“Bêrîvanê, Kurdistanê, kulîlka evê cîhanê”: A brief lyrical analysis of Tehsin Taha’s Bêrîvanê

We’re in 1961; Mustafa Barzani and company have unleashed an armed resistance against the Iraqi leadership. Kurdistan – as she always is – has come under attack. With many-a-failed attempts to secure autonomy for Kurds in Southern Kurdistan from the central Baghdad government through diplomatic means, Barzani begins paramilitary warfare with the Iraqi army.

Meanwhile, Kurdistan’s culture is taking root within the armed struggle. Poetry and music is now taking refuge under the shield of the peshmerga’s (Kurdish guerrillas). Songs and lyrics are written inclined towards reviving the Kurdish spirit of resistance and struggle against oppression as was customary to Kurdish uprisings of the past.

Tehsin Taha takes center stage.


The flame of resistance was once again ignited in Southern Kurdistan during the rebellions of the sixties and on-ward. As I listen to the music of the past and in particular those of the great Tehsin Taha, I hear subliminal cries for Kurds and Kurdistan. The music of the time became a mouth-piece for the political and military unrest of the latter part of the twentieth century in Kurdistan.

Lyrics, poetry, and the arts in general symbolized the soul of the resistance. Tehsin Taha’s song, “Bêrîvanê” was no exception.

The song begins with a strong instrumental introduction to Kurdistan; and in this introduction we hear the rhythms reflective of traditional Kurdish music. A minute and 3 seconds later, Tehsin tells the story of a distressed and sorrow-stricken young lady. Her name: Bêrîvan.

Bêrîvanê mal wêranê

Bêrîvanê (Female name, female version of shepherd), of/from a torn household

He calls her “Bêrîvanê” and describes her in a very low social condition. A torn household is synonymous with dysfunction, abnormality, the lack of order, and an endless list of negative connotations – which become attributed to this Bêrîvanê. She’s in torment it appears, because this type of name calling in Kurdish is used to described someone who is suffering. Bêrîvanê, in the grander context is Kurdistan. The story that unfolds with the lyrics of this rhthmatic poetry is describing Kurdistan, Kurds and their oppression.

Şirînê wey bê xudanê

Sweetheart/Sweetness, without a protector

Implying she is without a protector is simply making reference to her inability to stand up against the woes she has befallen; and in particular the woes of war, oppression, displacement, and assimilation (not an exhausted list by any means) as it relates to the Kurdish nation. With every set-up suffered by the Kurds at the hands of their oppressors, there was a feeling of helplessness. Not only at times did Kurds feel they had no protector, but it was as if the world had abandoned this lonely nation.

Zerka te bu çi vala ye?

Why is your “zerk” (tin container used by farmers/villagers to milk their herd) empty?

The reference made to her “zerk” could be a metaphor for her empty future. At the time the song was written, many rebellions were being crushed by the mighty fist of Baghdad and the Kurdish fight for freedom was built up only to be erased from reality. It could also be a representation of the lack of prosperity the Kurds were seeing after milking the revolution with all their might.

Meşka te bu çi qetya ye?

Why is your “meşk/meshik” (a device made of animal hide – reminiscent of a swing with a person at either end swinging the device back and forth to turn milk into cream) torn?

Another metaphor this time used specifically to bring to the listeners attention to the revolutions and rebellions that had gone sour. It seemed as much as the Kurdish forces tried to move towards freedom, freedom was torn from their grasp.

Bêrîvanê mal wêranê

Şirînê wey bê xudanê

Pezê te bu çiyê mit e?

Your herd, why are they quiet, without noise?

The reference to the herd is a symbol of the Kurdish people. Under the Iraqi regime, a crushed rebellion was followed by heavy destruction and disturbances to daily Kurdish life. During a battle or a certain instance in the revolution, Kurds would make noise to ensure the enemy was listening to their cries for freedom. However once the battle was lost or the rebellion of the time was crushed, only the silent cries of the dead echoed in Kurdistan.

Belavê ev ro kit kite

Scattered about, today [they] are separated?

This particular metaphor refers to the segregated and divided characteristic of the Kurdish nation. We are scattered throughout the middle-east, separated by fascist borders of imperialist empires.

Bêrîyê bêje şivanî guh bi de peze xodanî

Bêrîyê (short form of Bêrîvanê /Bêrîvan) tell the shepherd [to] take care/pay attention to the owners herd

Here he calls on Bêrîvanê to tell the shepherd, who is actually the Kurdish guerrilla, or more commonly referred to as the Peşmerge/Peshmerge, to keep a watchful eye on the herd – which we’ve already established as the Kurdish nation.

Bêrîvanê mal wêranê

Bêrîyê bêje bêrîya

Bêrîyê tell the other female shepherd’s

Esmer û can û zerîya
The fair skinned, the beautiful, the lovely [ones/ladies]

Nêzîke ew bihar bêtin
The spring is near/The spring time is coming

In the previous stanzas he once again called on the Berîvanê, but this time to tell her to inform the others that the spring is near. In Kurdish culture, the spring represents a new day and is literally called the new day – Newroz. Several centuries prior to the era of rebellion in the late twentieth century, Kurdish myth holds that a blacksmith named Kawa freed the Kurdish people from the tyranny of the Assyrian King Zahhak. Tehsin is trying to insight this revolutionary spirit in the Berîvanê he’s calling upon. Trying to reassure her that freedom, just like the freedom Kawa brought to the Kurds during a Newroz several centuries ago, would come once again during this spring.

Ew bihara pez bizêtin

That spring time where the herd will flourish

The spring season coinciding with the Kurdish new year of Newroz, brings with it the warmth of sunlight and growth. As mentioned above it represents freedom and fresh beginnings for the Kurdish nation. It is at Newroz celebrations when the Kurdish nation flourish, dancing in the delightful colours of the new day by the warmth of the Newroz fire.

Bêrîvanê mal wêranê

Bêrîyê qêr ke strana

Bêrîyê roar [with your might] those songs/lyrics

Da te nakin êş û jana

So that you may not fall into poor health and pains

Music in Kurdish culture is strength. It represents our identity, it seeks to remind us of our past trials and tribulations, like a history book recounting events of the Kurdish past. It is only befitting that he tells this Berîvanê to sing her music to alleviate her pain and sorrows. But more so, Kurdish music is also a celebration of the revolutionary spirit that has survived the oppression of kings and sultans over centuries.

Em ji tirsê qet namirin

We will never die of fear

Em ji tirsê qawîmtirin

We are stronger than fear [itself]

Evoking strength within the Kurdish nation, he tells Bêrîvanê that as Kurds we are fearless, stronger than fear, for as Kurds we stare death in the face.

Bêrîvanê mal wêranê

In the end we have a regurgitation of the first stanza. We are reminded that Bêrîvanê, with all the encouragement and reassurance she received throughout the song about resistance and revolution still remained “home-torn” – for a lack of a better world – or from a torn household. Yes the Kurdish revolutionary spirit is recognized and it’s trying to be awakened, however it does little to alleviate the oppression Kurdistan is under until swift action is taken to free her. It is up to the herd to remain steadfast so that the şivan can do what is in his power to safeguard the Bêrîvanê from further sorrow and struggle.

Tehsin Taha – Bêrîvanê: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l78QwiHsEKI