The most powerful form of communication is that of story-telling; we learn stories from school, the news, our family and friend and whether we realize it or not, we are all held captive by them. Story-telling is a way to share our histories, our cultures and our lives with others and I think it’s particularly important to share these Palestinian folk-tales with you as a way to preserve and perpetuate this culture.
Precious One and Worn-out One
Once there was a man who was married to two women, one of whom he called “Precious One” and the other “Worn-out One.” Precious One had two sons, and Worn-out One had only one.
They had an animal pen from which one sheep was stolen every night. “Sons,” said the father, “every night one of you must stay up to watch the sheep and find out who’s been stealing them.”
“I’m the son of Precious One,” said the eldest. “I’ll keep watch tonight.” In the evening he went to keep watch by the sheep pen. He stayed awake till ten o’clock, then he fell asleep. A ghoul came and stole a ewe, and the boy did not know about it. When he woke up in the morning, he counted the sheep and found one ewe missing.
“I see that one of the sheep is missing,” said the father.
“I want to keep watch by the sheep,” the second son of Precious One said. His watch was like that of his brother, the ghoul stealing another ewe. The next morning he said to his father, “I too didn’t see anything come into the sheep pen.”
“Now we’ll make the son of Worn-out One keep watch,” said the father.
“I want three kilograms of roasted watermelon seeds,” the son of Worn-out One said to them. They brought him the seeds, and he stayed awake until the ghoul came. The son of Worn-out One saw the ghoul as he entered the sheep pen, and kept himself well-hidden in a comer until the ghoul took a ewe and left. The boy followed, staying behind him until the ghoul reached the mouth of a well with a huge rock blocking it. When he wanted to go in, the ghoul would move the rock aside and drop into the well. The youth heaped stones into a cairn, and put a stake in the middle of it to identify the well. Then, returning to the sheep pen, he fell asleep.
The father came to check on him in the morning. “What did you see, son?” he asked.
“I’ve discovered who’s been stealing our sheep,” answered the boy. “Call my brothers together, and let’s go to his place. I’ll show you where it is.” The brothers were called, and they all set out with their father until they reached the mouth of the ghoul’s well.
“Let’s each give a hand,” said the son of Worn-out One, “and with a little effort we can move this rock.”
“What!” exclaimed the father, “Are you crazy?”
“Just help me turn this rock over, you and your sons,” said the boy, “and see what happens!”
When they moved the rock, they found it covering a dark and deep well whose bottom could not be seen. He who looked down into it became afraid.
“Which one of you is going to go down into this well?” the father asked the sons of Precious One. Neither of them was willing.
“I’ll go down!” volunteered the son of Worn-out One. [When he got down to the bottom of the well] he discovered three gifts, each of them like the full moon. But the youngest was the most beautiful.
“Are you human or jinn?” the girls asked.
“And what made you come down here?” they asked, and he told them his story. Then he asked, “Are you human or jinn?”
“We’re human, by Allah,” they replied, “and we were kidnapped from our homes by the ghoul.”
“When does this ghoul come back?” he asked, and they said, “In a little while.”
“I want to hide,” he said, and the eldest answered, “You’ve got no place but the recess in the wall.”
Going to hide into the recess, the youth found a sword above his head.
“I want to kill the ghoul with this sword,” said the boy.
“Don’t strike until you see that his eyes are red,” she cautioned. “That’s the only way you can be sure he’s asleep. If you see him acting any other way, be careful not to strike. He’ll be awake, and alert to the slightest movement. Every night he sleeps in one of our laps, and tonight it’s the turn of the youngest. Take care not to strike the girl!”
“I smell a human!” announced the ghoul when he came home.
“It’s you who brought the smell in your wake!” the girls answered. “How could a human being possibly get in here?”
The ghoul went to sleep in the lap of the youngest one. Looking at him carefully, the boy saw that his eyes were red and realized he was asleep. Immediately, he drew the sword and struck him a blow in the neck.
“Strike again!” urged the ghoul.
“My mother didn’t teach me how,” replied the lad.
He then called up to his father, “I’ve killed the ghoul! Let a rope down so we can all get out!” When the rope was lowered, the young man said to the girls, “You go up first.” He first let the eldest up, then the middle one. Before he let her up, the youngest, who had two identical bracelets, took off one of them and gave it to him.
The moment he laid eyes on her, the father was bewitched by her beauty. He lowered the rope to bring his son up, but when the boy was near the mouth of the well the father cut the rope.
[Landing at the bottom of the well, the son of Worn-out One] searched about and found a cave. He wandered around inside until he came to the end of it, where he found a door. Opening it, he stepped outside, and behold! he was back on the surface of the earth. He walked till he reached the city, where he heard that his father was preparing to marry the youngest of the three girls, but that she was refusing to marry him until he could match her bracelet. Now, the father had been going from one goldsmith to another, but none of them could match the bracelet. Chancing to meet his father at one of the jewelers in town, the boy said, “I’ll make another bracelet just like the one you have. Bring me three kilograms of roasted watermelon seeds to crack so I can stay up a couple of nights and make it. Come back and take it in two days.”
“Fine,” said the father.
In two days the father came back. “Here it is,” said the boy, “I’ve finished it,” and he gave his father the bracelet the girl had given him in the well. Taking the bracelet, the father went to see the girl.
“You must show me the one who made it for you,” the girl said.
The father brought the boy, and as soon as she saw him, the girl recognized him.
“Bring me a sword from our house!” the young man commanded.
She brought him a sword, and he killed his father and married the girl.
The bird has flown, and a good evening to all.
*** This particular story comes from Muhawi and Kanaana’s book Speak Bird, Speak Again.***