Lulling Babies to Sleep in Soqotra: What Can we Learn from the Soqotri Lullaby?
This study provides unique insights into lullabies in their natural setting from a largely pre-literate, non-media-exposed culture. We carried out a comparative analysis of the traditional genre of the tendána—the lullaby from the island of Soqotra—based on the records we collected in optimal conditions; that is, by a female researcher and from female informants, who performed their tendánas impromptu during two consecutive sessions of fieldwork carried out in 2018 and 2019. The collected material was then transcribed and translated into English by an expert in the Soqotri language. This makes our collection valuable and valid material for new research on folklore and, especially, the intimate genre of the lullaby, in an attempt to free it from the more traditional (not to say antiquarian) approaches. Overall, our results indicate that the tendána shares many traits with lullabies from other cultures, which confirms its universal nature. Among such traits are: the repetitive nature of the lullaby, the use of lullaby markers, and the fluidity of this genre in terms of text contents. In this regard, of special interest are lullabies that contain remnants of ancient incantations: in the case of Soqotra we were able to draw some interesting parallels with the old Semitic tradition; meaning the pre-Islamic layer of beliefs. On the other hand, our analysis also revealed that the Soqotri version of the lullaby has certain specific characteristics. In particular, we found that the concepts of safety and danger defined through space are quite different in the case of Soqotra: safety is defined here as a spiritual space, while danger is both physical and spiritual. Furthermore, the Soqotri mother defines the child’s safety as her own. We also found that the Soqotri lullaby does not extensively use onomatopoeia, in fact, the only onomatopoeic words registered were the lullaby markers ho tshohó ho tshohó, ľiľó ľíľo, and ho ho. Interestingly, we were not able to register any cumulative or counting elements, something that seems to be part of the lullaby genre almost universally.