Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Peasantry in Palestinian Folktales: Sites of Memory, Homeland, and Collectivity

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Peasantry in Palestinian Folktales: Sites of Memory, Homeland, and Collectivity

Article excerpt

Originating from a pre-Nakba or pre-1948 context, the Palestinian folktale collection Speak, Bird, Speak Again (1989) and its correspondent Arabic collection Qul Ya Tayer (2001) are sourced from the rural environment and villages. The tales in these two collections describe a harmonious and agricultural pre-1948 setting, revealing the dynamics of Palestinian society and taking a closer look at people and their neighborly interactions in rural villages. In fact, the level of interaction between individuals transcends family boundaries, integrating the individual into wider relationships with his or her community, environment, and religion. The interaction between the state of peasantry and Palestinian lifestyles cannot be ignored when analyzing the main pillar of Palestinian memory, namely, cultural identity. To understand how cultural identity is manifested in oral literature, mainly folktales in this case, I analyze the discourse of peasantry, whether in relation to setting or lifestyle, with respect to the construction of memory.

The Palestinian folktale shares folkloric themes and plots with European and Israeli folktales. However, it is different from them in that the storytellers' narration features specific places, highlighting the environment culturally, linguistically, and historically. The same applies to the discourse of peasantry, which to a large extent is a common denominator among many European and non-European folktales. Nonetheless, in the Palestinian case folktales in general, and the ones under discussion here in particular, originate from a rural environment, which, according to the folklorist 'Umar al-Sarīsī, refers specifically to the pre-Nakba era, before the establishment of Israel. The intertwined nature of history, politics, and folklore is distinctive to the construction of Palestinian cultural identity, featured in the tales' setting and the storytellers' rhetorical strategies. Under the umbrella of cultural identity, people's way of living, traditions, and food rituals can be major markers of their national identity and therefore of their collective memory. Hence throughout my discussion I explore how communicative and cultural memory (Assmann, "Collective Memory")-as conveyed by means of the paratextual elements in Speak, Bird, Speak Again and Qul Ya Tayer and through the discourse of the storytellers and the folktales-turn the Palestinian peasant into a national signifier (Swedenburg) and hence peasantry into a national discourse on Palestinian cultural memory To contextualize my study of these collections, in the next two sections I provide information on Palestinian history, folktales, and intergenerational postmemory

Oral History, Folktales, and Context

As many writers and scholars consider it, collective memory is a living mobile account of a specific historical event that transcends time and place. The mobility of collective memory is based mainly on "everyday communication" (Assmann, "Collective Memory") or on what is also referred to as "communicative memory" (Assmann, "Collective Memory"), which can flourish by relying on oral history Oral history is divided into two types, as stated by Jan Vansina:

Oral history is a research methodology. It is the study of the past through a spoken language transmitted orally. There are two kinds of oral history: The first is oral heritage, which is the study of a remote past through widespread oral stories in a particular society. These stories are transmitted orally over generations or within one generation at least. The second kind is the history of life, which focuses on studying the near past through the accounts of eyewitnesses; it is about people's oral stories, about their lives and experiences. (Vansina, qtd. in Yatıya 45)

The role of oral transmission is important for the survival of memory, because people interact communicatively when exchanging their accounts, jokes, and experiences. According to Jan Assmann, formlessness, willfulness, and disorganization "control the nature of oral communication among people" (Assmann, "Collective Memory," 129). …

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