When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Performance Type

The type of performance that was recorded for each poem in this archive was often a matter of chance because it depended on where and when I happened to run across a Mahri speaker willing to share poetry with me. In a few cases, I was lucky enough to be present at weddings to witness the exchange of chanted reǧzīt couplets (reǧzīt maydānī). At other times, I was able to record a particularly gifted singer performing poems according to their traditional melodies. More often than not, poets responded to my requests for a poem with a non-melodized recitation. The fact that the recording of a poem in this archive happens to be recited (rather than sung or chanted) does not mean that the poem may only be recited. In fact, every Mahri poem can be sung regardless of length or subject matter. Chanted verse, on the other hand, tends to be limited to couplets (reǧzīt or dāndān) that can be performed collectively. Certain types of poem can only be sung; these are work, celebratory, or ritual songs and are closely associated with repetitive tasks. Due to their association with a particular activity (wedding parties, inciting a camel to trot more quickly, or weaving tent fabric), they are rarely performed outside of their specific performance context.

Because collective chanting requires a great deal of social and aesthetic coordination, this mode of performance tends to evoke the greatest degree of esteem among native audiences. It is the most socially charged mode of poetic performance and is linked to the prestigious genres of Mahri poetry: reǧzīt maydānī and chanted dāndān. The topic of collectively chanted poetry is always occasional and meant for public display because the poems are meant to affirm the political, linguistic, and kinship ties of its participants. Because the practice of chanted couplets is tied to the prerevolutionary social order of al-Mahra, collective chants are rarely heard outside of wedding celebrations in present-day al-Mahra. For instance, disputes are more likely to be mediated in a court of law than through tribal arbitration, which formerly involved the disputants chanting poetic couplets as a tribal assembly came to order.

Contents of this path: