Ja’far Al-Dhafari: Pioneer poetry researcher [Archives:2006/950/Culture]

May 29 2006

Abdul-Bari Taher
Since the onset of the 1970s, erudite and significant researchers began appearing in Al-Thaqafah Al-Jadidah (New Culture) magazine published by the Ministry of Culture in Aden. This research bore Dr. Ja'far Al-Dhafari's name, which was quite famous, as he did his master's in London in the early 1960s on Humaini poetry.

Al-Dhafari's thesis was in English and marked a serious and real scientific investigation into Humaini poetry. This unprecedented academic dissertation was ignored, either because the research community ignored English or due to other reasons.

This important dissertation has not been translated yet, except for two parts published in Al-Yemen magazine published by the Aden-based Center for Study and Research.

Research on Humaini poetry is characterized by accuracy, profundity and scientific spirit. The researcher groups Yemeni poetry into Hakami (standard) and Humaini (tuned poetry written in a daily speech dialect). He notes that dictionary authors do not gloss over the word Humaini, even Nashwan Al-Himyari in his Shams Al-Uloom, as well as Al-Saghani and Ibn Duraid, who visited and studied in Yemen.

In the two parts published in Al-Yemen, a revered magazine whose editor-in-chief was Al-Dhafari himself, he explained the term Humaini in length. Its ingenuity was apparent in the accuracy of division and the definition's exactness adopted by researchers, unfortunately without acknowledging its originator.

I particularly was drawn to the part of Al-Dhafari's definition wherein he says that Humaini poetry is tuned Arabic poetry written in any daily speech dialect. He adds that the term Humaini in the past referred to a particular type of poetry. He then further dove into reviewing its history, beginning with this poetic genre's first pioneer, Ibn Fulaitah, who, according to historian Al-Khazraji, is one of Yemen's outstanding Humaini poets.

In fact, researchers coming after Al-Dhafari, although numerous, did not add much to his definition and endorsed it. However, there are still differences concerning Humaini poetry's antiquity. Researchers like Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shami and Mohammed bin Ali Al-Akwa' claim that it dates back to pre-Islamic times.

Important additions concern the language of a type of Humaini poetry characterized by the Tihama dialect. There are also differences as to the relationship between Humaini poetry and Andalusian Muwashah and which pre-existed the other.

Al-Dhafari put the groups into three classes, differing in regard to the terms Humaini and Muwashah. He studied each class's opinions and presented an in-depth study of each's definitions, along with objective and artistic criticism of their definitions and viewpoints.

Al-Dhafari concluded interesting findings. Due to the fact that Humaini poetry adhered to tuned standard verse, it resulted in diversifying Yemeni dialects and changes from time to time. Due to the fact that only Arab words were used, the song was unified, thus deeply affecting taste and sentiments.

The term Hakami is attributed to the Hukm of Kahlan tribe east of Jaizan, now in Saudi Arabia, when he couldn't trace the origin of the term Humaini. Researchers later reached results linking the term to Humainiah village near the town of Hais. The whole area is called Humainiah, which is home to many famous Humaini poets like Ibn Fulaitah, Al-Mazzah, Al-Alawi, Al-Ahdal, and most important of all Abu Bakr bin Ibrahim bin Yosuf Al-Hakkak.

The researcher also noted the semblance between the Arabic term Humaini and the English hymn. He claimed that modification in the phonology of the word is always associated with loan words. He further linked Greece and the pre-Islam Ma'ini State. These are opinions that have bearing on historical facts.

He also goes on to discuss the issue of poetry compilation which lasted for 150 years and in six tribes. Actually tribalism and tendency towards nomadic life played a decisive role in documenting language. This deprived the Arabic language of auxiliary sources especially in the urban areas of Yemen, Iraq, and Hijaz.

The other part deals with the most important Humaini poets and the real start of this fantastic human experience. As earlier researchers did, he also started with the most notable personalities: Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Fulaitah Al-Hakami and imam Al-Wathiq Billah Al-Mutahhar bin Mohammed bin Al-Mutahhar. Researcher Abdul-Jabbar Bajil referred to a poet who came before these two who is Abu Bakr Al-Hakkak from the same area- Hais.

Poet and intellectual Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shami did another study of Al-Humaini in his “From Yemeni Literature.” He clearly provided an evidence that the experience in Humaini poetry dates back to pre-Islam namely to the time of Imri'u Al-Qais, the foremost Arab poet ever. He cited many examples as evidence. He also confirmed that the Andalusian Muwashah has its origin in Yemeni Humaini poetry and cited many examples for the purpose, providing explanatory comparisons between the Andalusian Muwashah and Yemeni Humaini poetry.