When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

The Epic of ʿAnzī, ʿĪsā Kedḥayt’s Pickup Truck

Poem composed and recited by ʿĪsā Kedḥayt and recorded by Sam Liebhaber in ʿĪsā’s house in Jāḏeb, January 2004.

Despite the formulaic opening formulas, this poem quickly diverges from the solemnity of a traditional tribal-historical ode. ʿĪsā Kedḥayt is confronted not with the murder of a kinsman but with the unjust seizure of his car: a 1985 Toyota pickup truck nicknamed “ʿAnzī.” ʿĪsā had left ʿAnzī in al-Ghaydha with a mechanic, a northern Yemeni named Ǧōbān (perhaps from Jubān in Central Yemen) who demanded 270,000 Yemeni riyals (ca. $1380) for repairs. ʿĪsā only had 200,000 Yemeni riyāls which Ǧōbān refused to accept and therefore kept the car under lock and key. ʿĪsā returned to Rēhen to gather the remaining 70,000 YER in loans, (“to massage the udder of the milch-camel” [10]) but was turned down again and again. One milch cow was so stingy that she would “turn away her own calves” [10-12], another had “his head lowered” (i.e., was hard-pressed for cash) and “kicked” at ʿĪsā during “the milking” [13-15]. ʿĪsā goes to six more possible lenders and is met with refusal each time. Some he derides as people who sell tissue paper (klīneks < Eng. “kleenex”) and spices for hot sauce and others as people who lift cinder blocks for a living [18-21]. They are dismissed by ʿĪsā as petty vendors who are too stingy to help him out (“they are all businessmen, but it’s better to be broke” [21]).  ʿĪsā manages to find some real friends: Bakhīt, ʾAḥmad, and Rāshid, who recall how much ʿAnzī was appreciated in Rēhen for giving people rides and offer to return the kindness [23-25]. Finally, ʿĪsā pays a visit to a certain Qaḥṭān who lives “in his fortress, like the rain clouds” [26-27]. The “fortress” is the customs house at Ṣarfēt on the Yemen-Oman border where Qaḥṭān works as the chief customs officer. Qaḥṭān speaks kindly to ʿĪsā and encourages him “to lift up his head” [31], because his pride (and ʿAnzī) will soon be restored to him. Qaḥṭān offers to pay the rest of the repair costs and to “set loose the bond from where it was all knotted up” [32].

The Epic of ʿAnzīTranslation
1) lawb ǧōneš ḥyūm // l-ād ār eġlēsO Sun, you have set // there is nothing except the twilight
2) w-hēlʿayyēn // lbōdem ḥwēsThe small shadows // have all become mixed and faded.
3) ār hōh b-ḫeyr lā // bī mēken ʿākēsI’m not doing well // there is a much agitation within me,
4) hīs hōh w-ʿanzī //  ḫā ṭāṭ ḏ–ḥeybēsFor me and for ʿAnzī // like someone who is imprisoned
5) w-hēl ǧōbān // berk meḥrēsAt Ǧōbān’s // in a guarded courtyard,
6) mhelḳawf b-deyn // b-ḳeyd mīrēsHeld in debt // by the bond of a camel’s halter.
7) ber šēh mīteyn // wel ḳawṭā ḥlēsHe’s already got 200 // but it doesn’t cut off his craving,
8) ʾāsē b-sebʿīn // zimh ǧrēsIf only there were 70 // may God give him trouble!
9) w-hoh b-ḥaywōn // l-ād śī fwālēsIn my lockbox // there’s not even any pocket change;
10) fōn mōren ǧzūr // l-ʿāḳār ʿansēsWe have already massaged the udder of the milch-camel // may God increase ʿAnsēs! [name of a milch-camel]
11) w-ettōlī ḫzūt // w-ḥruhs nśēsBut then she refused // and lifted up her head,
12) w-l-ād bawt lā // ettē l-ḥabrēsShe didn’t even give suck // to her child.
13) we-mġōren ġerhīt // ettaḫf menkēsAfterwards to someone else, // but my arrival (found him) with his head lowered.
14) feźḫōt be-ḥrōh // we-źḥawt hīs yēsDeeply ashamed (?) // [unclear delivery and vocabulary]
15) w-ḥāl ḏe-ḥlēb // bīn māken rfēsDuring the time for the milking // there was a lot of kicking at us.
16) ār tewwen nleyn // eśśawr neḳlēsThat’s enough, let’s go in the late afternoon // we’ll stick to the plan.
17) nāmēd heṭrōf // men ġeyr menfēsWe’ll rely on certain parties of kin // who don’t give excuses.
18) hēm ār yettīt // ḏ-nūka w-ḥēsThere are six // whoever comes (to them) they bat away with their hands:
19) bōlī klīneks // w-bzūr ḏ-besbēsThe Kleenex People // and those of spices for bisbēs
20) we-bkōr ḏ-keśrēb // ślēl we-ḫsēsAnd piles of cinder blocks // that they haul and dump
21) tǧert hem kel // ḫeyr mens flēsThere are all businessmen // but it’s better to be broke than this.
22) ār hoh b-neḳlīn // ād šī hwēǧēsI still have other choices // there are yet ideas in me.
23) bḫīt we-ḥmēd // w-rāšed ḥrēsBakhīt, ʾAḥmad // and Rāshid, may God protect them!
24) ʿāmōrem ʿanzī // w-kōh tḥībēsThey said: “ʿAnzī // why is she locked up?
25) ḥallī w-serbēt // ymedḥem tēsThe people of the district and the packs of children // praise her.”
26) w-lū l-ḳaḥṭān // ḏ-bēr ḫīrēsOr [I’ll go] to Qaḥṭān // the one of the clan Ḥīrēs,
27) be-ḥḥāṣen ykūn // hīs erwēkēsHe’ll be in his fortress // like the rainclouds.
28) ād l-wukbeh // ḥmō ḏe-źrēsBitter water // has not yet entered him
29) w-bēr yembōt // b-źīḳ we-nfēsAnd he’s already been spoken of // in times of need and times of ease.
30) ʿāmūr ʾāmōh // ḥeḏḏōr tehsēsHe says: “Grandfather // take care to listen well!
31) ḥruhk erfāʾ // ām-bēr nīkēsRaise your head // if it was lowered,
32) nenōṯer eḳayd // men hēl ḏe-ʿīkēsWe will set loose the bond // from where it was all knotted up."

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