Tales of Socotra: Experience and Challenge (2)

Illustration by Viktor Duvidov for Socotran “The Dream” tale
literary retold by the author in Russian, published in “Zhili-byli
Children’s Tales Newspaper”, Moscow, 1995



So, it wasn’t my goal to collect tales of Socotra like a folklorist – I only wanted to record the most classical oral texts in Soqotri language as a field researcher of this unwritten rare language.”


Also I never minded that my first complete tale text in Soqotri would be told to me not on Socotra but at the altitude of more than 2000 meters in the continental South Yemeni mountains where Mukeyras is located. One of the Ba Nuwas popular tales that were always well-known and much loved on Socotra. A tale about a Dream:


Deme tod muksham lilin ’inni ba3al firhim d-Sothon…


One night a young fellow slept and had a dream that he married a Sultan’s daughter. ..


A South Yemeni Army sergeant who had told me that tale served in the Shallal[1] infantry brigade by contract and, of course, when he was suddenly asked by me to tell me a tale of his far away wonderful island in its unknown by any one there oldest language, he agreed with enthusiasm. Especially, when he saw that I really understood his language. Surely, the tale when he had been telling it to me seemed to be returning him home for that minutes during which the story started, went on and ended.


For the field researchers of folklore such an experience may seem “unusual”, but my own practice of collecting Socotran tales suggests: very often the most comprehensive and expressively colored folk tales records can be obtained from informants who are far from their homes, but telling the story in a narrow and understanding of their language environment. The factor of emotional nostalgia is working.


In the 1970s, higher quality recordings of folklore were also easier to be done not in the field. Especially on Socotra, where I was forced to use rather primitive small cassette recorders or voice recorders (my abilities were very limited by my more than modest resources of an independent researcher) and where the microphone all the time got extraneous noises, voices, and even strong gusts of wind.


In Mukeyras, when listening to and transcribing the Dream tale mentioned above freehand, I even had not any recorder. That was why the first perfect recordings of the complete Socotran tales told in Soqotri language came to me only – with a few exceptions – in the end of 1979  when a small group of students from Socotra studied then in Aden, recorded for me a number of the Socotran folk tales – each one in his own dialect of Soqotri. I did not know them and they did not met me before, I had sent my appeal with an empty compact-cassette to them through my Azerbaijani colleague from Salah ad Din (where I lived that time) to Steamer Point/ Tawahi (where they lived and studied), and shortly after that my colleague had given me a cassette at which four Socotrans aged 23-26 were telling tales one by one in a little tale-party they made in their living room. And each one had made his best when telling his story to his friends.


Fortunately, despite of administrative obstacles that really existed that time for travelling between remote places of Aden Governorate (the distance between Salah ad Din and Tawahi was more than 45 km), I had ventured to go to meet them at a first opportunity and visited them three times to thank them and to transcript their stories from the tape with a their help – each tale with a help of its storyteller.


Unfortunately, there were only four tales which I was able to transcribe – not more – living other oral texts on the cassette for better times.

[1]Named in honor of major Ali Awadh Shallal, the Yemeni hero of the al-Wadiah War (Nov. 1969)




To be continued>>>

(Written especially for Black Camel online magazine on WordPress)


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