the time // had grown difficult and had left them exposed
13) ʾāzmōh le-nbīt // w-le-ḥtərīfThey resolved to do the right thing // and apply themselves to work
14) lōb sād heḳrawr // men bād sǧīfO happy is he who leaves in the afternoon // after weakness and fatigue
15) lāḳā ke-ġyūǧ // le-sāf yeḫfīfHe would then be with the men // who make things easy for the travelling companion
16) eśśawrəhem ṭāṭ // w-yōtlīfThey are of one opinion // and are of one nature
17) w-ṭawr yerkīb // ḫīlēten ndīfSometimes riding cars // that are empty and ready to go
18) we-krawser ydīn // men wēt ʾāfīfAnd a new Landcruiser // when it takes off
19) w-zimm ḫṭawṭ // fenwēn syīfLifting the road as it goes // stirring up the dust in front of us
20) le-mśēr ʾārūź // w-beh leṭwīfCutting across the expanse // and circling around it
21) we-ḳfōd b-ṣeyḳ // men śī men hyīfIt descends to the wadi narrows // from the steep mountain passes
22) hēl bīt ǧsōs // ġnēf yerdīfTo Bīt Ǧsōs where // groups of people keep coming, one after the other
23) ḏe-lḳawfem ekerr // w-yeškəfīfThey guard the crossroads // and block it [if attacked]
24) we-śrā ṭwēl // wel heh meksīfTheir law is long // and is not constrained
25) we-ḏ-šīhem ḥzey // ykūn be-tśərīfWhoever seeks their protection // is given the place of honor
26) ysenḥem leh // w-ǧōneh ḥǧīfThey protect him // and a wind break encircles him
27) moh ḥell men ḥōl // w-lē meḫwīfWhether a place to stay [due to] a difficult situation // or from fear
28) we-štēba ṭḥawn // śīseh we-ǧśīfAnd continues travelling to Wadi Ṭḥawn // and its irrigated gardens and wadis
29) ḏā ṣalb ykūs // we-yśōlī ṭrīfThere he meets his kin // who bear all sides [to the problem]
30) wēt śī ṯbūt lā // w-ǧeyš enwīfIf there is anything unstable (an emergency) // and [a situation calling for] a big army
31) ykīn b-hāwēl // w-yūtfīfThey are in the forefront // and form a single line
32) yeġtebyen lā // w-lū ketlīfThey do not tarry // and they bear the burden
33) we-nṣā w-ṣeybēn // yeḥmīl ʾānīfHail the brave warriors // who endure the violence!
34) dfē w-meknīn // men ǧawd we-ḫsīfThey are a defense and a shelter // against the downpour and hail
35) we-ṣbēr mehyēb // wāt teh šeḫlīfThe mighty mountainside // when the enemy attempts it
36) yaḥlūl be-mreyt // we-ykūn ḏ-weddīfThey live in Mreyt // and they live right up next to each other
37) men beyn fźey // we-ǧwōrī dkīfBetween the palm groves // and channels that meet each other
38) flōl yeślōl // w-bāź yeḫlīfGroups of people depart // and some stay behind
39) bēr ǧōrem wḳeyt // w-bīhem śwīfTimes have passed // when they had nothing to give
40) w-bāl menśut // wāt teh šeḳfīfPeople of moveable homes [who are hospitable] // even to the one who wears out the welcome
41) yhaḳyem teh // men emhəǧrīfThey give him water // from that which was freshly drawn
42) w-ǧēza feǧǧ // bhīt we-klīfThe giant wadi of Ǧēza // broad and difficult [to those who cross it unbidden]
43) ḏhōbet śyīḫ // we-ykīn ḏ-herdīf[That of] great floods // they are those that follow one upon the other
44) w-meks ḳway // wāt hāl eġlīfBothersome [words] are powerful // when one as had enough [of them]
45) w-ṭeyres mḳīm // w-mōtkīfAnd over it (Wadi Ǧēza) is [its] chief // who shoulders the burden
46) wāt śōret nwūt // men śī men nkīfWhen the rain storms arise // and anything in the way of the stationary clouds
47) eźhūr ḳeywōy // we-yšāzīfThe backs [of the people] are strong // and are steadfast [against them]
48) w-ḥāmel ṯḳeyl // wīka meḥḥərīfThe heavy burden // becomes something that was placed somewhere else
49) ḳdūm heh bāź // w-teh šeǧfīfSome others came to it [the weight] // and lifted it to their chests
50) ḏ-ār kād ḫdōm // ezey lekfīfAll those who work // should protect his flock
51) men bād emwēǧ // w-ḳeźź we-ldīfAfter the waves // and [their] roaring and crashing
52) tlōbed śwōr // we-shīb yeḫfīf[Until] it becomes calm again // and the waves diminish.

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