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Were it simply a collection of fascinating, previously unpublished folktales, Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales would merit praise and attention because of its cultural rather than political approach to Palestinian studies. But it is much more than this. By combining their respective expertise in English literature and anthropology, Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana bring to these tales an integral method of study that unites a sensitivity to language with a deep appreciation for culture.

As native Palestinians, the authors are well-suited to their task. Over the course of several years they collected tales in the regions of the Galilee, Gaza, and the West Bank, determining which were the most widely known and appreciated and selecting the ones that best represented the Palestinian Arab folk narrative tradition. Great care has been taken with the translations to maintain the original flavor, humor, and cultural nuances of tales that are at once earthy and whimsical. The authors have also provided footnotes, an international typology, a comprehensive motif index, and a thorough analytic guide to parallel tales in the larger Arab tradition in folk narrative. Speak, Bird, Speak Again is an essential guide to Palestinian culture and a must for those who want to deepen their understanding of a troubled, enduring people.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520062924
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 2/13/1989
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 444
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ibrahim Muhawi is Professor of English at the University of Tunis. Sharif Kanaana is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Birzeit University.

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Read an Excerpt

Speak, Bird, Speak Again

Palestinian Arab Folktales
By Ibrahim Muhawi (Darwish) Sharif Kanaana

University of California Press

Copyright © 1989 Ibrahim Muhawi (Darwish) and Sharif Kanaana
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-06292-2

Chapter One

FOLKLORISTIC ANALYSIS Each tale is introduced here by both its English and its Arabic name, and by the name and age of the teller (when available) and her or his place of residence.

Tales are identified as to Type following Aarne and Thompson's Types of the Folktale (abbreviated as "AT"); citations for international parallels to the tales included here may be found in that volume as well. Motif numbers are drawn from Thompson's Motif-Index of Folk-Literature.

In the "Parallels" section, we have listed Arabic parallels according to their geographic proximity to Palestine, beginning with the Mashreq and moving westward to Egypt and North Africa. For multiple entries within a geographic location, authors are listed in alphabetical order and entries are separated by semicolons (although multiple entries for a single author are separated by commas). A book or article title may be found by reference to the Bibliography; in cases where an author has multiple publications, the specific date of publication is given in parentheses. Roman numerals always indicate volume number, whether for book or for journal (for journal abbreviations, see Key to References, p. xix); arabic numerals indicate either page number (when directly preceded by a colon) or tale number (when no punctuation comes before), or, very occasionally, the number of a journal issue (following a roman numeral and preceding a colon). In addition, tales are cited by title.

Only tales drawn from the Arabic tradition are cited as parallels as such, or as variants. We do draw attention, however, to parallels deriving from other countries in the Middle East (notably Israel, Iran, and Turkey) and from areas on its periphery (Greece, Italy, Central Asia, India). References from culturally more remote areas are occasionally cited when particularly appropriate. Except for the Palestinian references, we cannot claim that our survey of Arabic parallels is exhaustive, although we did search the accessible major resources thoroughly (including No-wak's comprehensive-though with regard to AT typology occasionally spotty-Beitrâge) and feel confident that it is fairly broad.

We have tried, in our survey of motifs, to be as thorough as possible. One difficulty we did encounter, however, was the absence of motif numbers for many narrative details encountered in the Palestinian and Arabic traditions. Motifs are arranged alphabetically.

Although this book, we believe, fills a gap in the scientific study of the Palestinian folktale, we must acknowledge other significant contributions to the field. The most important (and the most frequently cited) is the excellent collection by Schmidt and Kahle, Volkserzâhlungen aus Palâstina, set down in the village of Birzeit in the early part of this century. Considering that their work was done before the availability of portable recording equipment, we can only marvel at the size of their collection- 132 items, all transliterated-and the degree of accuracy in the transcription of the village dialect in which the tales were narrated. The primary interest of the authors, however, was linguistic and religious, and so these areas receive the greatest emphasis in their scholarly paraphernalia. Thus the authors provide in their introduction a fairly complete grammar of the Palestinian dialect, as well as a sizable glossary at the end; and the footnotes tend to emphasize biblical parallels. The importance of this work cannot be overestimated, particularly because it makes the Arabic tales accessible to Western readers through facing-page translations into German.

