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The Sakas

October 1, 2017 by  

Part five Michael McClain

In a taziyeh or passion play concerning the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Karbala, translated from the original Persian by Sir Lewis Pelly occurs the following conversation between UmmKulsum, a sister of Imam Hussein, and Sakina, a daughter of Imam Hussein. Both are lamenting Imam Hussein ‘s death.

 

UmmKulsum, a Sister of Imam Hussein:

Imam the daughter of Ali (ibn Abi Talib), the Prince of Arabia, the glory of the world. I am UmmKulsum, at present in exile (in Syria), a woman well acquainted with grief. I live among gazing strangers, without any veil to cover my head. Woe is me! All my confidants are gone from me. Alas! Where is Hussein my brother? Where is Ali Akbar, my nephew? I have lost both my Solomon and his ring.

 

Sakina, the daughter of Hussein:

Dear aunt, “how long shall I be desolate – how long? For what length of time shall I suffer contempt, and wander about a miserable orphan?

Till when must I coo like a dove, or moan sadly like a cuckoo? How long is this moaning bird to pour forth her melancholy notes?” There is an Indo-European root -kwo/kwe/kw-, one of whose meanings is “Where?”, derived from the above-mentioned Indo-European pronomia; root is the classical Persian ku, Modern Persian ko, which “Where?”.

Persian and Welsh are both Indo -European languages. Also, derived from the Indo-European -kwo/kwc/kw- is the Old Welsh cw, which, like the classical Persian ku, is pronounced like the English “coo”. ‘L’hus, in classical Persian and Old Welsh, the words for “Where?” are phonetically identical.

Omar Khayyam, contemplating the ruins of a royal palace of the Sassanian Period, is reminded of the kings and heroes of the ShahNameh:

Jamshid, Feridun, Kai Kobad, Bahram Gur, Kai Khusrau, Rustam, Isfandiyar, Bizhan, Siyavush, etcetera and in the follow on ruba’i (quatrain) translated from the original Persian by Edward Fitzgerald say:

“The Palace that to Heaven his pillars threw

And Kings the forehead on his threshold drew,

I saw the solitary ringdove there,

And “coo, coo, coo” she cried, and “coo, coo, coo.”

In classical Persian, the Eurasian Ringdove (scientific name: Streptpelia Decaocto) was saying: “Where, where? where?”, where are the bygone kings and heroes?

The same image occurs in Medieval Welsh poetry. Below are two examples translated from the Old Welsh by Ifor Wiaaiams. Here is an example from the 9th century Black Book of Llywarch Hen:

“At Aber Cuawg the cuckoos are singing.

Sad, it is to my mind

That he who heard them will hear them no more.”

Here is another example, this one from the 12th century Black Book of Carmarthen: “Where cuckoos sing on the tops of fine trees,

Greater grows my gloom.

Smoke smarts, sorrow cannot be hidden

For my kind men that have passed away.”

The songs of both the Eurasian Ringdove (Streptopelia Decaocto) and the common Eurasian cuckoo (Scientific name: Cuculus Canorus) are in English phonetics “Coo, coo , coo”. To Omar Khayyam and other Classical Persian poets, the Eurasian Ringdove sang Ku, ku, ku? or “Where, where, where? In the selection from the taziyeh cited above, Sakina, daughter of Imam Hussein, says:

Till when must I coo like a dove, or moan like a cuckoo? How long is this moaning bird to pour forth her melancholy notes?

To Sakina, daughter of Imam Hussein, the dove and cuckoos are saying ku? ku? ku? or Where? Where? Where?

To the Medieval Welsh poets, the Common Eurasian Cuckoo (Scientific name: ccuculus canorus) sang cw?, cw?, cw?, “coo, coo, coo” in English phonetics), in Old Welsh, “Where? Where? Where?” Thus, to both classical Persian poets and Medieval Welsh poets, Eurasian Ringdoves and Common Eurasian Cuckoos sang “Where? Where? Where?” and were harbingers of melancholy.

Not all members of the cuckoo family have “coo, coo, coo” as their song. The song of the notorious: Brain Fever Bird “of India (Scientific name (Cuculus Varius) has a typical call which seems to say “brain fever”.

Interestingly, the commonest member of the dove family in North America (Scientific name: Zenaida Macronu) also has as its song “coo, coo, coo”, and is commonly called the “Mourning Dove”. Was it a Welshman who gave the North American Mourning Dove its name?

 

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