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Bailey CL., Bedouin Poetry from Sinai and the Negev, London, Saqi Books, 2002.
Bauman R., Verbal Art as Performance, Prospect Heights, Waveland Press, Inc., 1984.
Chafe W., “Integration and Involvement in Speaking, Writing, and Oral Literature”, Spoken and Written Language: Exploring Orality and Literacy, ed. Deborah Tannen, Norwood, Ablex, 1982, p. 35-53.
Holes CL., and Abu Athera S., Poetry and Politics in Contemporary Bedouin Society, Reading, Ithaca Press, 2009.
Holes CL., The Nabaṭī Poetry of the United Arab Emirates, Reading, Ithaca Press, 2011.
Jahn, A. Die Mehri-Sprache in Südarabian, Vienna, Alfred Hölder, 1902.
Kurpershoek M., “Heartbeat: Conventionality and Originality in Najdi Poetry”, Asian Folklore Studies No. 52, 1993, p. 33-74.
Kurpershoek M., Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia I. The Poetry of ad-Dindan: A Bedouin Bard of Southern Najd, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1994.
Kurpershoek M., Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia III. Bedouin Poets of the Dawasir Tribe: Between Nomadism and Settlement in Southern Najd, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1999.
Liebhaber S., “Written Mahri, Mahri Fuṣḥā and Their Implications for Early Historical Arabic”, Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, No. 40, 2010, p. 227-232.
Liebhaber S., The Dīwān of Ḥājj Dākōn, Ardmore, American Institute for Yemeni Studies, 2011a.
Liebhaber S., “The Ḥumaynī Pulse Moves East: Yemeni Nationalism Meets Mahri Sung-Poetry”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, No. 38/2, 2011b, p. 249-265.
Liebhaber S., “Rhetoric, Rite of Passage and the Multilingual Poetics of Arabia: A Thematic Reading of the Mahri Tribal Ode”, Journal of Middle Eastern Literatures, No. 16/2, 2013, p. 118-146.
Musil A., The Manners and Customs of the Rwala Bedouins, New York, American Geographical Society, 1928.
Olson D., “From Utterance to Text: The Bias of Language in Speech and Writing”, Harvard Educational Review, No. 47/3, 1977, p. 257-281.
Palva, H., Artistic Colloquial Arabic: Traditional narratives and poems from al- Balqā’ (Jordan), Helsinki, Finnish Oriental Society, 1992.
Rosenthal, F., The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (vol. 3), New York: Princeton University Press, 1967.
Rubin A., “The Subgrouping of the Semitic Languages”, Language and Linguistic Compass, No. 2/1, 2008, p. 61-84.
Sells M., “Guises of the Ghūl: Dissembling Simile and Semantic Overflow in the Classical Arabic Nasīb”, Reorientations: Arabic and Persian Poetry, Suzanne Stetkevych (ed.), Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 130-164.
Serjeant R., Prose and Poetry From Ḥaḍramawt, London, Taylor’s Foreign Press, 1951.
Sobol J., “Innervision and Innertext: Oral and Interpretive Modes of Storytelling Performance”, Oral Tradition No. 7/1, 1992, p. 66-86.
Socin A., Diwan aus Centralarabian, Leipzig, Otto Harrassowitz, 1900-1901.
Sowayan S., Nabaṭī Poetry: The Oral Poetry of Arabia, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.
Sowayan S., “A Plea for an Interdisciplinary Approach to the Study of Arab Oral Tradition”, Oral Tradition, No. 18/1, 2003, p. 132-135.
Stetkevych S., “From Jāhiliyyah to Badīʿiyyah: Orality, Literacy, and the Transformations of Rhetoric”, Oral Tradition, No. 25/1, 2010, p. 211-230.
al-Ṣuwayān S., al-Shi‘r al-nabaṭī: Dhā’iqat al-sha‘b wa-sulṭat al-nuṣṣ, Beirut: Dār al-Sāqī, 2000.
