Mahri Poetry Archive



Structure: Hemistich

Content: Occasional and Sentimental

Length: Multi-line Monothematic, Multi-line Polythematic or Couplet

Performance: Sung and Recited (“dāndān laylī”) or Chanted and Recited (exchanged dāndān couplets)


While “dāndān” is presented in this archive as a genre-marked category (implying conceptual specificity), the term can be used to describe different types of poem performed in a variety of different settings.  When used in the genre-marked sense, dāndān poems refer to three types of poetic act: 1) couplets of hemistich verse composed individually or exchanged with another poet, 2) tribal-historical poems composed of hemistich lines and 3) multi-line, lyric/sentimental poems composed of hemistich lines. In the first case, dāndān couplets are the hemistich counterpart to tristich reǧzīt couplets.  In the second case, dāndān tribal-historical poems are the hemistich counterpart to tristich ʾōdī we-krēm krēm poems.  In the third case, multi-line, sentimental dāndān poems are only recognizable as such when sung according to the characteristic dāndān melody (which is typically accompanied by dāndān metric “filler”).  Due to the broad range of potential topics and formats of dāndān poems, some of my consultants identified “dāndān” as a melody which a number of different poetic types might share.  The majority, however, were more specific in identifying specific poetic formats and performance occasions as intrinsic to dāndān poems.

Generally, my consultants felt that belonging to the dāndān category  were less formal than tristich reǧzīt and ʾōdī we-krēm krēm poems.  Unlike reǧzīt, for instance, dāndān couplets may address sentimental and jocular topics when performed at a festive event.  Therefore, collectively-chanted dāndān couplets are performed later in the evening after the “serious business” of the collective reǧzīt is finished (ʿAlī Nāṣir Bālḥāf and Ḥājj Dākōn, personal communication, 2004).  According to some of my Mahri consultants, multi-line dāndān poems merit a specific sub-designation as “night-time dāndān” (Ar. dāndān laylī), since they may only be recited after the exchange of reǧzīt (and even  dāndān couplets) has finished.

The following poetic lines describe the transition from the performance of reǧzīt to dāndān at a wedding party.  The late-night festivities are taking place in earshot of the poet, who, desperate to sleep, complains of the noise:

ḥōm lešikf ṭannek lā / w-lā ʾaynī ġamźawt

hās ahōma dāndān / w-śerḳī ḳlōb eṣawt

I want to sleep but couldn’t sink into it / nor would my eyes close

When I heard the dāndān / and [how] the Easterner changed the song [from reǧzīt to dāndān]

As the lines above indicate, dāndān poems can be identified by their characteristic melody.  They are also frequently accompanied by dancing, especially the “tanwīś”  dance in which young women flip their tresses from side to side.  When performed in this fashion, “night-time dāndān” and poems labelled as “šemrēt” can be viewed as overlapping poetic genres.  However, šemrēt poems have a broader range melodic range whereas the term “dāndān” specifies the one, particular melody to which all dāndān poems must be sung.

The broad formal and thematic (versus melodic) range of the dāndān genre is expressed by ʿAlī Saʿīd Bākrīt who initially identifies dāndān as a type of Mahri “folkloric dance” (Ar. al-raqṣ al-shaʿbī), no doubt having in mind the rhythmic sway of a group of tribesmen as they collectively chant dāndān couplets (Bākrīt, 1999, 53).  Bākrīt goes on to describe the performance of dāndān in greater detail: “The dāndān is performed at wedding celebrations or other events amongst the tribes of al-Mahra in which qaṣīdas are recited in the Mahri idiom.  In the dāndān, two poets compete and their qaṣīdas relate an event or describe something bad or pleasant” (Bākrīt, 1999, 53).  In this brief description of dāndān poetry, Bākrīt shifts from collective chanting (“folkloric dance”) to exchanged couplets (“two poets competes”) and thence to multi-line occasional and sentimental poems (“qaṣīdas [that] relate an event or describe something bad or pleasant”).

Due to the fact that dāndān poems cover a broad topical and formal range, I have only given the “dāndān” label to those poems that were specifically identified as such by my consultants in light of their melody or their format.


Exchanged Dāndān:

Exchanged Dāndān: Prophetic Poetry


Occasional Dāndān: 

Tribal Ode: A Three-Way Conflict

Tribal Ode: The Times We Live In


Sentimental Dāndān (dāndān laylī):

Homesick in Najrān


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