Two Masterpieces in One Socotra-devoted Incunable by Jordi Esteva


SOCOTRA (2016) photo book by Jordi Esteva published recently in the Atalanta publishing house in Barcelona is an unusual addition to the still scarce bibliography of the island of Socotra.

Stylish sapphire blue folio with gold letters on its cover and 56 duotone (slightly “the-departed-shaded” than simple black&white) art photographs as a content aims to become a real decoration of any esthetic library, public or privat. Short introductory and explanatory texts in Spanish are giving a special flavor of endemism to this masterpiece of modern photography and typography as a whole.

However, there is also another grain of pearls in the book, which makes it extremely interesting and valuable for ethnologists, folklorists and linguists, aspecially, Semitologists. The book is accompanied by an enclosed DVD disc with the full version of the documentary “Socotra, the island of jinns” (2016), filmed by the author in Haghar Mountains in 2005-2015: its sounding language is the unwritten Soqotri (Sqt. ‘méthel d-Siqáṭra’) in one of its central mountain dialectal versions, there are also English, française, español and català subtitles as translation.

Jordi Esteva as a documentary director has made an almost impossible thing: his greatest advantage here is that he has found the best storytellers in Haghar dialect of Soqotri (they are still there on Socotra) and let them feel and speak free as they do in their mostly isolated nomadic daily life of highland goat and cow herdsmen, as if there were neither strangers nor their cinematographic equipment around. Thus, any researcher in Semitics is now able to observe the live existence of one of the most archaic unwritten, but still alive oldest Semitic language (with active lateral ś [ɬ], as well as active Dual forms for names, verbs and pronouns, verb–subject–object word order – all this has been reconstructed for Proto-Semitic) in its natural habitat.

Of course, there is no word-for-word transcription there of filmed and practically complete traditional Soqotri texts about: the beauty of life of Socotrans, especially highlanders, in old times, Be Shuwarib legend of the miraculous salvation of the dynasty of Mahra and Socotra Sultans in the 16th century, djinniya, wild “Tahrir” goat and dragon-like big snake living in caves and some others – that have been said in a polished-for-centuries local folk-narrative koiné language of Soqotri. Doing the hardest remote work of field linguists, ethnologists and folklorists in HD with doc cinema quality of film festival level was not the aim of the director and his team: they were esculpir en el tiempo (‘sculpting in time’) instead.

So, any largest library, as well as every university library in the humanities should have this book with a DVD video-and-audio tablet of still alive and unwritten Soqotri to put it near the three Soqotri volumes(by David H. Mueller – 1902,1905,1907) of the Austrian South Arabian expedition of 1898-99 (which are must have books, even in copies, for such libraries worldwide) in order to achieve important synergy effect of bringing together and making accessible both recorded by hand in 1899 and with the help of the phonograph in 1902-1907 and with the help of digital video cameras in 2005-2015: because, as it is now considered by some authoritative specialists, the archaism of Soqotri is startling, and its re-discovery and active scientific usage can be of compared value as once of Icelandic for Germanic or Lithuanian for Indo-European linguistics.


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