Tannen D., “The Oral/Literate Continuum in Discourse”, Spoken and Written Language: Exploring Orality and Literacy, ed. Deborah Tannen, Norwood, Ablex, 1982, p. 1-16.
Online Resources Cited (accessed 6/17/2014)
All of the following poems can be found online in the Mahri Poetry Archive - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/
“A Message from Sinǧēr” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/a-message-from-sinǧer/
“Asking a Mother’s Permission” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/asking-a-mothers-permission
“The Charm of Old Age” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/1991-2/
“Desire” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/poems-by-hajj-dakon/diwan-9/
“Dīwān of Ḥājj Dākōn” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/
“The Epic of ʿAnzī” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/the-epic-of-ʿanzi-ʿisa-kedḥayts-pickup-truck/
“Fuṣḥā Mahri: A Short Lyric Poem” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/fuṣḥa-mahri-a-short-poem/
“I Want to Write a Line” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/poems-by-hajj-dakon/8-ḥom-lekteb-ḫaṭ-i-want-to-write-a-line/
“Legal Proceeding in Poetry” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/legal-dispute-in-poetry-divorce-and-remarriage/
“A Message from Sinǧēr” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/a-message-from-sinǧer/
“Ōdī we-krēm krēm” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/ʾodi-we-krem-krem/
“Poem in Hobyot?” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/poetry-in-hobyot/
“She’s a Work of Art” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/shes-a-work-of-art/
“Tribal Ode: Atop the Peak of ‘Aḳəbbōt” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/ʾaḳəbbot/
“Tribal Ode: Atop the Peak of Ṭarbūt” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-atop-the-peak-of-ṭarbut/
“Tribal Ode: Conventional Invocation” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-conventional-invocation/
“Tribal Ode: Gunfight in Niśṭawn” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-the-gunfight-in-nisṭawn/
“Tribal Ode: The Times We Live In” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-the-times-we-live-in/
“Tribal Ode: A Three-Way Conflict” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-a-three-way-conflict/
“Yearning for Baḳlīt” - http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/other-poems-from-introduction/yearning-for-baḳlit/
Al-Ṣuwayān, 2000, p. 68 and Sowayan, 1985, p. 147; Rosenthal, 1967, p. 412-440.
For a history of the scholarship on nabaṭī poetry from Ibn Khaldūn through the present era, see Sowayan, 1985, p. 6-10 and Al-Ṣuwayān, 2000, p. 69-73. In the latter, the historiography of nabaṭī poetry is presented through an historical analysis of the term “nabaṭī” itself.
The historical relationship between the pre-Islamic qaṣīda and modern nabaṭī poetry had been proposed prior to Sowayan (see Serjeant, 1951, p. 55-57, for instance), yet none engage in the same detailed analysis that Sowayan does towards establishing the lineal descent of the nabaṭī qaṣīda from the pre-Islamic qaṣīda. This argument forms the theoretical core of Sowayan’s comprehensive monograph on nabaṭī poetry, al-Shi‘r al-nabaṭī (2000), and is unequivocally stated as follows: al-sh‘ir al-nabaṭī huwa al-salīl al-mubāshir wa-l-mithāl al-ḥayy al-mu‘āṣir li-shi‘r al-jāhiliyya wa-ṣadr al-islām (“Nabati poetry is the direct descendant of pre-Islamic poetry and a living, contemporary example of it”), AL-Ṣuwayān, 2000, p. 93.
Sowayan, 1985, p. 165.
Ibid., p. 147-167.
Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 34 and Sowayan, 1985, p. 168.
In formulating and executing this project, I hope to answer Sowayan’s call – eloquently stated in his “Plea for an Interdisciplinary Approach of the Study of Arab Oral Tradition” (Sowayan, 2003) - for greater attention to be paid to the extraordinary oral poetic heritage of the Arabian Peninsula.
Rubin, 2008, p. 62.
