Folktales of Joha, Jewish Trickster

Folktales of Joha, Jewish Trickster

Folktales of Joha, Jewish Trickster

Folktales of Joha, Jewish Trickster

Synopsis

Joha has Janus's double face: On the one hand, he is innocent and stupid; on the other, a trickster. He is a cheater and is cheated. He sets traps for others and falls into traps himself; he is simpleton and liar, victimizer and victim. But as a literary figure he never dies. The nearly 300 stories in this lovely volume are from Sephardic oral literature and ethnic culture. They were told to Matilda Koen-Sarano in their original language, Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), and documented over 21 years. From 17 countries, including the United States, they come together in this first-ever collection of Joha stories to appear in English. Known in some places as Ladino, Judeo-Spanish is a living remnant of the Spanish spoken by the Spanish Jews at the end of the 15th century. Matilda Koen-Sarano, born to a Sephardic family, has devoted her life to the conservation and revitalization of this language, culture, and heritage. Joha, according to Ladino tradition, is a popular folklore character, one who is conniving yet also beguiling. He plays many roles: He makes us laugh; liberates us from taboos; makes it possible to tell the whole, sometimes painful, truth in a humorous way; and helps us triumph over our enemies through laughter. These stories have entertained generations of Sephardic children and adults and will delight readers of any age.

Excerpt

Until recent times, folktales were told in the course of everyday life, from father to son, from mother to daughter, among neighbors and friends, around the fireside, during long winter evenings, and on a thousand other occasions. These stories, with all their delightful spontaneity and innocence, have nearly disappeared from contemporary society, as other means of communication have taken their place. And so, those of us who cherish the genre feel more than ever a great need to preserve and transmit the tales we know and love.

A principal function of folktales has always been to educate by means of example. A no less important aim is to evoke laughter. In making people laugh, the tales free them, if only temporarily, from personal and social concerns. Other aims, often undeclared, are to give refuge in a regal and magical world far removed from the grayness of reality, or to sound a note of heroism amid failure and persecution. Oral folktales also reflect a bygone past rich in history, culture, and tradition. Their world contains much that speaks to younger generations and says it in a figurative and pleasingly picturesque manner, arousing the imagination and leaving vivid traces of sermons and moral teachings.

A researcher faces several challenges in the effort to rediscover popular folktales and rescue them from oblivion, thereby making known their historical, literary, and sentimental value. One such challenge is to find ways to transmit them in a manner . . .

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