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
Kan ma kan
(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
"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)"