In the pre-modern/pre-Republican era, most Mahra oriented towards Saudi Arabia, Oman and the Gulf states rather than towards the Yemeni highlands. From a social and economic perspective, the semi-pastoralist lifestyle practiced by the Mahra aligned them with the Arabic-monolingual Bedouin from Central and Eastern Arabia far more than the settled farmers of the Yemeni highlands. For this reason, the present study draws heavily from collections of nabaṭī poetry from Northern, Central and Eastern Arabia, such as Bailey, 1991, Holes, 2009 and 2011, Kurpershoek, 1994-2005 and Sowayan, 1985, and less from works on vernacular poetry from the Yemeni highlands.
Holes, 2011, p. 6.
Sowayan, 1985, p. 95.
The Mahri Poetry Archive can be found at the following address: http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/. For the complete text and recording of “A Message from Sinǧēr”, see: http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/a-message-from-sinǧer/. For the complete text and recording of “Asking a Mother’s Permission”, see: http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/asking-a-mothers-permission/.
Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 30-31.
Ibid., p. 26-28.
Ibid., p. 57.
Holes, 2011, p. 10-14.
Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 30-31.
Holes, 2009, p. 19-33.
Holes, 2011, p. 20.
Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 59 and SOWAYAN, 1985, p. 175-179.
Holes, 2009, p. 13; HOLES, 2011, p. 10 and Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 62-64. God is most commonly invoked in Mahri poetry as “The Generous [One]” (“krēm”) in the poetic formula: ōdī we-krēm krēm. The use of this formula is restricted to the Mahri tribal ode and as a result, the formula itself is commonly used as a label for the genre of tribal-historical odes in al-Mahra (/http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/’odi-we-krem-krem). Outside of this specific and formulaic usage, God is by no means absent in Mahri poetry (referred to as “bālī” from Mahri “bāl” [<B.ʿ.L.]: lord); however, the frequency of divine invocations is far less common in Mahri poetry than it is in nabaṭī poetry. Moreover, references to Muḥammad are completely absent in the 64 poems that I have recorded, translated and presented in the Mahri Poetry Archive (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/).
Holes, 2009, p. 11.
Holes, 2011, p. 12 and Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 37.
Ibid., p. 270.
The binary of “oral” versus “written” communication has been replaced by more nuanced models that stress the intersections between written and oral communication (Sobol, 1992, p. 71-72). Thus, while nabaṭī poetry is justifiably described as an oral poetic tradition, conceptual features of writing and literacy may have trickled down to the production of nabaṭī poetry thanks to the prevalence, social esteem and lengthy history of written poetry in the Arabic language.
Al-Ṣuwayān, 2000, p. 187-196.
In working with Mahri-speaking consultants to translate Mahri poetry into Arabic texts, I noted occasional discrepancies in terms of how lines of poetry were heard (not just understood) between them. Phrases and words might be demarcated very differently by different consultants, and sometimes my consultants were unable to isolate specific words within an otherwise comprehensible phrase. I do not believe that this verbal “dark matter” affected the overall message relayed by the poem, nor did my consultants view its presence as a fault in the poem or its recitation. It was simply understood to be a feature of poetry. Insofar as the nabaṭī texts gathered by Sowayan et al. can be read word by word, I believe that a different conception of the communicative act is at work amongst Arabic language nabaṭī poets. Since the Mahri language has no written tradition whatsoever, it is possible that any meta-poetic differences between these two poetic traditions are occasioned by a lettered consciousness amongst nabaṭī poets, who, even if they are illiterate, have doubtless seen their language inscribed, ordered and comprehended as written texts.
Six poems out of the 64 Mahri poems in the Mahri Poetry Archive (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/) feature the messenger bird motif: the three short poems collected under the title of “Asking a Mother’s Permission” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/asking-a-mothers-permission/), “Yearning for Baḳlīt” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/other-poems-from-introduction/yearning-for-baḳlit/), “A Message from Sinǧēr” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/a-message-from-sinǧer/), and “Desire” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/poems-by-hajj-dakon/diwan-9/).
