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Telling folktales

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 04.06.2006:

The following text is from a book about the telling of Palestinian folklores:

“In the past, folktales were told for entertainment, usually after supper during winter evenings, when work in the fields was at a minimum and people were indoors with time on their hands. During the summer there were likely to be other forms of entertainment or subjects for conversation, such as weddings and festive occasions, and folktales were not told. The most common setting for tale telling was the small family gathering, consisting of two or three mothers from a single extended family and their children, combined perhaps with a neighbor or two and their children. Although men were occasionally present at those sessions, they preferred to spend their time in the company of other men at the diwan.

People do not go visiting expressly to hear folktales, but rather because they enjoy each other’s company and like to sit around in the evening chatting (sahra). They go where conversation is good, and evenings entertaining. At these small, intimate, family gatherings people casually drift into telling folktales. Someone might say, “Tell us a tale!” and if the mood is right a session begins. Usually the oldest woman present is deferred to. If she knows a tale and wishes to tell it, she will proceed with an opening formula such as “Testify there is no God but one God!” When she finishes, she pronounces a closing formula, and someone else will take a turn.

A casual evening’s visit turns into an esthetic occasion for the duration of the telling. The atmosphere is aided by the dim light of an oil lamp or a kerosene lantern and by the attitude of the audience, who huddle around a clay brazier (kanun) warming their hands over the embers. In modern times the experience of a folktale session would be equivalent to going to the cinema.”

(Adapted from: Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana, “Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales.”)

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