Monday, June 22, 2020

Wise grandmothers and brave women (Following folktales around the world 161. - Palestine)

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!

Speak, ​Bird, Speak Again
Palestinian Arab Folktales
Ibrahim Muhawi & Sharif Kanaana
University of California Press, 1989.

The book contains 45 folktales, preceded by a long introduction about the collection, storytelling traditions, events, and styles. The stories were collected between 1978 and 1980, and out of more than two hundred texts the authors selected the most common tale types to represent the Palestinian folktale tradition.
The introduction talks about some of the seventeen storytellers (14 of whom were women); Palestinian family culture and relationships; society, cuisine, religion, and beliefs, in the light of folktales. The stories in the book are grouped into chapters thematically (individuals, society, relationships, etc.), and each chapter comes with a short Afterword analysis. Each story comes with plenty of footnotes, explaining cultural references and expressions. On top of that, at the end of the books we can find more notes for each story, a folktale motif index, and a bibliography.


My favorite in the whole book is a story cycle named "Seven leavenings" - sadly, only two of the seven have been collected. The hero is a clever old woman who, while waiting for dough to rise, walks down to the sea, gets on a random ship, and goes traveling to other cities. In each city she solves some kind of a problem (usually marital) with trickery. I would LOVE to read more of these stories.
"Sumac, you son of a wh***, sumac", the story with the best title in the book, was a pretty great version of the tale type where a girl is born a cannibalistic monster (here, a ghoul), and her brother ends up hunting her down after she eats the whole family. Here the hero was helped by two tame lions he raised. In an unexpected twist, at the end of the story he solved a riddle with the help of his sister's drops of blood (who yelled the solution at him in the above mentioned title format). Similar monster-hunting appeared in the story where an old ghoul woman stole the brides of a prince on their wedding night, until a clever lady broke the curse and sent guards to kill the ghoul. In the story of the Transjordanian ghoul mother and daughter killed the monster, while the man of the house was taking a nap.
The story of the brave young man reminded me of the devil's golden hairs - but it was not about a brave young man at all. His sole role was to go to the terrible ghoul and tell his wife the ghoul needed to die - at which point the brave and clever woman took care of the monster-killing. She was not the only interesting female hero in the book, either. The tale of Gazelle was a version of the type known to many of us as the Russian Koschei the Deathless - but here the jinn the guy accidentally released from prison (where it had been put by the heroine) didn't kidnap the wife, but rather challenged her to a fight which she accepted (saying "this time I will destroy you"), and while they fought the husband went off to find the jinn's hidden strength.
The story of Soqak-Boqak was interesting: jealous bystanders made a prince think his bride was ugly, so he ran away from his wedding. His bride disguised herself, found him, and they fell in love before she revealed that he had been lied to.


I was happy to read another version of the Saudi-Arabian tale where a woman goes into an underground kingdom out of shame for a burp. Here, a  poor woman sank underground because of a fart, and returned rich; when a rich woman tried to copy her, she returned cursed. It was especially funny to see how farts lived in the underground realm as people.
The tale of Tunjur Tunjur belonged to the funny type where a talking bowl brings gifts to its owner (here, also its mother). The story of Lady Tatar was an interesting mix of Daughter of the Sun and Daughter of the Wild Man - a heroine raised by a ghoul used her magic powers to show how she was better than all the other brides of her husband. There was also a version of the cute Middle Eastern tale type where a Cricket girl married a mouse, then fell into a puddle, and her husband heroically rescued her.
There were many familiar tale types represented in the book, for example princesses kidnapped to the underworld (Precious One and Worn-out One), treasures of the giant (Half-man), an animal brother tale (The orphans and the cow), "mother killed me, father ate me" (The green bird), Golden-haired children and the Water of Life (The little nightingale), Canary prince (The chief of birds), All-kinds-of-fur (Sackcloth), Rapunzel + magic flight (Lolabe), kind and unkind girls (Chicken eggs), tablecloth, donkey, and stick (with a Woodcutter and jinn in a well), Aladdin (Maruf the shoemaker, whose wife eventually stole the magic ring back), false fortune-teller (named Sparrow), and Seven kids (here with three kids, and a hyena disguised through a chain story). There were other chain stories in the book too; one about a cat who wanted her tail back, and another about a louse that started a mass grief chain among the animals. Dunglet was one of those stories where a monster keeps devouring everyone and getting bigger and bigger (here, it was an ever-growing piece of dung).

Where to next?

1 comment:

  1. My favorite from that book is Tunjur, Tunjur. I love the fact the main character is a trickster, and it's an inusual story about a woman giving birth to a non human baby, and the child doesn't become human at the end.