Tales of Ali bin Zaids Proverbs [Archives:2001/01/Culture]

December 31 2001

No one can ignore the name of Ali bin Zaid, the most famous wise man in Yemen, the epic hero of philosophy and proverbs whose wisdom and proverbs dance over tongues of millions of Yemenis all over Yemen through the last generations. But most of them ignore the tales behind his proverbs. Lets throw light on five tales that exploded his talent.
The tale of poverty and his wives:
In a year of famine in which the whole region suffered from poverty, Ali bin Zaid wanted to examine his three wives patience. He pretended to leave the house. But he took cover in a hiding place under the stairs so that he could hear their speech during his supposed absence. They interpreted his delay with disgraceful reasons. Hababah, the first one said: He went to steal sheep or flour and that would take time till people sleep. Fendeh, the second one, added A theft took place in the village by an unknown man led to death. People gathered to swear to prove their innocence. Sarah the third one declared that she saw him in the morning talking to a woman near a well and that he must have promised to meet her at night.
Having listened to his three wives, he slipped away pretending to have come from outside. He entered without food or sheep. On the day after he went to the farm and later, one of his wives brought him food. As she came nearer she heard him reciting a couplet.

Which means: Ali bin Zaid says, poverty brings family problems and because of it I was considered adulterer, thief and swearer.
Tales of two swallows:
Muajaba and Jubran were swallows. Muajaba was always lazy that she picked some seeds during harvesting. A few days later she found nothing to eat, so she went to Jubran and begged for some but he refused asking her, Where have you been when their was much seeds in threshing-floor. Go and learn how to save seeds for hard days?
Here Ali bin Zaid blames laziness showing its bad results. He composed his wisdom in a form of couplet dialogue between them:

Though this is a story of birds it metaphorically refers to a woman whose husband was sick with spleen and children with opthalmia. Such disease were common in summer; the season of flies that cause opthalmia and drinking unclean water causes swelling. This couplet is still sung while ploughing and sowing.
The tales of the sad tone of Muhiad:
Once Ali bin Zaid sold his ox to buy two calves so that they later be oxen. But the calves died, and he borrowed money to buy an ox. On his way he was attacked by a gang which robbed him of his money. When he came back home he found that his wife had left the house angrily because of a silly quarrel with the other wife. Being depressed, he climbed a mountain and recited this couplet with his beautiful sad voice:

Which means: what a pity! Abu Saad is suffering from debts, weakness because of no supporters and a deserting wife.
After hearing that Mehiad, villagers gathered and sent two oxen to his house. Next they sent three wise men to his wifes father to get her back to his house without his (Alis) notice. Later, his wife went to the mountain to collect firewood and told him she was not saying the truth. She told him she visited her father after he had told her that Alis calves became oxen and the dead ones were his neighbors and that her brother had found the calves without knowing the owner; therefore he had kept them for eight months. Her mother recognized them as Alis by signs on their foreheads.
Finally he got back every thing because of his beautiful voice and wisdom.
The tale of the buried treasure:
One night Ali was sleeping when an imaginary voice called him, Your fortune is under a rock in Rickbet Hadher (a place). Guessing that he was leaving, his wife exclaimed Where are you going in such time? To a fortune, he answered, Give me my cane, wolves are on may way.
When he got to the exact place he dug a little and found a heap of burnt charcoal. When he told his wives his mother shouted Youve divulged your secret so your find turned black. He came out with a fact that one should keep his secrets otherwise he would be disappointed then said the following proverb:

which means: he who divulges his night dream should bear his misfortune and his find will be black.
The tales of his daughter, Bedra
Bedra fell in love with a young man and eloped with him from Menketh village. The news spread and that brought shame to the father. Ali asked women of Menketh to stop gossiping promising them to cut off her head as he knew her hideout saying:

which means: O white women of Menketh, stop gossiping, I swear you will see Bedras head cut off. I heard people saying she lunched in Meitem and spent the night in Oudeina (another name of Taiz.