Tell it to the Rocks…- A Didactic Folktale (Part 1)


Folktales weren’t always cheerful stories to entertain. Sometimes, they were harsh and dark for they needed to be scary to teach a valuable lesson. For instance, every young girl needed to fear the big bad wolf in the woods, i.e. the deceitful man in society that could bring dishonor to her family’s reputation if she trusted him too easily. Shocking images used to be the brand mark of all didactic stories. Isn’t that right, Mr. Charles Perrault?

My great-aunt Nanna used to tell me Moroccan folktales so I would stay still while learning an art she deemed essential, knitting. The magic words at the beginning of each of her stories “hajitek, majitek” [Moroccan Arabic for, “Let me tell you how once upon a time”] always had the desired effect on me. They transported me in ancient cities -or medinas– in a fantastical Morocco and taught me useful morals I still remember today.

Folktale story with morality

A Didactic Folktale

Hajitek, majitek [Arabic for, “Let me tell you how once upon a time”] a couple lived in ancient Fes with their son in a decent house, with decent means, although those means were earned in a less than favorable manner. Mina disapproved of her husband’s work and wished he would stop it. She was adamant that robbing houses would only bring them misery. She begged him to stop over the years, afraid he would get caught one day. He refused to listen to her, so she left him.

Mina moved in with her aunt and found a job as a maid in a rich mansion. Her husband had kept their son, Kamal, who came to visit her from time to time and barely knew her anymore. He worshipped his father, no matter what the latter did.

Days and months passed. The boy had just turned fifteen when his father fell gravely ill. On his deathbed, he taught his son a final lesson, “Son, if you must steal, steal from the rich. If they catch you, they will forgive you. If they do not, take the win.”

After his father passed, Kamal stayed by himself for a few weeks until the money he had inherited from his father was gone. He did not want to be a burden on his mother and her aunt, so he followed in his father’s footsteps. Remembering his advice, he looked for the richest family in their city and found their address. His plan was simple: wait for midnight before breaking in and taking as much gold and jewels as he could find.

After leaving her husband, Mina felt more at ease. She hoped her son would grow up to be an honest man, and also hoped her husband did not teach him the family trade. Kamal idolized his father, and she didn’t have the heart to come between them. Her son seemed happy and came to visit her every so often, checking if she was all right and needed nothing. Afraid he would ask her to come back to live with them, she did not tell him she was working as a maid for the richest family in the city.

The family were kind and generous people. However, although almost everyone in town envied them, they were also unfortunate, for God had never gifted them children. They had tried for years before giving up and surrendering to the will of the Almighty.

However, one day right around the time Mina’s husband died, a miracle happened, and the rich woman gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Thrilled, the wealthy couple spared no expense for their newborn. The husband even changed rooms to let his wife and the baby enjoy more quietness.

Their life was finally fulfilled, and Mina was happy for them.

Midnight. Kamal was ready. Dressed in a black tunic and sarouel -baggy pants-, he wound a black turban round his head to cover his face and ran out to one of the enormous villas outside the city where the richest family lived. He jumped the wall, crossed the garden, and forced the back door. Inside, he took out his dagger to threaten anyone who might see him. He had no intention of using it except to scare an unwanted witness. Stealthily, he ran up the stairs to the first floor looking for the master bedroom. The double doors gave it away, and he sneaked inside. The room was spacious with a large bed in its center. By the arched windows stood long tables and divans.

Quiet as a mouse, he emptied all the jewelry boxes and small chests he found lying around. Twisting on his feet, he approached the bed. Kneeling on the floor, he leant on the bed with the dagger in one hand while he checked under it with the other. Suddenly, a tiny squeal made him jump. As he jerked, he accidentally flicked the dagger at the baby spread on the bed.

Hurt, the baby screamed and as Kamal stood up, his eyes fixated on the blood staining the front of its garment. He had cut the baby’s belly open! In a second, he left the bedroom. Clutching his heavy sack to his chest, he rushed down the stairs and outside, disappearing into the night.

When Mina started her job the next day, she found the house in uproar. The doctor had been called late at night to attend to the baby girl. Mina could not leave the rich couple alone during those harsh times, so she stayed with them until the little girl was out of danger. From then on, Mina ran the household.

The cut had not been deep, and had not reached Zuhaira’s organs. She survived and grew up into a beautiful young lady. Even though her parents granted all her wishes, Zuhaira was a kind and delightful person, and Mina loved her dearly.

When Zuhaira turned seventeen, voices whispered in her ear every night. She believed they belonged to angels, for their voices sounded so ethereal. Their message was always the same,

The son of Mina, you will marry,
And from your purse will come the dowry,
To suffer your God-mandated destiny.

Zuhaira was confused though. The only Mina she knew was their maid, who lived alone now that her aunt had passed, and had no children of her own. One day, she verified the veracity of her dream’s information.

“Dear Mina, I’ve been hearing a voice every night, telling me I shall marry your son. What could it mean?”

“Oh dear, I don’t think you should take it literally, Lalla Zuhaira. My son moved to Marrakech many years ago to become a merchant. He has never come back here, so your paths will never cross.”

It surprised Zuhaira to learn Mina had a child. She kept her thoughts to herself, but if the voice had been right about the first part, what about the two others? It was unheard of for a bride to pay her own dowry. Per Moroccan tradition and law, her future husband’s family had to give her whatever her family asked from them as proof of her worth in their eyes. Mina was right; she should forget about her weird dreams.

To Be Continued…

Curious about Zuhaira and her dream? Stay tune for Part II coming soon!

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