Of jinns, fairytales and folklore
Dubai - "I think our father used to mainly tell us stories of the history of UAE, the real history more than fairies or any of those stories before we went off to sleep".
Jinn stories whispered as warnings have always had a mysterious touch to them. In every tradition, ghost stories have differnt characters who can be either repugnant or even beautiful but in Arabic tradition it is mostly the jinns.
"I asked my brothers and sisters if they remember any stories that my mother used to tell us," says Hanan Al Fardan, Emirati, Dubai resident, who says it's not a question one gets asked a lot - to try and recollect folklore and tales of jinns/ fairytales that might have been recited to them when they were little. "But seems like we forgot," she says.
I ask her about tales read on the Internet -- Fatouh the guardian of the mangroves? Baba Darya or Bu Darya?. It takes Hanan a couple of days of digging into a personal well of memory. She checks with family and friends. And like a deep sea diver who emerges with pearls, she doesn't disappoint in what she comes up with.
"My mother used to tell us the stories," she says. I think our father used to mainly tell us stories of the history of UAE, the real history more than fairies or any of those stories before we went off to sleep".
A beautiful jinni
"I remember two stories - but they used to tell us this not when we used to sleep, but when we wanted to do something in the day time."
Umm Al Duwais is a famous one, a story about a female jinni. "A very beautiful female jinni that comes in the neighbourhood, and she start to look at the men in a very." Hanan trails off and starts again : "She's trying to attract them, wearing beautiful clothes and jewellery. Some men get attracted to her and follow her.. And once they want to approach her she changes, becames very ugly, and kills those men."
Hanan says that till today, many Emiratis when they see any beautiful woman, they always refer to her as Um Al Duwais - in a negative way. "Lot of makeup, lot of jewellery... (to try and) take our men from us. It's a story to indicate - to show to men don't be attracted to beautiful strangers. "I think it's a funny story but known by many Emiratis till today."
Half human half donkey
'Ehmat ill gaylah' is a female donkey at noon time. There was a time when families used to nap in the afternoon. So this story was mainly to scare children to not go outside the house at that time. This creature had half human body and half that of a donkey. "She sees children and gets after them to eat them - another one of the many traditional stories to scare people and protect them from strangers," Hanan said. And then there were the "international stories", she says that parents used to tell them - "always mothers more than the fathers, and grandmothers more than grandfathers."
The boy who cried wolf
"A man used to always cry that wolf is coming to eat me," Hanan says, of this familiar- to-everyone story. "The man cried wolf.. once, twice - people came to see. Third time no one came as there was no wolf the first two times. Finally the wolf came and ate him. Moral of the story: "Don't lie. If you keep lying people won't believe you. I remember my mother used to tell us, so we tell our nephews and neices. So they stop lying to us (laughs)"
On the web, one can find several attributions and versions of folk stories - theres's the one about Khattaf Rafai (snatcher of women), and Salama and daughters, Um Al Helaan etc. But the trick is to hear it told like it was told to the Emiratis. Merely reading the gist is no tribute to the oral tradition of story telling.