When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Legal Proceeding in Poetry: Divorce and Remarriage

A poetic exchange between ʿAbdallāh Raʿfīt and ʿĪsā Kedḥayt, recited by ʿĪsā Kedḥayt and recorded by Sam Liebhaber at ʿĪsā’s home in Jāḏeb, January 2004.

ʿAbdallāh Raʿfīt complains to ʿĪsā Kedḥayt, the district judge for Ḥawf, about the ruling of another judge (Muḥammad “the Cobra”) that ʿAbdallāh must wait for three months after divorcing his first wife before remarrying. This practice, known in Islamic sharīʿa law as ʿidda, is normally applied only to women in order to guarantee the paternity of any offspring born after the divorce. Due to the continuance of matrilineal affiliation in al-Mahra until recent decades, establishing paternity was not as critical for the Mahra as it was among other social groups on the Arabian Peninsula, and the ʿidda was not traditionally practiced in al-Mahra. As tribal law (Ar. ʿurf), Islamic law, and a socially progressive civil code that guaranteed equal rights for men and women converged on al-Mahra under the PDRY, Muḥammad “the Cobra” decided to require both parties to a divorce to wait before remarrying as a means of compromising among the three legal codes. Expecting a quick remarriage as permitted to men under sharīʿa, ʿAbdallāh complains to ʿĪsā Kedḥayt about being forced to wait.

ʿĪsā Kedḥayt does not address the legality of ʿAbdallāh’s case but simply chides him for being impatient. ʿĪsā Kedḥayt reminds ʿAbdallāh that he had earlier advised him against getting divorced and counsels him against reckless behavior that will leave him even more miserable. ʿĪsā Kedḥayt suggests that three months isn’t a long period of time and that ʿAbdallāh could use the time to cool off.

ʿAbdallah Raʿfīt:Translation
1) haḳweyyen eḳalb // we-lbūden ḥdīdWe fortified our heart // and became like iron
2) tē ġayw w-rebźā // ġlē ybeddīdEven brothers of the same mother and father // dear to each other, have their differences.
3) ʾār hōh ḥǧennōt // mens waḳt myīdBut I have a small issue // that [our] Age itself opposes:
4) snēt ḏ-kedḥayt // we-ġyūǧ yʿēdīd“The Year of Kedḥayt” // during which the men observe al-ʿidda,
5) b-rišm ḏ–ḥayd // w-źawdeh yeśhīd(Acknowledged) by the stamp of their hand // and with witnesses testifying to it.
ʿĪsā Kedḥayt:Translation
1) lawb ǧawneš ḥyōm // w-hōlā ḳfōd // we-ġśōh b-rehdīdO Sun, you have set // the shadow of evening has descended // and encircled the expanse of the land.
2) l-ʿabdalleh erid // ebir leddēḥ // ḏ-ʾāṣfeh ǧīdI’ll respond to ʿAbdallāh // the son of Laddēḥ // of good repute
3) ʿāmōrem rwōh // w-rōkeb ġrōy // we-bhēl habdīdThey said: “Make a speech // arrange your utterance with meter and rhyme // for a number of words.”
4) we-l-twōl kedḥayt // yhōkel eṭerb // we-l-hān eǧdīdAnd so to Kedḥayt // he bends the branch // with any little thing that comes up.
5) ḫalfōt le ṣfūt // ʾān ār teḥwūl // w-āḳel zhīdNo news has since arrived // if only you realized this // and your mind were discerning
6) mōnā ḫṣōb lūk // nhōr ḏe-ḳfedk // w-mōn essədīdWho has already counselled you // on the day you came you came down to us // and brought you and your estranged wife back together?
7) hīs nekʾak tōn // w-ʿāmerk ḫlāṣ // mḥawźer ǧdīdWhen you came to us // you said “enough!” // to any new intermediaries.
8) śī ḥatmel lā // essemḥem lēn // ʾām-ār tezhīdThis affair doesn’t deserve (our attention), // pardon us for saying so, // if you’ll be reasonable
9) we-mḥammed āṭōf // šēh škī men ḥayṭ // w-heh mhebrīdMuḥammad “the Cobra” // with a sword from the mountains // and razor sharp
10) wezmūk destūr // ḳānūn ḏ–ḥellēt // kel śī meffənīdHe gave you a constitution // a law for the land // everything has been detailed
11) lūk ār śāṯeyt // we-mġōren ṭlēḳ // l-ād ṭeyrek rśīdYou only have (to wait) three months // and afterwards you’re free // and there’s no one supervising you.
12) ʾār hēt eṭwilk // ḫayr men snēt // teḥfōl we-rdīdBut you’ve drawn out (the issue) // (as though) it were more than a year // it has already ripened and then you bring back again.
13) ḏēk ār ṭebʿath // eḏ-bēr effəlūs // yeʿmōl ekdīdIt is the nature of a man // who has gone completely broke // to stir up complaints
14) ykeys be-hnefh // w-yewsewūs // b-fōl ḏ–ǧīdHe finds something within himself // that whispers to him // with fancies of the good thing (he lost).
15) we-tḏelhen leh // dmā men ʿayn // hṭēr ḫdīdThey pour out of him // the tears of his eye // upon his cheeks
16) l-ād heh ḏ-hōṯūḳ // ḥāṭḥawlī // wel nūkā ǧdīdHe didn’t hold tight // onto his first good fortune // and nothing new has come.

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