Temethel as the most bright element of soqotran folklore poetry

VOL. 42/43 2006/07
pp. 241-248
Vladimir Agafonov

Independent Soqotri language field researcher


(The final draft of 2007. It slightly differs from the finally published text of the article in FO)

To Prof. Alan S. Kaye

Every field researcher of the Soqotri Modern South Arabian language from the first steps in his work on the island will meet these, beloved among the islanders, very useful, sharp-witted short poetry jewels of folklore, which are named "temethel" by the Soqotrans themselves. Temethel (sg. temtilo – bold characters used in this paper for stressed vowels) are mainly four-line stanzas composed mostly in old times. They are the finest examples of the oral folklore poetry of Soqotra. Soqotri has no written form and , likely, did not have it ever in the history staying unwritten and alive for ages. This language exists now as a mother-tongue of Soqotra’s herdsmen, fishermen, and townsmen, being, in Temethel as the Most Bright Element of Soqotran Folklore Poetry reality, presented in a variety of dialectal differences and individual performance peculiarities Above this, when an informant is not familiar with some old words because of his young age, or he is living in a town, not in highlands with tribes, or when he wouldn't like to stop his speech in order to remember the right word, he simply can change the word or the sound with an equivalent or with "suitable" abracadabra, too. That’s why the research in Soqotran poetry items, even in so perfectly composed mostly by unknown poets and so well shaped by time and tradition as temethel are, requires additional efforts and native speakers’ reliable help.

Everyone of Soqotra's men should know a number – as more as the better – of temethel-stanzas, because it helps him to demonstrate his link with the society's tradition and common knowledge. During a wedding or any other celebration gathering, even in the end of 1970s, poetry competitions appeared being like duel exchange with short stanzas between their participants, one after another. The most "educated" was a winner. From our talk with Soqotrans we can conclude, that knowing of a number of temethel (even only one from the top of the short list!) could and will play a role of a password for a field researcher in his contacts with them, especially Soqotran Bedouins. This way you can demonstrate your respect toward their language and culture as well as your knowledge, even a little, of methel d-Siqaéra – the language of Soqotrans.

From the formal point of view, the Soqotran temethel look  similar to Russian chastushki, the short oral Russian folklore verses, also used in feasts when people – men and women from the countryside – are exchanging these four-line songs mostly for fun – often on the verge of decency and/or political loyalty (see chastushki of the Soviet period in 1920-1970s).


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