Experiencing a revival in the United Arab Emirates, ancient Nabati poetry uses colloquial dialect and a straightforward style to tell stories, share wisdom and memorialise classical themes
With its lyrical tone, ability to link present day listeners to their past, and its strength at both storytelling and addressing contemporary issues, Nabati poetry is a vital component of Emirati literary heritage.
This form of poetry originated among the Bedouin of the Arabian Peninsula and dates to at least the 14th century CE – when it was referenced by the Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun in his work Al Muqaddimah.
Distinguished by its use of colloquial Arabic, rather than the formal Arabic found in most contemporary writing and classical Arabic poetry, the language of Nabati poetry also tends to be simple, clear and direct.
The embrace of the genre by the UAE’s leadership, televised competitions, and the growing appreciation among Emiratis for this traditional art form is causing a revival in Nabati poetry.
Nabati poetry traditionally covers many of the same themes as classical Arabic poetry, such as chivalry, pride, longing, group solidarity and unity. But the distinctive features of this type of poetry – its colloquial language and direct style – give an intimacy and immediacy to the poetry and the messages it conveys.
The subject matter of Nabati poetry includes advice and words of wisdom; riddles; praise or celebration of great leaders’ accomplishments; tales and legends; expressions of profound love for family, country or tribe; and odes to topics such as the desert and life in the desert.
Poet of the Million
This poetry festival and competition seeks to expand appreciation for Nabati poetry to millions of people watching Abu Dhabi TV’s broadcast via satellite and the internet. It is one of the Arab world’s most successful programmes, with millions of viewers tuning in weekly and many others reading a weekly magazine on the competition or logging on to competition’s website.