Chafe, 1982, p. 45.
Tannen, 1982, p. 8.
Sowayan, 1985, p. 170.
Holes, 2009, p. 13 and Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 40.
Sowayan, 1985, p. 168-179.
The exception to this are the poems contained in the Dīwān of Ḥājj Dākōn (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/). For instance, the poem “I Want to Write a Line” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/poems-by-hajj-dakon/8-ḥom-lekteb-ḫaṭ-i-want-to-write-a-line/) is framed as a letter written and sent via messenger to the poet’s beloved. Other poems in the Dīwān are structured as oral messages entrusted to a bird messenger. However, the poems contained in the Dīwān of Ḥājj Dākōn are entirely unique in Mahri poetic culture insofar as they were conceived and written down as literary texts by a Mahri-language poet, Ḥājj Dākōn. The thematic and structural shifts occasioned by Ḥājj Dākōn’s adoption of a written poetic praxis is explored in detail in Liebhaber (a), 2011, p. 19-25.
Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 38-40 and Sowayan, 1985, p. 97-98.
Holes, 2009, p. 12-13.
Ibid., p. 172.
Bailey, 1991, p. 46, 52, 64 and 315.
Musil, 1928, p. 283-326.
Palva, 1992, p. 44.
Holes, 2011, p. 85.
Ibid., 2011, p. 136.
Sowayan, 1985, p. 32, 98 [x2] and 114.
The two other poets featured in the third volume of Kurpershoek’s Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia (1999), Nābit ibn Ẓāfir and Bkhētān ibn Ẓāfir, never use the mountaintop motif in the 16 poems between them. The extreme variation between al-Dindān and Ibn Batla on one hand, and Nābit and Bkhētān on the other hand, indicates the importance of personal taste (as suggested in Holes, 2009, p. 12‑13) alongside regional specificities in understanding the distribution of the mountaintop motif.
The following poems in the Mahri Poetry Archive (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/) contain an explicit version of the mountaintop motif: “Tribal Ode: A Three-Way Conflict” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-a-three-way-conflict/); “Tribal Ode: Conventional Invocation” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-conventional-invocation/); “Tribal Ode: Atop the Peak of ‘Aḳəbbōt” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/ʾaḳəbbot/) and “Poem in Hobyot?” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/poetry-in-hobyot/).
Poems that begin with formulas associated with the mountaintop are: “The Charm of Old Age” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/1991-2/); “The Epic of ʿ Anzī” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/the-epic-of-ʿanzi-ʿisa-kedḥayts-pickup-truck/); “Fuṣḥā Mahri: A Short Lyric Poem” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/fuṣḥa-mahri-a-short-poem/); “Legal Proceeding in Poetry” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/legal-dispute-in-poetry-divorce-and-remarriage/); “She’s a Work of Art” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/shes-a-work-of-art/); “Tribal Ode: The Times We Live In” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-the-times-we-live-in/) and “Yearning for Baḳlīt” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/other-poems-from-introduction/yearning-for-baḳlit/).
This is the case for the poem “Tribal Ode: Gunfight in Niśṭawn” (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-the-gunfight-in-nisṭawn/) which opens with a series of geographical locations and weather features particular to the northern flanks of Jabal Fartak.
Jahn, 1902, p. 136 (VII), p. 138 (VIII), p. 139 (XII) and p. 141 (XIX).
Bailey, 1991, Holes, 2009, Musil, 1928 and Palva, 1992.
Holes, 2011 and Sowayan, 1985.
Kurpershoek, 1994 and Kurpershoek, 1999.
Mahri Poetry Archive (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/) and Jahn, 1902.
On the mountaintop motif in Central Najdi poetry, Sowayan writes: “Or the poet may begin his poem differently, by describing his climb to the top of the highest ridge to watch the early departure of his sweetheart with her kinsmen” (Sowayan, 1985, p. 32).
