Gallery - living-language-land



2022   12x12" shadow box with gallery glass

śaff: track; print; unexpectedly, it turns out to be

  • Language: Mehri
  • Region: Southern Oman

 Tracks, like fingerprints, reveal an indisputable identity that may otherwise not be recognised. My fingerprint is unique to me, and my footprint is likewise unique. In the desert from afar you may believe you are following a camel from one herd, but on close examination of the tracks of that animal discover you are tracking a camel from a different herd. The track, therefore, reveals the unique identity of an animal or a person, and by extension śaf has come to be used where an action, object or event that was originally thought to be one thing unexpectedly turns out to be something else. 

Younger speakers in Southern Oman might use śaf in sentences such as: śīnək ḥaybīt əkabs ḥaybayti śafs ḥaybitk ‘I saw a camel I thought was my camel, but it turned out to be your camel’. But they might not appreciate the link between this turn of phrase and the vital social importance of tracking for Mehri and Shehret livestock herders in the past. The track reveals identity without ambiguity, and skilled tracking can be a question of life or death.

The progressive paving of the environment, as social, economic and environmental forces shape Mehri and Shehret society, mean that the activity and terminology of tracking is being lost.

In this piece we can clearly see camel tracks on the desert sand, disappearing on the ashphalt. The desert burns away below, as human encroachment defeats the natural landscape.

For the full description, along with pronunciation, map and short video, click HERE.