Zamil, and Understanding Tribal Poetry of Yemen [Archives:2000/32/Last Page]

August 7 2000

Zamil is a genre of oral literature. It is a tribal poetic tradition. Tribal poetry is thought to be as ancient as the spoken language. The ideal thing in the tribal society is that every man to be able to compose verse, it is part of what is meant to be a tribesman, however, there is no formal instruction in verse composition exists among tribes.
Of course, poets are not specialists, they only do what everyone of the population ought to do, therefore, a tribesman does not compose purely for the sake of art. His sensibility does not separate aesthetic expression from practical life, for every poem is at heart of political and social act. The composition is in response to some actual concrete event that always has practical or spiritual import for the community.
Zamil as a genre of tribal poetry is composed in course of performance. The complete Zamil poem comprises only two lines and it may be recited independently of ritual occasions, oral tradition of this poetry has preserved Zamil poems that are more than a hundred years old. The reciter tells his audience who the poet was if his identity is known and the occasion for which was composed, in addition to other historical information to clarify references in the utterance. The reciter can be anyone who happens to know the poem.
Though one poet is responsible for creating the text, Zamil involves a chorus of men. The Zamil performance may include poetry, instrumental music as well as song and dance, the dance, however, is not an obligatory element of the performance.
The poetic form of the Zamil poem is more interesting musical instructure. The constraint of composition is compression, since the first line of the poem is usually set aside for recognizing the honor of the addressee, there remains only one line in which the poet can address the issue in question. Tenseness of expression is the rule. At its best the Zamil is an aphorism, therefore, it can be said that there is less need for formulas in the composition of the Zamil.
In Zamil, poetry formulas are short, never more than three words and therefore, encompass only a fraction of the entire line.
Zamil has a much greater range of use in social context, being performed at the wedding, religious festivals, the dispute mediations and the ceremonies of atonement. The most important social context, in which Zamil poetry is composed is the dispute mediation, when a serious conflict breaks out between two or more villages, or two different tribal sections, mediators usually arrive chanting zamil poems.
Zamil performance is presupposes tribal bonds of solidarity among its participants, in the dispute mediations, solidarity, means one of steadfastness and resolves of the litigants as well as mediator in the face of conflict. An important dialectic occurs between poetry and social action, for the Zamil both transforms, the social context, through its association with the idea of solidarity and is in turn transformed by it. To compose a Zamil poetry in accordance with the conventions of the poetic tradition is to have a power, to enter into a certain kind of discourse in which honor is created or defended by the poet and persuasion is exercised.