Arabian tradition: It is not uncommon for friends and family to sit around warm fires in winter and regale each other with poetry and anecdotes (Picture for illustrative purposes only) Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News Archives

Nabati is a form of Arabic poetry that gives description of the events which occur on daily basis and ordinary life. During earlier times, poetry used to be the language of Arabia.

In fact using poetry as a medium was a very common feature. It was a way to showcase the uniqueness of Arab culture, history and traditional practices.

Traced back to the 6th century, Nabadi poems often celebrate life. It is both about the mundane and important. About the surroundings and locality. About life.

Nabati is composed on the themes of chivalry, pride and exaltation, eulogy, satire, advice and wisdom, society, description, proverbs, narratives, riddles and epic.

Vernacular Nabati poetry is also known as Bedouin poetry — or quite simply — the people’s poetry. It has been a part and parcel of the traditional Arabic poetry for a very long time and there is a culture of recalling hundreds of such poems by heart.

In fact some poets have been known to memorise thousands of poems by heart. It is this peculiar characteristic — of saying a couplet, appropriate to an occasion, on the drop of hat, that this form of oral literature came to be so widely popular in the Arabic peninsula.

Nabati is composed on the themes of society, description, proverbs, narratives, riddles and epic Image Credit: Shutterstock

Poetry of the masses

The popularity of Nabati among the masses is also because this genre of poetry uses simple verse to narrate complex themes.

Unlike the formal prose of classical and contemporary Arabic literature, Nabati is more direct, simple, clear and comprehensible for the everyday man.

In the UAE, Nabati has enjoyed popularity both as prose and songs. Some of the top names in Nabati tradition include Ousha bint Khalifa Al Suwaidi, also known as Fatat Al Arab — who is one of the best Nabati poets in the country. While Ousha is no more, her Nabati poems continue to inspire poets.

Other key names in the genre include Mubarak Al Oqaili, who was a classical Arabic poet. Nabati poets like Salem Bin Ali Al Owais, Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Khalfan Musabah are some other prominent practitioners of the genre.

Popular again

Nabati poetry is once again experiencing a renaissance. To promote Nabati poets and their works, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage hosts a bi-annual show called Poet of the Million. The festival of poetry offers Emirati Nabati poets a chance to showcase their work.

Recently the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre (ALC) announced the launch of the Kanz Al-Jeel Award for Nabati poetry at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

According to a statement, the award was launched with the aim of preserving “the traditional heritage of this form of writing for the next generation” and recognising “scholars and creators whose works highlight the rich history and heritage of Nabati poetry and its inherent values.”

Finalists will compete for a share of a total prize of Dh1.5 million ($408,000).

Tremendous value and depth

As ALC chairman Ali bin Tamim noted, “We celebrate the launch of an exceptional award that brings tremendous value and depth to our cultural scene.

“It derives its name from one of the poems of our founding father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and reflects his wisdom, passion for poetry, and his vision, which helped cement this literary genre in the hearts and minds of all Emiratis and Arabs,” he added.

There award is going to be split into six categories: Poetry matching (awarded to a poem that closely matches the rhythm and rhyming pattern of one of Sheikh Zayed’s poems); creative personality; arts; studies and research; poetic publications; and translation.”

The cultural importance of Nabati poetry in the daily life of the Arab peninsula — where it was woven around the themes of war, peace and resolving disputes — is not going to go away even in the modern era. As a medium of both poems and song, Nabati poetry as a traditional that will continue to inspire.

Ahmad Nazir is a UAE-based freelancer writer