Monday, July 6, 2020

A map made of stories (Following folktales around the world 163. - Syria)

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!

Syrian ​Folktales
Muna Imady
Msi Press, 2012.

The book is divided into fourteen chapters, according to the fourteen districts of Syria, and each chapter contains one or two folktales from that region. Next to the tales each chapter also has riddles, songs, sayings by the Prophet, and a few local recipes. For example, I now know how to make roast camel.
The end of the book has a glossary, and the introduction talks about Syria and its storytelling traditions (for example the claim that if you tell stories by daylight you'll turn into a donkey). Each chapter begins with a short introduction to the region's history, famous places, and economy.


The tale of Boujhayesh the donkey was entertaining, and had a nice ending. The donkey and his friends - a goose, a duck, and a pigeon - planted a field together, and then all of them ate from it in secret. In the end when it all came to light they admitted their weakness and continued being friends.
I really liked the story of The enchanted snake where a girl wandered into a ghoul's cave, and when she refused to become her accomplice, the ghoul cursed her into a snake. The curse could only be broken if someone jumped over her three times without fear - but every time someone was scared of her, she'd become even uglier. The tale had a happy ending, and I especially liked that we got to hear all of it from the snake-girl's perspective.
The woodcutter and the lion was also a good story, where a poor man visited a lion's forest-island, and the kind lion allowed him to cut some wood. However, when he grew rich, he forgot about the animal's kindness and began to mock him, and even tried to kill him. The hurt lion then took back his island, saying "wounds can heal, but hurtful words last forever." I have read a similar story from Tunisia.


There were many familiar tale types in the book (no wonder, since Syria has always been a crossroads of trade routes). I encountered Treasures of the giant (Nuss-insais or Tiny), a Cinderella / Kind and unkind girls combination like the one from Lebanon (The wicked stepmother), the three gifts (and A cow that told lies), doctor and the devil (or jinn; the two scary wives were called Tunnay and Runnay and became synonymous with fake news), chain story about a cat who lost its tail, a "chatty wife" story ("When it rained meat"), and three clever men and the blind camel (The wise qadi).
I once again encountered my favorite Middle Eastern tale, where a clever girl is married to a kind beggar (The secret of the pomegranate), and the story from Palestine where a family is threatened by a ghoul, and the wife and daughters escape while the father, who didn't listen to their worries, is devoured (Sherehan Abu Khabeza).
The trickster in residence was the sly fox, who tricked several animals into believing he was going on a pilgrimage. Eventually a duck outwitted him. In another classic tale the fox and the raven invited each other for dinner, but when they discovered neither can eat well at the other's place, they apologized and made peace. There was also a version of the African folktale type where the fox decided to give all the food to the lion, after he witnessed the wolf being punished for an equal division.

Where to next?

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