When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

The Rebellious Son

Poem (in both tristich and hemistich lines) composed by ʿAlī bir Erabḫ bir Zaʿbenōt and recited by Sālim bir Salēm bir Ṣmōdā. Recorded by Sam Liebhaber in Jāḏeb, March 2004.

The poet, ʿAlī bir Erabḫ, discovered that his son, Sʿīd, slaughtered a number of kid-goats that he had been put in charge of by his mother and then, according to the introductory narrative, hung their bodies from trees. Sʿīd had grown weary of providing fodder for the kid-goats, an arduous task that requires stripping branches from the thorny šīḳāf trees and then building corrals out of the dense, prickly shrubs. Immediately thereafter, Sʿīd fled beyond the anger of his father to “the mountain people” who welcomed Sʿīd as a guest, fed him generously, and offered to protect him against his father’s rage. While ʿAlī bir Erabḫ is proud of his son’s strong character and defiant streak, his pride is tempered by his son’s evident recklessness and immaturity.

From a formal perspective, this poem was not viewed as a fine example of Mahri poetry because the lines switch between hemistichs and tristichs.

1) tawwen neṭrēd sʿīd // emhūr mhawṣayfNow let’s banish Sʿīd, // who is described as precious gold
2) bāl eḳalb ǧinzerī // we-ššebdīt ḥawrōt // teḳbōl kdēr w-ṭayfThe owner of a heart of steel // and a black liver // that receives filth and bile,
3) ḏe-l-heh men ʿīlēt // lyēk ḏīzlūl // we-mġōr yhawṭayfHe’s not one of the cowards // who makes a mistake // and afterwards surrenders,
4) birt sālem ettəzūm // hīs hōyeǧ be-ḫlē // hād ebōkī teḥseyfThe daughter of Sālim [his mother] stays awake, // watchful, like an angry camel of the empty desert, // (for whom) there is nothing by crying and sorrow,
5) ēr mḏōlel hān bkōh // we-dmeʾsen ġreyfAs for women, they cry // and their tears pour forth.
6) ḏib leh mrawġ ḏ-śir // śwerreġ ḏe-šḳayfThe pangs of mischief arose in him, // the turmoil of the events (or [of getting fodder] from the šīḳāf trees).
7) bōtī men erawmī ṭāt // ḳāt lēsen ehhəḳayf[The kids] were all of one type; // he lay branches down all around them [to hem them in]
8) seḥṭayhem be-skīn // be-ḥdīd hendwōn // emḥallef erhayfAnd slaughtered them with a knife // of sharpened iron, // cutting and razor sharp,
9) ʾād el ġaymeź wel bnēd // ynūfeġ bēhem kel wṭayfHe didn’t have time to blink or close his eyes, // and threw them all to the ground, corpses in heaps.
10) we-mġōren šeṭrūd // men hād twōlī hād // yeḫterīǧen heh sʿayfAfterwards, he fled // from one to another // who organized help for him on the way
11) khēb hṭer eġayl // hel eġōlī yeškeyfUntil he arrived at the top of Ghayl, // where anything precious can be kept safe.
12) ḳath men bellēt w-ḫabz // we-śḫōf ḏ-bōtī nōb // wet yḥaymeh yeśḫayfHis food is of mixed fat and meat, // bread and milk of “The She-Camel of the Bees,” // whenever they want milk, they drink it.
13) w-mātīm berk ekkūt // hel eḳāṣer enweyfAnd his sleeping-place is inside the fortress, // a mountain stronghold,
14) we-mġōren leh ḥarrest // yhātīm b-hāzwōm // we-šnēt līdġayfMoreover, there is a guard over him; // they spend the night at the watches // and do not doze off.

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