Exploring Arab Folk Literature

By Pierre Cachia | Go to book overview

Foreword

It is a signal honour to have been invited to write the Foreword to this collection of papers by the doyen of Arabic folk literature, Professor Pierre Cachia, the ‘honorary Sa’īdī’. Although now well into his eighties, Professor Cachia still continues to produce perceptive editions, translations, commentaries and analyses of folk literature as practiced in his beloved Egypt. All who toil in this and related fields sincerely hope that, despite the infirmities of age, he will continue to do so for many years to come.

The present collection gathers together some of Professor Cachia’s most important journal-length contributions to Arabic folk literature and allied subjects, published over roughly the last forty years. Although only two of the twenty articles have not been previously published, collecting them together in a single volume is a great service to other researchers, many of whom may not have access to all of the journals in which they originally came out. While Professor Cachia’s interest in folk literature is long-standing, he has never been a one-club golfer, and he has made significant contributions to Classical Arabic Literature and Arabic linguistics over his long career. In fact, it is his vast hinterland of Arabic linguistic and literary knowledge that is one of the main reasons why his contributions in the field of popular culture are so authoritative: the breadth and depth of his scholarship enables him to bring a sense of context and proportion, and a cultural understanding of both high culture and the grass roots which nowadays is rare in Arabic studies, in which the trend, as in other disciplines, is to specialise in an ever narrower field and say more and more about less and less. Professor Cachia knows Egypt’s folk traditions better than anyone, but he has never gone in for half-baked theorising about a field in which we still know so relatively little. Where he does stick his neck out and generalise, his statements are judicious and provisional until such time as further empirical evidence refines or refutes them: the mark of a true scholar.

Professor Cachia’s familiarity with Egypt’s social and geographical fault-lines is evident on every page of the present work, whether in its ‘fact-finding’, ‘textual’ or ‘social and cultural implications’ sections. An upbringing, including schooling, in Egypt gave him a highly unusual asset for researchers into Arabic culture: a nativelike competence in the language from an early age, and an intimate acquaintance through first-hand observation of the rhythms, practices and beliefs of ordinary Egyptians, and not just those of the relatively Westernised large cities, but of the countryside too. It is obvious from both his translations and expositions that he is

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