Zamil: Yemen’s most widespread genre of folk literature
Mohammed Mohammed Ibrahim
Zamil is the most prevalent genre of Yemeni folk poetry.
It is a form of ‘Rajz’, which Yemenis recite when they are at war.
The tribal leader, or someone who is good at Zamil, recites lines of poetry in his vernacular dialect. Other members of the tribe sing his poetry to encourage and motivate the warriors.
If an individual or group wants to ask something of an official, person in authority or chieftain, they send representatives who sing Zamil to present their request or demand. Zamil is between two and eight lines long.
The person who recites lines of Zamil is called the ‘Zammal’, while the ‘Badda’a’ composes the Zamil. A group of people who recite Zamil as a chorus are known as ‘Zammalah’.
This type of poetry is passed down through the generations. When a Zammal dies, his Zamil lives on in people’s memories as his legacy, and his Zamil inspires many tales and stories.
The purpose of Zamil varies according to the event and time. It is recited during times of war and of peace, on both sad and happy occasions, and at arrivals and departures. It is seen as a means to express and consolidate great values related to coexistence, such as helping the needy and victims of tyranny; it is also used as a way to record events and tribal conflicts.