Another valuable work is Hanauer's 1935 Folklore of the Holy Land (which is still in print), a charming collection of folk narrative material dealing with beliefs about cosmology, the jinn, plants, and animals. It also contains folktales, saints' legends, Juha tales, and tales illustrating proverbs. Although this work describes the wealth of the Palestinian tradition well, including the Palestinian Jewish tradition, we suspect that the author tampered with the material somewhat by embellishing it for effect.

More recently, particularly since the founding of TM and TŠ, the Palestinian folktale has received much serious attention from Palestinian and other Arab scholars and writers, most notably al-Sarisi, Sirhan, and al-Khalili. These writers do show an awareness of the importance of dialect in setting down the tale, but only Sirloin does so consistently. Al-Sarisi's first book (1980), which contains only a sampling of folktales, is adapted from his master's thesis in the Department of Arabic at the University of Cairo, and with his training in folkloristics, his approach is the most scholarly of the three. Although some of his material on methodology, which was appropriate to his thesis, is extraneous in the book, the author does devote much attention to the study of the social context. In 1985 he published the complete texts of the tales he collected for his graduate research in the refugee camps in Jordan, but the awareness of both author and tellers was obviously focused on village life in Palestine-that is, predating refugee-camp days. Sirhan's study, which focuses on the Palestinian customs and beliefs that underlie the tales, is also valuable, particularly his analysis of the role of the hero, the role of women, and the importance of social relations in understanding the tales. Finally, we have al-Khalili's work, which is certainly the most doctrinaire of the three, because his approach invariably concerns class struggle. If used cautiously, such an approach can yield useful insights, for undoubtedly the conflict between haves and have-nots does exist in folktales. Yet an overweighted emphasis on class is bound to distort the nature of the material. Indeed, all three authors suffer from too much analysis, with the tales receiving relatively little space in the books.

This note would not be complete without mention of Hilma Granqvist, even though her work is not primarily in the folktale. Having devoted her entire career to the study of Palestinian ethnography, she is the giant to whom subsequent researchers must look to achieve familiarity with the anthropological context that animates the folktales. Her work is thorough and forms a necessary adjunct to the study of this material-as readers will by now have seen from our frequent references to her work in the footnotes, to corroborate our own insights and to provide further evidence of their validity.

1. TUNJUR, TUNJUR. Narrated by Fatme, fifty-five, from the village of `Arrabe, Galilee (also Tales 9, 11, 23, 24, 26, 36, 38, 43; see Introduction, "The Tellers").

Type 591 -The Thieving Pot.

Parallels : None.

Salient Motifs : D1605. 1 Magic thieving pot; T548. 1 Child born in answer to prayer. Thompson's comment (Folktale : 78) that this type is restricted to a relatively small area in Europe (basically, Scandinavia) seems to hold true for the Arab cultural area as well. We have not been able to locate any parallels, nor does Nowak list any in her index. The motif of wishing for a child (T548. 1) is used as an introduction to bring the magic pot into being, thereby integrating the themes of poverty and lack of offspring.

2. THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED HER SON ('Illi tjawwazat ibinha). Narrated by an eighty-two-year-old woman from the village of Rafidya, district of Nablus.

Type 705 -Born from a Fish.

Parallels : Palestine-al-Khalili (1979) 10 "The Woman with Cut-Off Hands"; al-Sarisi (1985): 137-140 "Gazelle," 228-230 "End of an Unfaithful Woman." Syria-Ramadan: 109-111 "The Apple of Pregnancy." Egypt-Dorson (1975): 159-163 "Falconer's Daughter." Sudan-al-Shahi and Moore 9 "The Wife and the Prince's Son," 10 "The Heron and the Crescent Bird." Tunisia-Contes de Tunisle : 29-32 "La jeune fille qui naquit d'un pomme."

Salient Motifs : B535.0.7 Bird as nurse for child; D1601.12 Self-cutting shears; H151.5 Attention attracted by hints dropped by heroine as menial: recognition follows; K1816 Disguise as menial; K1911.3.2 True bride takes house near husband. This eventually secures his attention; N365.1 Boy unwittingly commits incest with his mother; Q414 Punishment: burning alive; S22 Parricide; S51 Cruel mother-in-law; T579.8 Signs of pregnancy; W181 Jealousy.

