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“Masse” and “Melqes”

Oral poetry is poetry that is composed of unwritten materials verbally transmitted. The complex relationships between written and spoken literature in some societies can make this definition hard to maintain. Oral poetry is sometimes considered to include any poetry which is performed live. In many cultures, oral poetry overlaps with, or is identical with, song. Meanwhile, although the term oral etymologically means ‘to do with the mouth’, in some cultures oral poetry is also performed by other means, such as talking drums in some African cultures. Oral poetry exists most clearly within oral cultures, but it can survive, and indeed flourish, in highly literate cultures.

Oral poetry differs from oral literature in general because oral literature encompasses linguistic registers which are not considered poetry. In most oral literature, poetry is defined by the fact that it conforms to metrical rules; examples of non-poetic oral literature in some cultures include some jokes, speeches and storytelling.

In our culture for the several years many writers as much as poets and researchers tried to reconstruct the beauty of our rare yet wonderful oral poetry.

The Tigrigna oral poetry, especially in the ancient times, mostly focuses in two types of poetry: Masse’ and Melqes.

The ancient language of Geez had existed in written form for around 2000 years. One of the undeniable proofs would be the ancient monuments on which archaic Geez is inscribed on.

But Tigrigna didn’t exist in written form until the 19th century. And these “Masse” and “Melqes” would only be practiced and preserved in the oral form.

These two are generally considered to be the highest forms of Tigrina oral poetry and are recited on two different occasions.

Masse is performed during weddings or other festive events while Melqes is performed during funerals, times of sorrow, despair and times of sadness. But these types of poetry are not just celebratory or commemorative but they can also be social critique and satire. They are so spontaneous and artistic that they are widely heard and followed by the people. In fact it influences the society significantly.

These poems convey highly valued messages on almost every aspect of life in an aesthetic way.  There is nothing that Masse and Melqes haven’t talked about or haven’t discussed. Apart their exceptional rhymes and metaphorical words, they look at social issue with a philosophical approach.

On top of it they serve as a reference material to history, particularly when written or documented historical material is not available. Since they reflect the social reality with no exaggeration or what so ever they can provide historical fact and evidence. But even though they are as realistic and straight forward as possible they include archaic words, idiomatic expression, and different figure of speech. toentertain the listeners they are rich in humor , and they are accompanied by performances so they come off as amusing and thought provoking.

Another amazing thing is the fact that Masse and Melqes are usually composed while they are recited and so they assume a form of lyrical poetry. The so called “Massegnatat”: authors or poets who have developed exceptional skills in grasping the situation and accordingly create something that expresses the moment, are considered to be the wise men of the society. They are elite figures that have respect due to their vast knowledge that extends its branches from moral and social values as well as religious matters and ancient histories.

Sadly enough nowadays we can’t fully reconstruct their legacy because many of them were written. The research of these poems depends entirely on the health and well-being of the narrators. Memory naturally diminishes with old age and most of them passed away so even though some of the great works lasted, some others are hard to find and even if we have the ability to find them they are not fully correct and original.

It gives our community a great pleasure to have its past tradition and culture installed in written documents through which they will find a way to be appreciated by generation to come.

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