When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

The Times We Live In

The following are the introductory lines of a dāndān tribal ode by an unknown poet from the interior of al-Mahra and sung by an unknown performer (possibly the poet himself). I believe that the recitation is incomplete and therefore the topic of this poem is obscured. Although this recording does not specify the event that occasioned the composition of this poem, I believe that it merits classification as an occasional poem. The metrical scheme and melody to which this poem is sung was referred to by Ḥājj as yēd w-yēd (DAN i DAN, or | – ˇ – |). The rhyme letter is /d/ and /ṭ/, indicating the coalescence of these two phonemes in pausal position.

This recording was played for me on a cellphone in the possession of a Mahri speaker visiting al-Ghaydha from Shiḥn. I transferred the recording to my own digital audio recorder by placing the latter against the cellphone’s speaker while the clip played.

1) hayye bīš emdīt // rēhī men eġawṭWelcome to you, Mdīt // refreshing breeze from the middle of the sea!
2) hāwēl ḏe-rbē // šīs ḥell mawʿūdThe first appearance of Rbē // has happened at its appointed time
3) nekśōt hǧīs // ḏ-hēm šbawṭIt aroused feelings // that were still under wraps
4) hēm fōn yūḳayf // rīhōf ḏe-ǧmōdThey had stayed still // slender and unmoving [“frozen”]
5) ḥōm lāmēr beh // lenṭeyren wrawdI want to speak about // it in order to make the roses [feelings] blossom
6) men ḏōbel nwōź // we-ṭrēf yehdawdFrom the direction of the lightning // and the direction [where] it thunders
7) w-ḥōm slōm // be-ḳlēm we-śhōdI want peace // [as testified] by the pen and witnesses
8) w-rēḳem ṣḥeyḥ // ḏel heh yhenġawṭA correct accounting // which will not cause [any one] anger
9) le-twōlī le-sʿīd // ḥrō w-ʾāmawdAnd after this, to Sʿīd // the head and the spinal column (i.e., an important, responsible man, Ar. al-marjaʿ)
10) yśeyləsen kell // we-l heh yeśśədawdHe carries them all (virtues) // and is not incapable [of anything]
11) w-ġawheh kell // ṭrūf yeśdawd[For] all of his brothers // he represents [all] parties
12) hābūn māyōn // wel fōn yeśṭawṭThe people are flowing springs (some goods, some bad) // but Sʿīd has never “overflowed the limits”
13) hṭeyr besṭōn // we-ḏbōr we-ḥdawd[Standing watch] over the garden // [protecting] its soil and borders
14) we-nḥā men khēn // bēnwēn tḳeyyōdAnd we, since time immemorial // tribal rules [are followed] among us
15) ṭeyr śēra w-ṭawl // w-ṭeyr mezhawd[Remaining] atop the Sharia and its entire scope // and atop intelligent ideas
16) men bād hawlōʾī // eə-ṣfēf we-ǧdawdEver since the very first ones // for generations and [since our] ancestors [we have preserved our laws]
17) ʾār waḳten ḏēh // ġśōh l-mezhōdBut this time of ours // has overturned wisdom
18) šenhawl eṭmā // rōyā l-meḳṣawdInconsistent ambition // has vanquished the [steadfast] intention
19) w-kām men ṭnōḥ // le-bdēn yerźawdHow many people follow [the ambitious] // and hack [my] body to pieces (people who cause the poet problems)
20) wśawr ḏ-lūḥeyn // wet tēhem nḳawdIn putting together the planks to make a boat //  at that time, he chooses the best of them.

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