Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre launches Dh1.5 million Nabati poetry prize

The launch ceremony of the Kanz Al Jeel Award was held on Friday at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, with the deadline for entries extended until July 30

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, OCTOBER 21, 2014. Poetry by Ousha Bint Khalifa at the Women's Museum in Deira also called the Bait Al Banat.  (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Melanie Swan. Section: National.
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The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, part of the Department of Language and Tourism — Abu Dhabi, has officially launched the Kanz Al Jeel (Treasured Sayings) Award, a Dh1.5 million literary prize celebrating the history and heritage of Nabati poetry.

The award was first announced in April. However, an official launch ceremony was held on Friday at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, revealing more about the inspiration and intent of the award, as well as its guidelines.

The name of the Kanz Al Jeel Award was inspired by a poem written by the UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. While kanz translates to treasure or wealth, the word jeel refers to poems and is the colloquial Emirati form of the word qeel (what was said).

“Kanz Al Jeel is an exceptional award that brings tremendous value and depth to our cultural scene,” Ali Bin Tamim, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, said during the launch ceremony. “It reflects the wisdom, passion for poetry and vision of our Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, which helped cement this literary genre in the hearts and minds of all Emiratis and Arabs.”

Nabati is a form of vernacular poetry that stems from the many varieties of Arabic spoken in the Arabian Peninsula, which contrasts with the poetry written according to the classical rules of literary Arabic. The form is a vital component of Emirati literary heritage, and dates back to at least the 14th century. It originated among the Bedouin of the Arabian Peninsula and was first referenced by Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun in his 1377 work Al Muqaddimah.

Though the themes tackled in Nabati poetry, including group solidarity, unity, chivalry and longing, are common across Arabic literature, Nabati poetry distinguishes itself with its use of colloquial and direct language.

Nabati poetry also incorporates maxims, riddles, legends, proverbs and praise of the accomplishments of great leaders. A profound love for family, as well as the challenges and appeal of life in the desert are also common themes.

One of the poetry form's most celebrated recent practitioners was Sheikh Zayed himself.

"[His] poems cemented the importance of Nabati poetry, marking its continuity through the generations. It established poetry as a transient art form," Dheya Al Kaabi, assistant professor of modern literary criticism at the University of Bahrain, said during the award's launch ceremony.

"[His] poetry was exceptional, as was his political and social wisdom, and his approach to building bridges with other countries. When we look back on what he said in interviews, we find poetry that speaks of wisdom.

"We hope this award will promote his values, support academic studies of Nabati poetry, and motivate Arab researchers and orientalists to keep up their efforts, and continue to advance and promote this art form,” said Al Kaabi.

“The award will undoubtedly be a notable addition to the poetic arts and to the Sheikh Zayed Poetry Encyclopaedia, a priority area for the ALC," said Eissa Saif Al Mazrouei, vice-chairman of the Committee for the Management of Festivals and Cultural and Heritage Programmes in Abu Dhabi and chairman of the Kanz Al Jeel Award’s higher committee.

In addition to Nabati poetry itself, the Kanz Al Jeel Award also honours folk studies and research studies on the subject. It aims to preserve the traditional heritage of the poetry form for the next generation.

There are six categories within the award: Poetry Matching (where candidates must match the poem yaealu nun bant muzunah by Sheikh Zayed); Creative Personality; Arts (which includes Arabic calligraphy); Studies and Research; Poetic Publications; and Translation.

Candidates will compete for a share of the Dh1.5million prize pool.

“The award is a promising step towards enriching local and Arab cultural and literary landscape with new poetic models that serve to introduce readers to this art form, enrich Arabic libraries, preserve this piece of our heritage, and promote it as a literary genre that reflects our societies and their aspirations,” Bin Tamim said. “The award is supervised by a jury of renowned experts and literary and intellectual figures with extensive expertise in Nabati poetry and its history.”

Initially closing on Thursday, June 30, the application period for the inaugural version of the award has now been extended until Saturday, July 30. Nominations are open to individuals, literary unions, cultural institutions and universities, which can submit in any of the categories of the award, except Creative Personality, where nominations are only accepted via accredited channels or high-profile literary and academic figures.

“Candidates are required to have actively contributed to enriching local and Arabic poetic, critical or artistic movements,” the award guidelines read. “Nominated works must also feature a high level of originality and innovation, making a significant addition to human culture and knowledge.”

Candidates can submit a single entry for each award category. A nominated work cannot be submitted for another award in person or by proxy in the same year. Nominated works must be written in Arabic, except for the Translation and Studies and Research categories, which consider poems translated from Arabic into other languages.

“The great value this award brings is perhaps most evident in its unconventional theme and name, [and] boasts a unique aesthetic and points to a meaningful objective,” Saeed Hamdan Al Tunaiji, acting director general of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, said during the launch.

“Popular poetry today needs this kind of award in order to reach the world, and go beyond the bounds of spoken poetry, [which is] limited to its local audience and culture. We strive for the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair to be a launch pad for the award. We deeply value the importance of Nabati poetry and its close connection with our culture; it is an integral part of the culture and civilisation of the Emirati and Arab people.”

Updated: May 28, 2022, 10:31 AM