Monday, May 13, 2019

Saints and lessons (Following folktales around the world 106. - Mauritania)

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!

Shinqiti ​Folk Literature and Song
H. T. Norris
Clarendon Press, 1968.

The book is a selection from the oral tradition of Mauritania's Hassaniya-speaking "Moorish" people. Shinqit is the name of a trade city as well as the region spanning from the Senegal River to Morocco. Cultures have been split up by political borders, but there are still close to ten million Hassaniya speakers in West Africa, the majority of them living in Mauritania. The landscape, between ocean and desert, left its mark on the stories and the poetry. The book has a lengthy introduction to the culture, language, music, poetry, and oral tradition of Shinqit. There is one chapter for poetry (bilingual print), and a chapter that contains fourteen stories, both folktales and saints' legends.


I was fascinated by the stories of local saints. One of my favorites was about how Aba Zayd and Baba Ahmad outwitted a notorious trickster, al-Arusi, to protect the reputation of a friend of theirs. The troublemaker tried to trick them with riddles, but they solved all of them in the end. Another fun story was that of Sid al-Amin, and how he tried to cure his consumption by drinking vinegar and honey. He listened to the medicine arguing with the illness inside his chest; Vinegar was mean, but Honey was polite, and yet the latter was the more terrifying. I also adored the story of Saint Barakallah and his slow and ugly, but loyal and kind donkey. The animal carried water for the saint in his life, and after his death stood by the grave, and could not be moved by any force.


I have encountered stories before (e.g. in Mali) where a smaller animal defeated a larger, stronger one from the inside. In this collection, it happened in The fight between the lion and the fly, where the fly killed the lion by crawling into his brain. I was reminded of a Hungarian tale by The murabit and the shepherd, in which the wise man preached about hell and the afterlife until the shepherd began to cry - but when consoled, he admitted that it was not the thought of hell that made him cry, but rather the wise man's beard, which reminded him of his favorite goat that had been eaten by a beast...

Where to next?
Cape Verde!


  1. Thank you for sharing

  2. The fly went into his brain... that is as bad as someone getting stabbed in the eye.