Mahri Poetry Archive



Formal Structure: Tristich

Content: Occasional

Length: Couplet

Performance: Chanted (collective) or Recited (individual)


While some Mahra use the term “reǧzīt” to refer to any couplet of poetry composed of tristich lines, this term more accurately refers to two performative modes of tristich couplets: collective “maydānī” (Ar. “town square”) performances and individual exchanges or duels (Ar. maraddāt).  The former type, reǧzīt maydānī, is the collective performance genre par excellence of al-Mahra.  This is the defining cultural activity of al-Mahra since it reaffirms the social and familial bonds of the Mahri speaking community through the exchange of ritual greetings and reciprocal acknowledgement.  At any gathering of social significance, squads of 10-15 men form a line flanking a poet who stands in their midst.  Once the line has coalesced, the men let out a whoop that signals their approach and preparedness for an exchange of extemporized reǧzīt.  The line marches towards a similarly composed line of men, all of whom may already be chanting a “welcoming” (Ar. tarḥībīreǧzīt.  If other groups join them, they form a rough square and take turns chanting responses to each other’s reǧzīt.

Prior to the establishment of a central authority in al-Ghaydha, reǧzīt maydānī were also performed at the bargaining table whenever grievances were aired and negotiations carried out.  The Mahri poet ʿAlī Nāṣir Belḥāf described the role of reǧzīt in performance as courtroom proceedings (Ar. al-maḥkama).  Accordingly, when bilateral diplomacy failed to resolve a conflict between two tribes, both would seek recourse to a third disinterested party (marjaʿ). On the day of the judgement, both tribes would proceed to the marjaʿ andestablish their claims by chanting reǧzīt maydānī.  Since the government has assumed the role of inter-tribal arbitrator, the practical value of reǧzīt has diminished since very few civil servants are familiar with the Mahri language, (not to mention its poetic traditions).  In the current political environment, reǧzīt are mainly used for celebratory expressions of welcome and mutual compliment to be exchanged at celebrations (Ar. sharīḥāt) such as weddings, the arrival of an important delegation or in state-sponsored festivals.

Reǧzīt couplets may also be exchanged by individuals – face-to-face or via intermediary – in a non-choreographed and non-collective setting.  Exchanged reǧzīt couplets can be antagonistic or complimentary; the topic depends on the event that inspired them.  Most importantly, the topic of individual exchanged reǧzīt couplets needs to be suitable for public reception (ie. non-lyric) since broad circulation is presumed.  Skilled practitioners of exchanged reǧzīt are highly revered in al-Mahra; engaging in this practice is a virtual requirement for important political figures.  If the poetic talent and social prestige of the two poets was high enough and the event particularly noteworthy, a reǧzīt engagement could spawn a generation of transmitters who would relate the exchange – blow for blow – in individual performance. Once the “workhorse” for public political dialogue in pre-republican al-Mahra, it use is in decline as younger Mahris opt for Arabic or non-versified responses to socially or politically significant events.


Collective Reǧzīt: Wedding in Mḥayfīf

Collective Reǧzīt: Wedding Party in Ṣaḳr

Exchanged Reǧzīt: The Purloined Slaves

Exchanged Reǧzīt: The Waning Years of the ʿAfrārī Sulṭānate


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