Although the tale related here lacks the usual opening for this type (i.e., Motifs T511.1 Conception from eating fruit, and T578 Pregnant man), the complete type is actually more common in the Palestinian tradition. One version we collected contains this opening, as do the versions cited above (al-Khalili [1979]; al-Sarisi [1985]: 228-230). The parallelism in detail among all versions cited is quite close, with the Egyptian version coming the closest, including almost identical phrasing for the servants' questions and the mistress's answer (Q: Lady, O lady, whose house is next to ours, / Haven't you got some grapes for the craving that is ours? A : Shame, shame... / The falcon and the peacock nursed me, / Now the Sultan's son has impregnated his mother, / And her craving hits nobody but me! / Scissors, cut off a piece of his tongue / So that he will not tell on me).

In his discussion of this type, Thompson (Folktale : 123) notes that it shares narrative elements with other tales of slandered wives. It is important to note, however, that the mother/son incest that forms part of the narrative structure of all the Arabic parallels cited is not part of Type 705 as analyzed by Thompson. In fact, The Types does not include any tales in which incest is committed; rather, all those listed (Types : 566) are instances in which it is averted.

3. PRECIOUS ONE AND WORN-OUT ONE (Il-galye w-il-balye). Narrated by a man in his seventies from the village of Rammun, district of Ramallab (also Tale 20).

Type 301 -The Three Stolen Princesses.

Parallels : Palestine-`Abd al-Hadi 26 "Clever Hasan"; Bauer: 182-186 "The Two Brothers"; Littmann (1905) 8 "The Feather-Bird" (opens with Type 550); al-Khalili (1979) 9 "The Three Apples." Syria-Oestrup 6 "Les trois princes et l'oiseau d'or." Iraq-Qasir (1970) 2 "The King and His Three Sons." Egypt-Artin Pacha 6 "Les trois fils du sultan." Algeria-Galley: 116-145 "Mohamed ben es-sultan." General Arabic-Chauvin IV 181 "Les trois frères"; Nowak, Types 155, 177, 195 (but not 300, as listed on p. 408). Other parallels in Galley: 150-151, and in Nowak under each type. Cf. Boratav 22 "L'aigle du monde souterrain"; Walker and Uysal 1 "Blind Padishah and His Three Sons"; Surmelian 1 "Apples," and 15 "Alo-Dino."

Salient Motifs : C742 Tabu: striking monster twice; G84 Fee-fi-fofum; G530.1 Help from ogre's wife; G532 Hero hidden and ogre deceived by his wife when he says he smells human blood; G634 Genie sleeps with eyes open; H95 Recognition by bracelet; H1471 Watch for devastating monster. Youngest brother alone successful; K2211.0.1 Treacherous elder brother(s); N681 Husband (lover) arrives just as wife (mistress) is to marry; R111.2.1 Princess(es) rescued from lower world; T92.9 Father and son rivals in love.

The bulk of Thompson's discussion (Folktale : 53) centers on the "Bear's Son" theme (Part I of the six-part analysis of this type), which is missing from all the Arabic examples. Furthermore, Part VI of the analysis restricts the conflict to one between the hero and "impostors." Significantly, in all the versions cited here the "impostors" are members of the hero's immediate family-his brothers (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria) or his brothers and father (Palestine). The Arabic tale therefore uses the type to focus on a very important issue in the culture: the relationship among brothers. Sibling rivalry motivates the tale from the start, taking the place of the Bear's Son motif in the narrative structure. This rivalry is translated in the course of the tale into sexual jealousy, which leads the brothers to betray the hero so that one of them can wed the beautiful maiden he rescues. The version offered here brings out the Oedipal implications of this rivalry clearly. In view of the thematic importance of polygyny in this corpus, we note that our tale further adapts the type to focus the conflict on the struggle between the son of one wife (Worn-out One) and the children of the other (Precious One), who are aligned with their father. The fact that, in contrast to all the other Arabic examples, the tale is named after the wives leads us to conclude that Palestinian tellers consider the conflict to be between the co-wives rather than among their children.

4. ŠWEŠ, ŠWEŠ. Narrated by a woman in her seventies from the village of Jab`a, district of Hebron (also Tales 7, 27, 41, 42).

Type 1477 -Old Maid Tells Wolf to Come to Bed.

Parallels : None.

