Storytelling

Tales, within the specific context of women's lives are part of the society. Arab women have always enjoyed decorating their clothes. Embroidery was one of their arts, story telling another. Like the embroidered dresses that women wear, the stories they tell are similar in outline, the jealous stepmother, the prince who falls in love to the verge of his illness on seeing some token of the heroine, e.g. "Tree of Life", "Sugar of the Plate" or "Eye of the Camel" are some of the names given to the patterns in embroidery, they also could be titles of fairy stories.

Stitching, weaving and talking are common in the peasant evening hours when the day's work has been done like this popular opening expression says:

Kan ma kan
Bidna nihki
Willa innam
(there was, there was not,
Shall we tell the stories
Or sleep in ours cots?)

Darkness is the best time for fiction. During Ramadhan, after the long day of fast, the evening is a time to revive: sundown breakfast parties become a gathering of families. Such was the entertainment of the women and children. The hours are spent in company, sometimes listening to the music or telling stories. The stories were about princes and princesses, about the Djinn and Ghouls, magic and hidden treasures...

Many Oriental and African civilisations manifest clear distinction between men's and women's worlds. Male story telling occurred in public places such as coffee-houses and market places which flourished after the Ottoman empire. The storyteller might use a musical instrument and at the end of his performance, the storyteller would pass round a tray and the members of the audience would pay him.

The well known anecdotes of the trickster Djoha might be told to laugh over.

The professional storyteller would travel from one village to the other, offering his stories to coffee-house audience. He used his stick to wave or beat on the ground for emphasis, he could earn food and a corner to sleep in for a few days.

In the souks or markets the storyteller might sit on a mat. And with a listening crowd around him he will break off his narrative to sip from a glass of mint tea.

Early during the eighth century Arabic culture was centred in Baghdad. Old poems were recited by the Rawi. From generation to generation the professional storyteller would pass on orally the poetry of the time of the Prophet and even before.

In modern times, increasing literacy, radio and cinema began to supplant the Arab oral tradition, the preservation of the folk culture met with a peculiar obstacle: The language itself, as there is a difference between the written and the spoken Arabic.

"Every afternoon, towards five o'clock, when the noon heat began to cool, the drums woke people all over Marakkesh. Ahmed rose from his low bed and pulled on a Djellaba - the long, loose white robe worn in Morocco. He went on soft bar feet to the door of his room, and opened it just a crak. No one must hear him leave the house. At once he heard his father's voice, talking with his friends, lazily in the shaded courtyard of their house. His mother would be in her room still. She liked to rest a long time. She pulled the door all the way open and walked quietly from his room. (...)Ahmed run between the tall houses, dodging his way round all the people. They walked slowly in the same direction. Ahmed knew that they were going to the same place as he was himself - The djemaa el Fna. (A well known square where the storytelling tradition is still alive)"

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