Monday, February 4, 2019

The last storytellers (Following folktales around the world 97. - Morocco)

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!

The Last Storytellers
Tales from the heart of Morocco
Richard Hamilton
I. B. Tauris, 2011.

Richard Hamilton collected thirty-seven folktales between 2006 and 2009 on the Jemaa el Fna, the famous market of Marrakesh, where the five tellers of these tales were among the last who still make (or used to make) a living from telling stories to a live audience. The translations are not verbatim, and Hamilton admits to occasionally embellishing the language of the stories, but they are close to the originals. This is not a folklore publication by a long shot, so it lacks notes, but it is a very enjoyable read, and has a long and detailed Introduction to the circumstances of collection, Moroccan storytelling tradition, and the tellers themselves.


I have always loved the Mute Princess story, and this book has a fascinating version of it, titled The gazelle with the golden horns. In it, the Sultan's third son, born from a black slave mother, succeeds in making the princess talk. He spends his life partying until one day four fairies attend his party and help him with a story; the guy cleans up, wins the princess, and becomes a great ruler. Another beautiful story also had a black hero: the tale of El-Ghaliya Bent Mansour started and ended with golden apples, and in-between the hero was helped by djinn, magic horses, fling carpets, and all the trappings of wonder tales to win the hand of a princess who lived underground.
Seven coins and a donkey was a fun story about three women who decided to punish a shopkeeper because he hated women and kept yelling after them. They managed to trick him three times so thoroughly that he almost ended up in jail, but they fixed things in the end, and he left Morocco deeply ashamed of himself. Crisis was also solved by women in The nobleman and his three sons, where a villain sold his soul to the Devil to turn handsome, and have the ability to curse the three young man into birds, and take their inheritance. The wife of the youngest son figured out the evil plan, and managed to break the curse. Some women, however, were less likable: The heroine of One hundred and one beheadings killed 101 of her suitors in duel, before she took a liking to one.
Since we are now in Africa, wisdom tales abounded in this book. In The trials of Nouraddine, a wise sultan figured out a way to make a corrupt judge return money a poor man left in his care. Basically, the sultan gave a whole lot more money to the judge to keep, so the next time Nouraddine made a fuss about his small sum, the judge gave it back out of annoyance. And then was jailed by the sultan in the treasure room.
The legend of Suleiman, the stork, and the City of Gold was simply beautiful; it told of how King Suleiman died in the moment he gazed upon the hidden City of Gold, and no one ever find that place again. There was also a story about How the Sahara was born: The first time a man told a lie, God promised to place a grain of sand on the earth, but people didn't listen, and the Sahara has been expanding ever since...


I was very happy to find a parallel to my favorite Sicilian Cinderella story, in which the girl sneaks into the king's garden to steal things. However, this one took an unexpected turn when she won the sultan's heart by revealing hos his wife had been cheating on him with a slave. Nour and the Sultan did marry in the end. Another, more traditional Cinderella story ended on a dark note when Aicha Rmada ordered her evil stepsister to be chopped into pieces, and fed to the stepmother.
The story of the Red Lantern was a classic tale in which a poor man wandered into a kingdom where glass was unknown; he sold his one lantern for a high price and return home rich. His greedy brother set out with a watch to the same kingdom, and his rare gift was rewarded with the king's most prozed possession - the red lantern. There was also a Moroccan version of The Hunchback and the Fairies; here, instead of the days of the week, the good man sang good ingredients for the couscous made by the djinn, and the bad man sang about bad ones.
Many of the wisdom tales were familiar. The king and his minister learned that there is something good in every bad thing; in The fakir and the frog, good advice saved a person's life; in The land and the treasure, a man made his lazy sons dig up the garden by hinting that he'd buried treasure in it. In The woman and the devil, a woman proved that she is smarter and more wicked than the Devil, and even trapped him in the end.
I have read versions of The imam and the wager from Bosnia and Ethiopia before; it's the story where someone wagers that they would survive a cold night on top of a tower, but then they also have to prove that distant fire did not warm them. The laundryman and the fountain was similar to Greek tales where someone finds the fountain of their luck, and see it is barely dripping. The tale of the wife who is locked in, but still manages to escape with the neighbor (under The eyes of Ben'Adi) was familiar from the USA, among other places. I have also encountered The shoemaker and the bird before; it's the tale type where one has to eat a certain part of a magic bird to gain magical powers of wealth. A related tale type about a princess cheating a hero out of all his magical possessions (Fortunatus type) was represented by The sultan's daughter and the leper. In a variant of Grimm's Queen Bee, The traveler and the pasha's daughter, the hero, after finally winning the princess with the help of grateful animals, insisted on paying reparations to the families of the suitors who died before him.

Where to next?

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