When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Race Relations in al-Mahra

An exchange of couplets and poetic lines initiated by Naṣīb bir Saʿdallāh, a Mahri of African descent. Naṣīb had worked as one of three men on a fishing crew, but when they sold their catch, he received a lesser share as though he was one of “nine men.” He complains about this and engages in a poetic exchange with one of his fellow workers.

These lines were recited to me by Suhayl Zaʿbenōt, al-Ghaydha, July 2008. No recording is available.
1) wet hēl taḳṣīm // baḥretyen seytAt the time of dividing the spoils, // [there are] nine fishermen
2) w-rikḥ ykūn // ār ṭār śāṯeytAlthough the labor was // upon the backs of three
One of his fellow laborers, a bedouin from the tribe of Zaʿbenōt:Translation
1) w-sōlem nṣeyb // eġeyǧ effəreytGod bless Naṣīb, // a clever man
2) nḥamk tetrēk // eʾeyd eḳśeytWe want you to leave off // [working with] dried sardines
3) ḏel mens medḫōl // wel ḥōlet nfeytThere’s no income in it // and it doesn’t profit [your] circumstances
4) yā reytek hnēn // tešǧeywer wḳeytWhy don’t you settle down with us // as our neighbor for awhile
5) le-ḥmō ḏ-ḥebrūt // we-mḥallet ḏ-śeytAt the water of Ḥabarūt // and the abode of Wadi Śeyt?
Naṣīb responds:Translation
1) ḏ-ār hōh ḫwefk // w-fezʾak ṭeytBut I’m frightened // and scared about one [thing]
2) ḏel šī dlīl // lew-ḥaydī ḳśeytWhich is that I have no guide // and my hand is “dry” [empty]
3) wet eneddeh // emāz ṣebbetsen ṭeytWhen the shepherdesses take the goat flocks out to pasture, // they are all of one type
4) trebten ḏerf // we-dḥōr ḫūṭeytTightly arranged [against even] a fleabite // and they head-butt the [goat] from another flock.

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