A similar evolutionary process may explain the variation between the highly stylized and formulaic version of the messenger motif in northern and central nabaṭī poetry and its less significant role in South Arabian vernacular poetry. Rather than claim that South Arabian poets adopted the messenger motif from northern poets and subsequently reduced its usage, it seems more probable that an archaic kernel of the messenger motif existed in an ancestral tradition and was retained by northern and southern poets alike. However, the emerging concept of literacy in the early Islamic era caused the messenger motif to flourish in Arabic-language nabaṭī poetry, whereas it remained vestigial in the purely oral milieu of Mahri poetry.
Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 38.
Bauman, 1984, p. 15-24. As demonstrated by Bauman and other specialists of performance theory, the rhetorical cues that initiate an oral narrative performance —poetry or prose— typically offer instruction to native audiences regarding their interpretation.
Liebhaber, 2013, p. 130.
“Tribal Ode: Atop the Peak of Ṭarbūt,” line 16 (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/tribal-ode-atop-the-peak-of-ṭarbut/). The formulas that have accreted to the mountaintop motif in Mahri poetry define the highest rhetorical register of the Mahri language, what Mahri speakers often refer to as Mahri “fuṣḥā” (Liebhaber, 2010, p. 229).
Alternate explanations concerning the distribution of the mountaintop motif relative to the mdīt motif are possible; indeed, it is difficult to determine whether the mdīt motif is encroaching on the mountaintop motif or whether the mountaintop motif is a relatively recent intrusion from the Southern Najd which has been superimposed over an older mdīt motif. Further, variations in the distribution of these motifs amongst the regional specificities of Mahri-language poetry must be taken into account. For instance, introductory storm and wind motifs (including the mdīt) clearly predominate in the 25 poems and poem fragments included in Alfred Jahn’s Die Mehri-Sprache in Südarabien (Jahn, 1902). All of the poems published in Jahn, 1902 are from the coastal districts of Qishn, and as such, maritime, wind and storm imagery constitute their chief descriptive and metaphoric formulas. In this way, Mahri-language poetry from the western coastal regions of al-Mahra evoke Ḥaḍrami vernacular poems, which typically commence with a reference to floods, rain-clouds and thunder (Serjeant, 1951, p. 56). In this way, the two geographically proximate poetic traditions are linked by their shared introductory theme: a surge of wind or water that metaphorically evokes the poet’s own flood of emotion and poetic inspiration.
“The extended metaphor is a well-established compositional device… which allows the poet to expand any of the themes in his poems through the suspension of the thematic development and the embedding of a short narrative or descriptive episode in the poem” (Sowayan, 1985, p. 113).
Kurpershoek, 1994, p. 43-47.
Sowayan, 1985, p. 115.
My phrase “abstract meaning” is equivalent to Stetkevych’s “conceptual correlative,” an idea formulated in her article “From Jāhiliyyah to Badīʿiyyah: Orality, Literacy, and the Transformations of Rhetoric” (Stetkevych, 2010, p. 213).
Ibid., p. 136.
Stetkevych, 2010, p. 211-214.
According to al-Ṣuwayān: [Nisba] lā ba’s bihā, ‘in lam takun al-ghālibiyya al-‘uẓmā, min shu’arā al-nabaṭ al-qudāmā kānū yujīdūna al-qirā’a wa-l-kitāba wa-l-ba’ḍ minhum kānat lahu muḥāwilāt li-l-naẓm bi-l-faṣīḥ (a great many, if not the great majority of ancient nabaṭī poets were literate and some of them had even tried to compose poetry in literary Arabic), Al-Ṣuwayān, 2000, p. 188.
Sowayan, 1985, p. 113.
“Yearning for Baḳlīt”, lines 25-32. (http://sites.middlebury.edu/mahripoetry/publishedpoems/diwanhajjdakon/other-poems-from-introduction/yearning-for-baḳlit/).
Ibid., lines 4-8.Haut de page