A place with the jinn inside it – Socotra, Heybaq road, 1978-79
A place with the jinn inside it – Socotra, Heybaq road, 1978-79
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.
A traditional lighter from Socotra when there were no matches and no dakaakiin (shops) on the island in 1978-79..
Almost every Socotran man when travelling across the island by feet had such a perfect gadget and a locally made iron rounded knife in one of his hands.
And as a quatrain of Soqotri wisdom short poetry says:
I shall take upon myself
To meet with who knows me!
I shall light up for myself
The fire by my tinder!
Old medical instrument from Socotra (in the 1970s) used for bloodletting
made from Socotran cow horn.
The women are saving the most deep inherited traditions of the people. In Socotra it is all the same – despite of the local men’s love and respect to basic Socotran folklore traditions.
It was a short period of 1970s-1980s when such texts could be recorded and such photos taken. They all are now the history archive of the island.
And it was a unexpected and sudden opportunity to hear the pure version of the Socotran folk tale of Two Brothers not from young or old men of Socotra but from
Fatima, a daughter of uncle Salim Sho`o and his only wife Maryam min d-il-Keshen.
1. gadaḥ ‛Ali Bota‛el wa qaṣṣa he-n ṭad qiṣṣa
2. ‛omar ‛Ali Bota‛el: gedaḥ (h)-i ṭod wa ‛omar (h)-i:
3. – ya-‛li, ho-hon šodim yha qaqa lilin wa gedaḥ l-soṭhon wa ‛omar h-i:
4. ya soṭhon, ho-hon šodimk lilin ’inni ba‛alk d-e firhim.
5. ‛omar soṭhon: ḥabas t-i!
6. wa na‛a ’ifo yikhen? qalk ‛af l-irqaḥ d-yo qaqa?
7. ‛omar ‛Ali Bota‛el: noqa‛en sitta riyāl wa ho-hon ’iraqaḥ mukšam.
8. ’inqa‛ mukšan darahim wa ‛omar h-i:
9. – na‛a ’iṭahero!
10. tza‛a š-i de mismār wa ho-hon ’iza‛a diš maṭraqa!
11. wa ’iṭahero!
12. ‛omar mukšam: dyo ’iṭahero?
13. ‛omar: ’iṭahero – ‛irubk ho.
14. tu‛ud š-i wa ’ål ’iśa’ak!
15. gedaḥo di-d-ḥalf d-‛igebo hi.
16. ‛omar yhe: tḥofer diš qa‛r d-ḥa! wa ‛a tšimtel!
17. ḥfaro ka’ala.
18. gedaḥen ’imba‛ele d-soṭhon wa ‛imar:
19. – lo tḥofer diš qa‛r d-ḥa?
20. ye‛omar soṭhon – ’ål ‛ak tḥfer wulla ḥubas ta-k!
21. ‛omar ‛Ali: d̮abi soṭhon l-išimtel tho – ’ål šobotk!
22. qo‛o soṭhon driša, ‛omar h-i:
23. ’a-‛li, ’nqana‛k? lo tḥofer dyo qa‛r?
24. ‛omar h-i: šodemk lilin ’inni ẖazna yho-d bebe nḥat d-et qa‛r.
25. ‛omar soṭhon: ’a-‛li, ’ål ḥazak ’inni mišrher kidb?
26. ‛omar ‛Ali: ’ifo te‛omer mišrher kidb?
27. wa ’e-hen gedaḥ-k mukšam ‛omar ha-k: šodem-k lilin
ṭod mišrher ’inni ho ba‛alk d-e firhim – ‛omark: yukub t-i d-sign!
28. ho-hon ša’amoNk ’inni šodemk ṭo’o mukšam biraḥ teten.
29. wa na‛a ta‛omer – kidb!
30. wa ’e-hen ḥibisk mukšam.
31. ‛omar ‛Ali: raqaḥ mukšam wa ho-hon ’ål ‛ak ’aḥofer.
This is that very text of a Socotra folk tale that I was fortunate to record – for the first time in full – from a Socotri man from Hadibo, ca. 26-28 years old, a serjeant in Shallal brigade serving very far from his homeland – at the foot of the Al-Uqla Mountain, in 15 km from the ancient Hadramaut capital Shabwa – at the south edge of Ramlat al-Sab’atayn desert sands. In March 1978.
The tales that my new Socotran friends who studied in Aden had told me and that we had transcribed together were the most extended and detailed. They were told by Socotrans and to Socotrans in a home evening tale party though the tape-recording of that party was made especially for me.
If not these tales and their transcriptions, another words – if not the help of of those educated Socotran young men, it would be very hard for me if even possible to break through into the hidden world of Soqotri folk tales. Really, my previous informants on Socotra helped me a lot to form a strong basis of Soqotri vocabulary, grammar issues, corpus of recorded (some of them tape-recorded) original texts and ethnological information which is necessary to understand true Socotran discourse. But I did not have one more and important quality: feeling of myself like a part of this discourse during the perception of Socotran tales, and they helped me to get it.
But I did not have one more and important quality – feeling myself like a part of this discourse during the perception of Socotran tales, and they helped me to get it.
Thus, already being in Moscow, I had returned to two excellent completed texts tape-recorded in Mauna from Fatima Salem and had find myself being able to transcribe them quite good because of her Soqotri dialect of the area was the most familiar to me.
Earlier, I had had some good storytellers in Mury area, too, one of whom – Selmon – was the best. Selmon’s tellings were always perfectly styled, expressively performed and logically constructed – within the intelligent use of the Soqotri folk tale traditional patterns and Soqotri live spoken language possibilities1, though he was only about 23-24 of age.
The tales told by Salmon became best materials for retell them in Russian and English literary. Of course, for each retelling not one but several recordings of the same tale (when there was more than one) had been taken to compile a final literary written texts not very long, being in the frames of written storytelling of folklore and – in the same time – saving as more as possible of essential features of folklore and traditions of Socotra.
However, the tales told by Fatima Salem made me look at the clear historical perspectives of Socotran tales, much deeper than one could ever expect.
1 – the use of different intonations, stress varieties, meaningful changes in root consonants of words and breaking words into parts was very popular; the most successful storytellers on Socotra practiced such techniques masterfully.
To be continued>>>
(Written especially for Black Camel online magazine on WordPress)