Monday, June 29, 2020

Worlds behind the curtain (Following folktales around the world 162. - Lebanon)

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!

Abu ​Jmeel's Daughter and Other Stories
Arab Folk Tales from Palestine and Lebanon
Jamal Sleem Nuweihed
Interlink Books, 2002.

The 27 folktales in this book were written down from memory by a Lebanese lady named Jamal Sleem Nuweihed when she was 83 years old. The stories were then translated to English by her family - children, grandchildren, nieces. Jamal spent her life writing novels, poems, autobiographies and tales, but she was never allowed to enter literary life outside the home, so a lot of her work went unpublished. She learned her folktales from four women in her childhood: a Lebanese aunt, a Lebanese friend, her own Turkish mother who had an adventurous life, and a Palestinian fortune-teller. The foreword tells us about her life, while the introduction talks about the colorful details of Arab storytelling traditions. Each story comes with end notes and comments. The tales in the book were all colorful, exciting, and beautifully eloquent, reflecting the hidden life and dreams of a brilliant woman writer.


Image from here
One of the most beautiful tales in the book was the story of Amina. Eight siblings (seven girls and a boy) ran away from home from an evil stepmother, and started a new life elsewhere, supporting each other. In time their father left the stepmother and found them, and the brother married a princess. What I liked most about this story (other than the bookworm youngest daughter) was that it stated that the father knew about the cruelty of his wife, but didn't have the confidence to do something about it.
The story of Rummana was a gorgeous Snow White variant, combined with elements I knew from tales such as Little Surya Bai. The princess was not exiled here, rather she ran away into the wilderness our of curiosity and got lost. Three hunters adopted her as their sister and raised her. When eventually an evil ghoul killed her, they put her in a glass coffin on the back of a camel and set her free. A prince found her, his mother revived her and cared for her until she was healthy again.
The tale of Qamar Al-Zamaan and Shams Al-Dunya was very similar to one of the Palestinian stories, but it was a longer and more elaborate version. A prince was tricked into thinking his bride was ugly, so he ran away and hid in a garden. The bride disguised herself and befriended him; they slowly fell in love (with lots of poetry) until she revealed who she really was. The seond half of the tale, however, took a tragic turn: evil women killed the wife and her children, and the prince went through a long and dark grief process before he found love again.
Image from here
I absolutely loved the story of Hassan Al-Waqqad (I have recently worked with a different version of it for my book). A clever and brave princess was married to a beggar by her angry father as punishment, but they managed to build a life together anyway, fell in love, and found their fortune together. In another tale a man named Azzam was the most eligible bachelor of his city, but he kept divorcing his wives after the wedding night. Finally a clever girl managed to uncover his secret (he was being blackmailed by a sorceress), got rid of the villain with the help of her maid, and turned his life around. In The midwife's daughter and the bandit another clever and brave girl managed to talk herself out of danger when a bandit found his way into her house at night.


There was, once again a "women's wiles are better than men's wiles" story, although this version was definitely kinder than the ones I have read before. After Palestine, I also encountered again the tale where a poor girl was rejected by her rich cousin, only to marry a beggar - who, to the infinite regret of the cousin, turned out to be Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid himself.
Another Mediterranean tale type appeared in Sons of the rich and daughters of the poor, where a poor girl competed with her rich cousin about which one of them could start a better business. The clever girl grew rich, while the guy ran his family business into the ground.
In "Mine to use as I choose" a young man was not allowed to see his bride, so, similarly to Greek folktales, he had a golden statue made, and hid inside (it was also a beautiful story, btw.). The fawwal's daughter was an Anait-story, where the prince had to learn a trade before he could marry a girl - and his trade saved his life later on. The girl was a spirited, flirty, clever character, who reminded me of Basil Girl tales.
On top of all this, there were several familiar tale types, such as a golden-haired gardener (Clever Hasan), three gifts (Marzuoq the woodcutter), Prince Thrushbeard (Hajji Brumbock), daughter of the sun (Abu Jmeel's daughter), cat bride (Cat of cats, where the cat skin was not burnt in the end, but rather stuffed with gold and displayed as a memorabilia), three pieces of advice (Don't betray those who trust you), Basil girl who seduced her husband three times (The tailor's daughter), and Cinderella / Kind and unkind girls (The golden shoe).

Where to next?

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