Romancing the Real: Folklore and Ethnographic Representation in North Africa

Romancing the Real: Folklore and Ethnographic Representation in North Africa

Romancing the Real: Folklore and Ethnographic Representation in North Africa

Romancing the Real: Folklore and Ethnographic Representation in North Africa

Synopsis

Drawing on field research in the village of Kelibia, Tunisia, this text argues that traditional folklore is a central feature of contemporary ethnographic study. The author demonstrates how villagers have used story telling to deal with the destabilizing effects of contact with the outside world.

Excerpt

We went down
To the beach of Kelibia
We swam and we ate
Tuna and sardines and
A plate of hot peppers

(children's song)

In northeastern Tunisia there is a peninsula that juts into the Mediterranean toward Italy. In Arabic the peninsula is called al Watan al-Qibliy, "the tribal homeland," or, from the town of Korba northwards, Dakhlet al Maouine (Ma-wĭn), "the homeland of the descendants of Maouia," the region's most important holy person. The French call the peninsula the Cap Bon. On the eastern side of the "Good Cape," with the Mediterranean bathing the eastern and southern edges, lie the port and town of Kelibia.

Kelibia, an Arabic-speaking community of about thirty thousand, has existed for at least two thousand years. Like Tunisia itself, it is a Mediterranean crossroads, open to the sea but dependent upon its agricultural hinterland. The town's harbor, craggy lookout, and rich farmland have been mixed blessings. Like larger and better known Mediterranean coastal communities -- Alexandria, Latakia, Tangiers, and, in antiquity, Carthage -- Kelibia has long had to cope with its desirability as a destination for visitors, refugees, invaders, and colonizers.

My Romance: Entering the Field

Some two millennia after Kelibia made its debut in recorded history, in March, wearing snow boots and a mini-skirt and just short of my . . .

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