Monday, December 4, 2017

An Overview of the Structure in Afar Poetry by David Tatham

The Afar are an ethnic group living mainly in Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia who have contributed some of the world's most imaginative and beautiful poetry. Unfortunately, they are often overshadowed by their Somali neighbours but deserve recognition for their outstanding creativity. The general verse structure in Afar poetry consists of one complete sentence. This sentence then creates an automatic parallelism due to the verse structure and its intonation. This is also further emphasized through other means of verse structure i.e. through a rhythmic formation and isosyllabic rule.

The first part of Afar poetry includes a section called abana, which is governed by the standard rule of isosyllabism (an identical number of syllables in speech segments). Nine syllables generally make up each verse (27 verses out of 46) but there are many Afar poems that consist of 14 verses of eight syllables, three verses of 10 syllables or two verses of eleven syllables. Most Afar poems are made up of three or four accents which differ depending on what syllable they fall on.

Afar poetry is sung and music is accompanied. The soloist is given the first stave to sing and the fifth for the chorus. In a few cases the first word is repeated and sometimes the first two words are sung. The chorus will generally sing the last word of the verse instead of the soloist. There have also been a handful of Afar poems where the chorus sings both the first and last words of each verse. The second part of Afar poems is called the 'yabisso'. This section is recited instead of sung. The tempo is relatively slow as is the reading, but it has become one of the most expressive features of Afar poetry, especially in its performance.

Each verse is read in one phonological word in one accent. The phonological accent, or stress, is used on the last syllable (there is one poem where the accent is used on the pre-final syllable), is what creates the basic metric structure of the yabisso section. The adal is the third part of the verse structure and whilst similar to that of abana, there are several differences. The key difference is that the chorus repeats some of the verses at different points after the soloist. Then the soloist will often repeat a verse already spoken. This creates the sense of a conversation between the poet and the chorus.

The verses are longer in the adal; consisting of 11 syllables (106 verses), 10 syllables (40 verses) or even 12 syllables (14 verses). Verses are then divided into either half-lines or hemistich (a half-line of verse, followed and preceded by a caesura) where the caesura (a full stop) changes depending on where which accent falls upon. Afar poetry is not widely known to the general public, but the different sections of the verse structure make it one of the sophisticated and imaginative styles throughout the world. Add in the music and the singing which accompanies it and you are about to experience one of the finest forms of expression known in the world. Sources: Emmanuel Ngara (1990) Ideology and Form in African Poetry. Isaac I. Elimimian (1992) Theme and Style in African Poetry. Andrzej Zaborski (1996) Notes on Afar Verse Structure. 
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