The Moorish epic T’heydinn was inscribed yesterday on the United Nations’ List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. The T’heydinn epic encompasses dozens of poems lauding the glorious feats of Moorish emirs and sultans. It propounds ancestral values underpinning the way of life of the Moorish community in Mauritania, and constitutes a literary and artistic manifestation of the Hassaniya language.
Griots perform the epic accompanied by traditional stringed instruments such as the lute and harp, and the kettledrum. Griots preserve the collective memory of society through the poems, passing down knowledge and skills from father to son, with young griots first learning the instrumental skills before being initiated into the poetic tradition.
The T’heydinn constitutes a permanent bond between the griots and their tribe, with a particular repertoire distinguishing each griot family. The epic is performed at social events including weddings, reconciliation ceremonies and invitations. Performances are occasions for regional tribal and family reunions, strengthening social ties and promoting a culture of social peace and mutual assistance. Performance of the T’heydinn epic is, however, in decline. Griots with full knowledge of the epic are few in number and most are elderly. Moreover, demand for performance has decreased and young griots tend to perform the epic in abridged form or know only certain episodes, which threatens the viability of the T’heydinn epic.