Salient Motifs : B600 Marriage of person to animal; K1984.5 Blind fiancée betrays self. Mistakes one object for another; K2214 Treacherous children [son]; S21 Cruel son; X120 Humor of bad eyesight.

Although we have not been able to locate an exact parallel, a similar incident is presented humorously in "The Wishing Tree," recorded by al-Juhayman (II 19). In this tale, the head of a household, wanting to find out the most secret desires of his wife, mother, and sister, informs them about a tree that fulfills wishes. He hides inside the trunk of the tree, and each betrays her secrets to him. The mother declares her wish to marry their shepherd. After telling his mother to prepare herself to receive the shepherd that night, he disguises himself as the shepherd and goes into her tent, having first eaten plenty of garlic, onions, and other gas-producing substances. Sitting in a corner of the tent, away from his mother, who had in the meantime beautified herself to receive her husband, the man pollutes the air with flatulence. Driven to despair, the mother cannot wait for daylight, at which time she insists on being divorced from the shepherd. Her son, pretending it had been difficult to arrange the marriage in the first place, reluctantly agrees.

5. THE GOLDEN PAIL (Minšal id-dahab). Šafi`, sixty-five, from the village of 'Arrabe, Galilee (also Tales 8, 10, 15, 25, 44; see Introduction, "The Tellers").

Type 531 -The Clever Horse.

Parallels : Palestinet-`Abd al-Hadi 6 "Who Is Worthy of the Kingdom?" (exact parallel), 29 "The King of China's Daughter"; Campbell (1954): 48-57 "The Story of the Bashak"; al-Sarisi (1985): 178-180 "The Magic Horse." Syria-Oestrup 5 "Le fils cadet du marchand." Lebanon-al-Bustani: "Clever Hasan." Iraq- Stevens 39 "Melek Muhammad and the Ogre." General Arabic- Nowak, Types 171, 176, 197 (parallels following each). Cf. Kunos: 134-142 "Cow-Peri"; Surmelian 6 "Bird-Peri," "Hunter's Son."

Salient Motifs : B211.1.3 Speaking horse; B401 Helpful horse; B470 Helpful fish; B548.2.1 Fish recovers ring from the sea; B571 Animals perform tasks for man; D840 Magic object found; E80 Water of life.


Excerpted from Speak, Bird, Speak Again by Ibrahim Muhawi (Darwish) Sharif Kanaana Copyright © 1989 by Ibrahim Muhawi (Darwish) and Sharif Kanaana. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2003

    Wonderful Collection of Fairy Tales

    This wonderful book introduces Palestinian culture to the world. In the footsteps of the brothers Grimm, Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana roamed all over Palestine collecting folktales from the old people. The major difference setting this work aside is highly methodical approach of its authors and the depth of their perceptions and analyses. Perhaps this is not surprising given their qualifications ¿ one a leading Palestinian social scientist, the other a leading humanist. The tales were selected based on their popularity as well as their excellence, and so very much represent the culture they come from. The authors themselves exhibit a deep understanding of traditional Palestinian culture, which is transmitted to the reader in the introduction. Each tale is accompanied by a modest set of footnotes where necessary, commenting on linguistic features. Furthermore, every few tales are followed by a commentary section relating the tales to Palestinian culture, and a detailed folkloristic analysis section concludes the book. This gem of a book can thus be read on many levels, from the serious scholar in comparative folktales, to the student of Palestinian studies, to the ordinary parent wishing to read good stories to their kids. The book is structured such that the commentary and analysis sections can be safely skipped. Nevertheless, I found those sections quite fascinating and well-written, using easy to understand language but reflecting deep insight and understanding. The translation is excellent, making the tales sound as ordinary in English as they sound in the original Arabic. I have read other translations of Palestinian folktales (e.g. by Rafael Patai) that attempt a literal translation, and as a result, those translations sound extremely awkward in English and not fun to read. Speak Bird, Speak Again is also infinitely superior to Patai¿s book in its author¿s understanding of Palestinian culture and the colloquial Arabic language used (Patai makes many obvious mistakes in translating common idioms and expressions). Speak Bird Speak Again is therefore highly recommended to anyone with interest in Palestine or simply with a craving for good stories. The collection in this book represents the last versions of tales that are dying out as a result of the deep social and political changes that have affected Palestinian society as a result of Western colonialism.

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