Monday, May 25, 2020

Secret worlds (Following folktales around the world 157. - Saudi Arabia)

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!

Folktales ​from Saudi Arabia
Lamia Baeshen
Lamia Baeshen, 2002.

There are twenty-four tales in the book, collected from traditional storytellers in Jeddah at the turn of the 21st century. The author made voice recordings of the stories, then wrote them down in Arabic and in English. The introduction tells us about the storytelling tradition, and expresses hope that these tales will keep traveling and being told by future storytellers.


I was greatly amused by Mikki's mother, in which a strange little mouse named Kakki pooped golden coins for a poor family. When a jealous neighbor borrowed it, however, it just pooped regular mouse poop. Similarly amusing was The matron of cats: a prim and proper woman accidentally burped, and her cat blackmailed her with the shameful secret. She went to complain to the Matron of Cats, who lined up all the burps in the world, and punished the offending one. In another funny story a man told a porter he'd pay nothing for his services, to which he started demanded a payment of Nothing, and a judge had to clear things up.
I loved the imagery of The fisherman and the basket of jewels. Catching an enchanted fish, the poor man became rich, and opened a jewelry shop; however, when he started keeping secrets about his income from his supernatural wife, she made all the riches disappear, and he had to return to fishing.
There was very interesting symbolism in the tale where a father worried about his daughter so much he kept her locked up in a cellar, and only fed her prime boneless meat. One day, however, she found a bone in her food, and she used it to dig her way into the world outside. On the other hand, The materialistic aunt was a story of all the horrors and injustices that can happen to women in the world - but at least justice came to the abusers in the end.
The rooster and the string of pearls reminded me of a Greek folktale. A girl helped a princess find her lost love enchanted into the form of a rooster. She brought the news through storytelling, and moved through seven curtains to get to the princess as she was telling the story. In the tale of Pearl, the daughter of Coral, it was a kind leek-seller who helped an enchanted couple find their way back to each other.


Once again there was a story about a clever man exchanging a wheat grain and a barley seed for increasingly more valuable things, until he ended up with a palace and a wife.
Jeddah, jewel market
Donkey Head was a super dark variant of the "animal husband" tale - here the husband was the talking, cut-off head of a donkey. In the end of course he turned into a prince, as his mother had conceived him from the flame of a lamp where the Lord of Light was imprisoned. The sultan and the chicken was similar to animal bride stories, and Spring of elixir reminded me of Canary Prince from Italy. In a wicked stepmother story (Our cow Sabha) it was curious to see that the stepson, after he found his fortune, took care of the stepmother and her children too, making sure they lived comfortably as long as they lived apart.
There were multiple "kind and unkind girls" stories in the book, including one where it was a ghoul guarding a well who doled out the gifts and punishments.
It was fascinating to read Cornelian Tureen, a Beauty and the beast version where the wife found out her husband has a secret lock on his chest. She opened it, and saw a whole hidden world inside, with craftsmen preparing things for the birth of their child. I have only even seen a version of this tale from Albania before.

Where to next?

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