Monday, March 23, 2009

Berber Tall Tales

I’ve recently learned a number of Berber folk stories that I think you might enjoy. Please excuse the lewdness of some of the later stories. Also, let me say that it is impossible to capture that manner that these stories are told in spoken English, let alone written.

A hedgehog and a wolf go out to plow their field. The wolf is bigger so he makes the hedgehog work. He plows, he plows, he plows. It’s hot and the hedgehog is tired. Somehow (I believe they arranged it ahead of time) the hedgehog gets his brother (who is also a hedgehog) to drop rocks down upon the field from a nearby cliff (the wolf cannot see the brother hedgehog). The hedgehog plowing the field tells the wolf to go over to cliff and see if he can hold the cliff side up and prevent it from falling down. The wolf goes over and supports the cliff with his back, but the rocks keep falling down. So the wolf tells the hedgehog plowing the field to hold the cliff up while he plows the field. When the hedgehog puts his back to the cliff (which is in the shade, mind you), his brother stops dropping the rocks. The hedgehog stays at the side of the cliff while the wolf plows the field.

In another hedgehog story, a hedgehog is playing a hand drum by the side of a well. He plays, he plays, he plays. After a little bit, he falls in the well. But he keeps playing the drum at the bottom of the well and many animals gather at the mouth of the well. The hedgehog tells them all to come in the well so they can play the drum together and have a party. So all the animals jump in the well. After a little while, the animals are hungry and can’t leave the well. They start eating each other. After a few days, all that is left is the hedgehog and a lion. They’re tired and about to go to sleep. The hedgehog tells the lion, “When I was a little boy, my father used to throw me straight up into the air to help me fall asleep. Could you do that?” So the lion throws the hedgehog up in the air. “A little higher” says the hedgehog. The lion throws the hedgehog up again. “Just a little higher?” The third time, the lion throws the hedgehog high enough in the air that he can grab the lip of the well and climb out. The lion dies of hunger.

A hedgehog and a wolf are walking along a path, the hedgehog in front. The hedgehog sees a trap in the path, so he pauses. He tells the wolf, “Uncle wolf, you are bigger. Why don’t you take the lead in case we meet something dangerous?” The wolf says no at first, but then agrees. He walks a little ways and gets caught in the trap. The hedgehog walks on. (After these hedgehog stories, someone invariably says, “hedgehogs are smart, aren’t they?” I don’t argue.)

There is no story behind this, but there is a mythical creature called a “taharir.” It is female and extremely ugly. It has four teeth: two on top and two on bottom. It’s top teeth reach down to its chin and the bottom ones above its eyes. It has the legs of a cow. It eats the flesh of men if they venture into the forest, but is afraid of light. Hilariously, the name of this animal is very similar to a soup that is served commonly during Ramadan. The ignorant foreigner is thus the source of hilarity until someone fills him in on the fact that he isn’t asking for soup.

Blackbirds make their cawing sound because they are trying to throw up money that they have swallowed.

A poor man wants to slaughter something for the coming holiday. An important guest is coming, so he has to have some meat to give him. However, he has no money, so he slaughters a mouse. The mouse is cooked and placed on top of couscous (the normal spot for meat) and served for dinner. When the guest sees the mouse on top of his couscous, he says “Sub” (which is what you say to animals to make them run away). The mouse wakes up and runs away, into the host’s herd of sheep (why he didn’t slaughter one of his sheep I don’t know). The sheep are scared of the mouse, so they scatter and run away, lost forever. The noises you hear at night are the sound of this man vainly calling for his sheep.

A very poor man has no food to eat. He goes to the field every day and eats grass like an animal. However, the King is coming to the community the next day. The Caid (local government official) is worried that the King will see the man and not like the situation. So the Caid goes to the poor man and gives him 1,000 Dhs ($130, a lot of money for a community like ours) and tells him not to eat the grass in the field. The next day the King comes and sees the community and approves. The following day the poor man returns to the field and eats grass.

Now start the sex stories. If you’d like to skip them, consider yourself forewarned. They aren’t explicit.

A male bird and a male frog are lonely. The bird suggests to the frog that they have sex. The frog is skeptical at first, but then gives in. The bird wants to go first, but the frog convinces the frog to let him go first. When they finish, the bird says, “Now it’s my turn.” But the frog jumps in the river and gets away.

A family of three approaches a rich man about buying his cow. The man says, “I have enough money, so there is no amount of money you can give me. Instead, I would like to have sex with you (speaking to the husband/father of the family).” So he has sex with him. Then he says, “If you want me to give you my cow, you will let me have sex with your wife.” So he has sex with the wife/mother. Then he says, “Finally, I will have sex with your son.” So he has sex with the son. Then he tells the family that they cannot have the cow.

A man and his friend stand at the entrance of a prostitution hotel 15 stories high. Each story of the building has a girl in it and a light illuminating the room. The man tells his friend that he will visit every story of the building and when he is finished with each girl, he will turn the light off to let his friend know that he has finished. Little by little, after all the lights have been turned off, the friend sees the man on the roof of the hotel, masturbating. He shouts at him, “What are you doing?” The man says, “I am trying to turn off the moon.”

That’s it. I will continue to ask about these stories because I think they’re interesting. People love telling me these stories and love it even more if I can tell one that I know. The stories probably say something about the culture, but I will let you readers do your own analyses. There are also tons of songs that have interesting lyrics. And people have been telling me riddles too. I will try to collect them and post them.


My updates are starting to get repetitive. Everything is well. Work is going well, but slowly. The weather is nice. Despite my trip home looming on the near horizon, time is passing quickly. One new thing is that I’ve started studying Arabic seriously – a teacher at the local school is teaching me. Another new thing is that I’m spending less and less time in my community. My work is drawing me away from my site. I’m glad to have the work and be busier, but I don’t like being away from my community so much.

Another volunteer and I recently took a trip to one of my outer douars (28km) to visit with a woman who attended our traditional birth attendant (TBA) training. One striking thing about the trip was that the truck ride from our souq town (Tounfite) to the town (about 50 km) took five hours. The road is terrible. So these people are completely isolated. The other notable thing about the trip was our work with the TBA. We helped her lead an informational session with local women so she could pass on the knowledge that she learned at the training. It went OK, but there are lots of cultural things that we struggled with. Unfortunately, people don’t think they can learn anything form an illiterate woman like the TBA. And there isn’t any precedent for public education in this form, so people didn’t know what to make of it. The workshop emphasized the long-term view that one needs to take in order to see success for this project.


Colton Bangs said...

hedgehogs? that sonic was a cheeky one. i think i can apply these stories to my day-to-day life, thank you.

Franny said...

yo dunc, just got caught up on the blog. i dont know about you but i never really imagined the hedgehog to do anything but prick somebody. see you soon dunc!

maryellen said...

ooh, gosh franny, that comment was so freudian!!

Franny said...

mom, get your head out of the gutter

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your great experiences and seeking for further updates :)