TEMETHEL... THE VISITING-CARD OF SOQOTRA

(by Vladimir Agafonov)

Temethel (sg. temtilo) are mainly four-line stanzas composed (but not written because the Soqotry language has no ABC) and staying alive for ages, may be from ancient times.

Everyone on Soqotra should know a number of temethel-stanza, because it may be nessesary for him to demonstrate this knowledge. When there is a wedding or any other feast and islanders meet for celebration, a poetry competition may occur, which is a duel like exchanges with short stanza between participants one after another. Who knows more is the winner.

The topics of temethel can be different - from general philosophy and common sense ideas to deriding some tribes or rather erotics. Here are some best known Soqotry temethel-stanza from our collection - in Soqotry transliterated form and with our English translation corresponding to original (the black vowels in Soqotri texts are places of stress):

Temethel qa'onhen................ The indistinct proverbs

Beshol hayefeten:................. Are all very fine things:

Yisheyn-sen d-bi dehan, ........The clever will hear them,

D-bal dehan y'ayhof-sen. ........The stupid will lose them.

L-'am shi 'irhon delak, .............If I have lots of goats

Lot s`ka' de-'rfonten,............... As much as thorns in prickle

Lot sela bi-renhem,................ As much as fish in waters

Hamre d-bi rikibe................... As much as slimes in morass.

Ta'aboren we ts`inin. ..............Let you look and you rather see

'irhon di we l-oken. .................Goats here and which soon will be.

We 'ag ye'ober 'agi ................But the man sees a nobel man,

Ma'lhe ko we l-osim. ..............If he died, as he's here again.

Different rhymes are a matter of importance in Soqotry poetry. That is why we tried to translate these temethel in rhymed form. [TOP]

Among themethel there are some stanzas composed on the base of traditional Soqotry legends. One of such stories tells that one night there was a battle on board of a ship sailing in the sea. A lot of men were killed and the little bird which was sitting on the mast began to sing taking the bloodshed for sunrise. That legend we can see

Bidish hit,firgit,"al s`inish, ........Lied you,little bird,you didn't see,

Sah nigish "al 'ibirsh. ..............Early morning you didn't see.

Dir di-shhar s`inish - ................Blood of men you just have seen -

Yitehan hashan. .....................It's a work of swords.

Not only legends or works of the heros are a matter of this kind of but they also give pictures of human ethno-cultural life featuring some aspects of relationship between woman and man:

Zehe het 'an metate?- ............Curcumcised are you or not yet?-

"iddah "inhi, Digawas`! ...........Tell me please, Digawah!

Zu'a megedhel hi-ki ...............Take the burnt stick with us ahad

L-eqoleb (h)-es le meyrhir! ..... Let us two make it burning!

One of the known tribes of Soqotra is the tribe of Keshen. Their legendary patriarch, as they say, was Hagi Rahabhen. One - the most famous - legend of this tribe tells that the Keshen tribe descened from a white woman, possibly European and Christian (Frank), which was kidnapped by Hagi when Franks were on the island and soon became his wife. [TOP]

Another legend of Keshen says that there were two flying monsters or giants on the island called Rebehine. Hagi Rahabhen succeeded in killing them by sword crushing their bodies. And when he was asked what price he would like to take as a reward he said he did not like anything but a poem! Now here it is:

Hagi, Hagi - min torinek! ...... Hagi, Hagi - you're a kingfish!

Notemod lqoteten. ............. We just gathered trophies.

Zu'e min 'il-har tebete! ........ Take the best for you as you wish!

Shigdahk Rebehine. .......... You crushed monsters bodies.

In Soqotran temethel there are some examples in which its unknown author stresses his own pride and independancy:

'ak 'ahamil li noffin ............... I shall take upon myself

L-ighom to-ho shmeda'k! ...... To meet with who knows me!

'ak 'aqadah li noffin .............. I shall light up for myself

S`iyat min dyo nis`isyon! ..... The fire by my tinder!

Any one who comes to Soqotra is, for Soqotrans, coming "min renhem" - "from the sea". But Soqotrans themselves, especially men, are often forced to go overseas searching for work as there is not enough work on the island. They usually find job opportunities, good wages and some times create new families in the Gulf States, but Soqotra is always on their mind. [TOP]

With the era of cassette recorders, Soqotran migrant's poetry, with a large Colloquial Arabic influence, return to the beloved island with the poetry being recorded on compact cassettes and have gained a great popularity there. This is an example in temtilo-like form:

Habbit ti-sh we habbit noffin .... I loved you and I loved myself

W-'aktar min 'emrar 'al gozik. ... And I had no pain from woes.

Lot gozik min Soqotri - .... My pain is from Soqotra -

Min 'Asoqan ho modik! .... From 'Asoqan I'm lonely!

Modern poets on Soqotra are also using a temtilo form. Their verses are distinguished by contemporary style and more simply in poetic images and language forms. There is also an influence of Colloquial and Classic Arabic and Arabian Poetry.

This verse was composed by:

- Saad Muhammad al-Keshri from Qalansiya:

Ho ha d-yikahab she-ken ........ I am now staying with you

We qhonk di-min 'amq s`ibobi. ... And reached the middle of old age.

We 'ilbib sere homir, .............. But my heart's over mountains-

Sere 'Adiye tikahab! ............ The pass of 'Adiye - is staying!

this by - Abdalla Ahmad Teysi from Nouged:

'Al 'iborki di-ho 'eyni, .......... You, my eyes, you didn't see it,

'idmi'o ki qa'edo (i)d-ki. ........ When a tear was falling from you.

'Ilbib ta d-(y)irebon hi-ki, ...... That my heart so ordered to you,

Saf s`hayak le qalemoti. ..... To my lungs invited pity. >>

Vladimir Agafonov [TOP]