Monday, February 18, 2019

Love is a matter of blind luck (Following folktales around the world 99. - Tunisia)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Tunisian Folklore
Folktales. Songs. Proverbs.
Mohamed Bacha
Amazon Digital Services, 2017.

This book contains five Tunisian folktales, translated to English by a Tunisian linguist. The tales come from a famous storyteller, who promoted the telling of folk stories on TV and radio in the 1960s and 70s. The English translation has some mistakes (usually around spelling and past tenses), but they don't make the stories any less enjoyable. The book also contains a couple of folk songs in Tunisian Arabic and English, as well as dozens of proverbs from Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab countries.
Since there are only 5 tales in the book, I decided to write about each of them separately:

The marvelous Akarek
A Valiant Little Tailor type folktale, about a skinny hero who outsmarts and defeats several dangerous ghouls. He becomes an adivsor to the king... and after the king's death, he forges his own name on the will, so he inherits the throne over the decadent prince.

Sultan, Barbary lion of the 
New York Zoo, 1897.
Jabra and Sultan
Pretty, and painfully realistic story. Jabra, young wife of a poor craftsman who makes musical instruments, dreams of a better life. When her husband overhears her complaining to her mother about their miserable poverty, he gets angry and divorces her. Jabra runs into the woods in shame, where she encounters Sultan, a lion who dreams of being human. They fall in love and live together, dancing, talking, swimming, and generally being a better story than Beauty and the Beast. Eventually, Jabra pays her parents a visit, and spends three days praising the lion and their shared happiness. Sadly, Sultan shows up just in time to overhear her mention his one flaw: His mouth stinks. The lion grows disappointed, and divorces Jabra. The story comes with a moral: Physical wounds can heal over time, but wounds caused by words are forever.

The lumberjack and the two muses
The two "muses" mentioned in the title are Good Luck and Back Luck, who take turns steering a poor man's fate through a series of accidents. Interestingly, Bad Luck eventually gets a headache from the competition and quits, whole Good Luck falls in love with the man's son. Sadly, we don't find out if their love is fulfilled or not.

Mrs. Pinchwife and Crapsalot the Cat
A woman who likes to keep her house tidy comes into conflict with the neighbor's cat, Crapsalot, who steals food from her pantry and then... well, craps a lot. She cuts off his tail as revenge, and the cat has to go through a chain story of events to prove he feels bad for his behavior, and win his tail back.

The hanged man and the dead girl
An adorable story, despite the title. Doja, a brave and defiant woman (who drinks and smokes with the men, and once broke a bandit's nose) makes a bet than she can bring rope from the gallows at night. She cuts down a hanged man, and to her shock she finds that 1. he's alive and 2. he's the bandit whose nose she broke. She runs away, leaving the bandit alone to wander in the night. He ends up at the cemetery, where he notices the cries of a girl who, fleeing a forced marriage, had taken some medicine and was accidentally buried alive. The bandit rescues the girl, they fall in love, and escape the city together.

Safseri, a traditional Tunisian garment that is left behind by Doja,
and makes the bandit think he's seen a ghost
Where to next?


  1. This is a great resource. I love the commentary. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for this exciting and captivating article on the Tunisian stories. They were inspired by and adapted from old stories but the author has made important changes to plots and meaning.
    Congrats for the great, delightful Blog!