When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

The Desire of the Four Poets

Recited by Ḥājj Dākōn, who transmitted them from Suhayl bir Zaʿbenōt, who himself transmitted them from an unknown source. Transcribed by Sam Liebhaber in al-Ghaydha at the Tāj Plaza Hotel, July 2008.

These couplets are considered to be very old; according to Ḥājj, they are perhaps hundreds of years old. The lines are in the form of short, semistrophic couplets that are similar in form and performability to work songs (ʾahāzīj). Four Mahra living abroad each composed a few lines about what he missed the most about al-Mahra, each one building and expanding on the desire of the previous poet. These couplets refer to the landscape of their native turf deep in the heart of al-Mahra. The dialect is that of the interior bedouin and some dialectal elements may have been lost in Ḥājj’s recitation of these lines.
1a) sād ḏə-līḥawfed // nḫālī ǧōyefIf only [I were] the one following the tracks // underneath Ǧōyef
1b) ām sēn ḏe-ǧtōma // we-ġyūǧ ḏ-īdōlefWhen [if] they are gathering [fem. pl] // and the men are playing the jumping game.
2a) sād ḏə-līḥawfed // nḫālī źālāIf only [I were] the one following the tracks // underneath the wadi’s side walls
2b) yeḥźāź eḥḥəbeybet // tettōba eḫālāHe picks up the traces of his special she-camel // as she goes from tree to tree
3a) sād ḏə-līḥawfed // yermah w-ġellensehIf only [I were] the one following the tracks // at Wadi Ramāh and of its collected material and debris
3b) yešbeyled ḥōdī // ḏ-mōn ḥellensehGetting information at the wadi’s edges // of those who are its inhabitants.
4a) sād ḏə-līḥawfed // nḫālī bir šbōnehIf only [I were] the one following the tracks // beneath Bir Shebōneh
4b) ‘āḳā ḏel-īzōmel // we-ykūn be-mkōnehA land that doesn’t migrate // and remains in its place.

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