When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

I Think They Ate My Cow

Poem by Jumʿān ʿAlī bir Ḳerḥayf from Ḥawf, recited by Sālim bir Slēm bir Ṣmōdā and recorded by Sam Liebhaber in Sālim bir Slēm’s house in Jāḏeb, March 2004. Bir Ḳerḥeyf lived in Ḥayr above Jāḏeb, whose inhabitants pasture their cows between the mountains (śḥeyr) and the inland steppe (al-bādiya). The poem is about a cow, Bir Enēḳa, that got sick and mooed all night long. Instead of treating her, the people of the mountains slaughtered and ate her. Jumʿān wishes that the cow had wandered back home to Ḥayr from the watering hole and had thus been under the care of ʾĀmer and Ḥmēd of the Śrōweḥ, who would have guarded her until Jumʿān could fetch her. Instead, the cow wandered into the wrong hands. Jumʿān suspects that the mountain people found her, slaughtered her and ate her, and later made up the story of the cow being sick. Juʿmān has his suspicions, but he cannot say it outright without proof.

Translated with the help of Muḥammad bir Nǧēma at Funduq Ṣalālah, February 1, 2012, and reviewed by his cousin, Saʿīd Musallim Āmr Ǧīd, nephew of Sālim bir Slēm, on 2/2/2012.

1) bir enēḳa šeh ḥḳabk // men amawref ḏe-śḥeyrBir Enēḳa, I’m sorry for your situation // [that] of the customs of the mountains [i.e., it grieves me that you fell victim to the customs of the mountain people, who ate you rather than returned you to me].
2) heh w-lū ṣdūr l-boh // śnekt we-ḫbūb // lawb yḳāʾen menṣeyrIf she had returned to here from the watering hole // to Śnekt and Ḫbūb [two places located in the mountains above Ḥayr] // absolutely, she would have been "the victor" [still alive]
3) le-śrōweḥ le-ǧreh // hel āmer we-ḥmēd // eḫḫəbēr yḳāʾen ġeyrTo the Śrōweḥ, to pass by them // [to arrive] at ʾĀmer and Ḥmēd [two people of Beyt Bir Šālem whom Bir Ḳerheyf trusts and who are known amongst the Śrōweḥ for their honor] // then the “news” would have turned out differently
4) reyt mhēḏen ber ǧroh // ṭ̌ar hōmet ḏe-ryēm // le-šḳābel enśəġeyrI wish that the alert had reached [them] // atop the peak of Ryēm // to order to face Enśəġeyr.
5) lawb ḏ-yeṭwīyen toh [sic. teh] // eḳḳəlūten ṭāṭ k-ṭāṭ // eṣṣəbīt ḏ-bōlī ḥeyr.Absolutely, they would set forth at night for him // brothers, one by one, // the bravest youth of the people of Ḥayr.
6) ʾadhem ḫezyīyeh leh // eḳḳiṭawr ḏ-bir dwil // w-śenyōna teh b-ḫeyrIndeed, they would have prevented it [the slaughter of the cow] // [steadfast] like Bir Dwil // and they would see [to] it [the cow] that it is safe.
7) ke-ṣwōder hem ǧroh // b-ʿiley ḏ-bōtī ǧēt // meštēba emḥəźeyrWith the animals returning from their watering, they pass by // in the heights of the districts of Ǧēt // they will follow [after them] to their green pasturage.
8) [ʾār moh] hem w-lū frawt śawr // we-ṭwībem ḥanwey // śyōḳī [sic. śīwōṭ?] elṣəḥeyr[recitor’s interjection: and indeed!] If they had slightly shifted their plan // and kept their intentions good  // and branded her with fire.
9) yḳā men alḳeyt // we-mṣaybeḫ essəmōt // ʾaw yḳā rīḥ w-ṭayr[Perhaps] it [the cow] is in [from?] a cave // poisoned by [the bite] of a mṣeybeḫ-insect // Or perhaps from a sickness of “wind” [i.e., gas] or the birds.
10) ḏīma lad tḥawsel lā // we-k-śēher ḏ-hayyərīt // ettəlīk w-hābeyrNone of this is happening // by the light of the moon // they tied her up and took away at night.

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