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The Tigre dirges       Eno Lettman

The dirges will be of interest when compared with the funerary poetry of the Hebrews and the Arabs. The metre in which they are composed is the same as that of the Hebrew qlna; the only difference is, that in Tigre the verses have a rather imperfect rhyme. The sarur ("dirge") of the Tigre tribes is sung only by women, like the qina of the Hebrews, the marthiya of the Arabs, the pyvo of the Greeks. It was, therefore, quite difficult for Naffé Wad Utman to collect the specimens given here, because the dirges are generally not repeated nor handed down by men. He had, therefore, access only to those which had been composed by the women of his own family or that were known to them. Some of them were very suspicious and thought he wished to mock at their grief; others wept when they sang the dirges to him, remembering their own sorrow and the losses which had given rise to their lamentation.

Indeed, a number of these dirges show a true feeling, and the outburst of the mourners' emotion is often very touching: many a time we find here the fruitless attempt to break through the laws of nature, born of the vain wish to recall the dead to life. A young mother whose husband had died addresses her littl son, saying: "Let us go now, Esman, let us implore thy father ! For thee he loves, he will not refuse thy prayer."

Another example of the simplicity of expression and the depth of feeling is sung by a woman who had been a slave-girl, but had been freed after having borne a son to her master; when this son died, a son, whom she loved so much that she wondered: "How could a man beget him? And how a woman conceive him?", she became more wretched than she had been as a slave. As all Semitic poetry even these dirges cannot be understood without a commentary.

I have added, therefore, brief comments to every dirge; but one may easily imagine that it often took a long while before I arrived at a satisfactory understanding. The obscure expressions, the abrupt way of speaking, the mention of persons and places unknown to us mar, as it were, the poetical effect on Western readers. But he who is willing to read the dirges first with the explana- tory remarks, and then a second time without them, will find that many of them are worth reading.


  • The dirges of Mantayit [which s/te sang] of Elos, the son of ^Edr'is.

  • The dirges sung by the wife of Galdydos, the son of Tedros, for her brother-in-law Naseh.


  • A dirge by the wife of Fekak, the son Be^emnat, for her father-in-law Be^emnat. Be-emnat fought, together with his son Terag, at Et-hemmarat, against Obe . And they killed many of the army of Obe. Then he and his son died there. And the wife of his son sang of him in this way.