Wednesday, April 17, 2019

O is for Olives and Detectives (A to Z Challenge 2019: Fruit Folktales)

Well, we just had oranges yesterday, so today I have to do olives. Luckily, olives play an important role in many cultures, and a such there are countless tales and legends that revolve around them. Today, I picked one of my favorites. Here is a story from the Thousand and One Nights (more specifically, from nights 639-643).

Ali Khwajah, the merchant lives in Baghdad in the time of the famous wise caliph Haroun Al-Rashid. One day he decides to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. He sells all his goods, and since he doesn't want to carry all his wealth to Mecca, he puts a thousand gold coins into an olive jar, spreads some olives on top, and seals the jar. He then takes the jar to a merchant friend of his, and asks him to store the jar in his house while he is away. The merchant friend agrees, puts the sealed jar in his cellar, and forgets about it.

Ali Khwajah goes on the pilgrimage to Mecca. On the way, he meets other merchants, and decides to accompany them to faraway lands, and travel the world. He is away for seven long years.
In the meantime, towards the end of the seven years, the other merchant's wife starts craving olives. The merchant opens the sealed jar (despite his wife's protests), and finds that the olives have gone bad, but there is gold underneath them. He takes the gold, fills the jar with fresh olives, and seals it back up.

Soon after Ali Khwajah comes home, greets his friend, and takes back his jar. When he opens it, he finds it full of olives, and all thousand pieces of gold are gone. He returns to his friend to complain, but the merchant denies that he's ever opened the jar. The matter ends up at court before the judge, but since there are no witnesses about the gold, the case is dismissed. The desperate Ali Khwajah goes before Haroun Al-Rashid, asking for justice. The caliph promises to think it over.

That evening Haroun Al-Rashid goes walking in his city, and notices a handful of children playing. They are reenacting the (high-profile) case of Ali Khwajah. One child pretends to be the judge. He asks "Ali" to bring the jar of olives in for inspection. He tastes the olives and finds them fresh. He orders two olive merchants to tell him, from their expertise, how long olives keep in a jar. The merchants testify that no olives keep for more than three years. The child-judge thus concludes that the jar had been opened and refilled, and decides the trial in Ali's favor.

Haroun is so impressed with the child that he orders him to court for the next day. When the merchant and Ali Khwajah arrive, the caliph does exactly what the child has done, and since the olives are fresh, the truth of the matter comes out. Ali gets his money back, the boy also gets a thousand pieces of gold, the merchant is hanged for his crime, the judge is disciplined for being bad at his job. Justice prevails, thanks to the wisdom of a child.

(Read the story here.)

Do you think there would have been another solution for Ali to reveal the truth and get his money back?
(Also, I checked, and modern olives also have a 3-year expiration date...)


  1. I think the child had the best solution. They could have chosen a less drastic punishment.

  2. I actually know this story! Very smart kid. As I recall, in the story, the children have fathers who are in the olive business.

    O Is For The Once And Future King

  3. The story is amazing, kids sometimes show us the path we have never thought of. I also have this book, you have encouraged me to go back and read it once again.

    I am also participating in A2Zchallenge, and I am writng in a flashback story hence going from Z to A. Do visit my blog too.

  4. Out of the mouths of babes... I love/loved Haroun al Rashid stories, read a heap of them as a child. Thanks for the link!

  5. What a great story and child's wisdom sure exceeds that of the judge! Glad that Haroun Al Rashid did the right thing as a ruler.
    Olives have a 3 year expiration date - a new info for me.

  6. Thank you for the reminder about this one! I've known it and I have forgotten about it...

  7. I should read A Thousand And One Nights...

  8. Clever child! I'm not a fan of the harsh punishments often doled out in tales, so I often edit them in my own mind. Having to eat a 7-year old olive seems a harsh enough penalty to me.

  9. I wonder if they ever asked the wife? She didn't want her husband to open the jar, so she knew he did anyway.
    I wonder who provided all that gold for the boy? Much more than would fit in the bottom of an olive jar.

  10. out of the mouths of babes. smart kid! i didn't even know the expiration date of olives. guess i would have wanted a witness when he gave the merchant is jar and when he picked up his jar.

    Joy at The Joyous Living

  11. Impressive that olives at that time could be kept just as well as they do now. I wonder whether it would have gone better or worse if Ali Khwajah had just been honest with his friend about keeping his money for him.
    Black and White: O is for Ouroboros

  12. I love olives! Black and green, I eat them before the expiration date ;))

  13. Okay, you made my mouth water. Off to grab a snack of olives and cheese!!

    DB McNicol, author
    A to Z Microfiction: Onion

  14. Ah, wisdom from a child' perspective :-)

    Ronel visiting from the A-Z Challenge with Music and Writing: The One...

  15. What a great story. Its a news to me that Olives has an expiry date too.

  16. Would a modern child be so wise - looking at a cellphone all day? Or wiser?