The Hakawati

“A Hakawati is, simply put, a story teller. What makes Hakawatis different from other story-tellers is that they can share one story over the course of months. Additionally, Hakawatis are chosen by popular demand. If a Hakawati is unpopular, a new one comes in to try to entertain the crowd.

“Hakawatis throughout the Middle East have laid foundations for the stories of the 1001 Arabian Nights. The Arabian Nights stories borrow the story-telling techniques of the Hakawatis. Hakawatis came from all over the world, including Persia, Central Asia, and North Africa. Each region had its own twist to stories, which led to the Arabian Nights stories possessing not only Arabic stories, but also South Asian, Central Asian, Persian, Amazigh, and Turkic stories.

“Hakawati traditions are ancient, and are not ubiquitous today. Rabih Alameddine, my favorite modern Arab author, re-introduced the notion of Hakawatis to contemporary readers. In the book, Hakawatis told thousands of stories in coffee shops, holiday festivals, and even at the end of kite-flying competitions. The Middle East was a very different place back in the day.”

Background information: “I heard about Hakawatis from a Lebanese author, Rabih Alameddine. The stories Hakawatis told have been foundations for great Arabic stories encased in 1001 Arabian Nights. Rabih Alameddine is my favorite modern Arab author.”

Context: The informant told me about this in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: It was interesting to learn about a specific type of story teller; I did not know there were actually names for them. I had heard of 1001 Arabian Nights, but have never read it, so it’s interesting to learn about the foundations and inspirations for it. I can’t imagine sharing one story over such a long period of time, so these people must be masterful in their craft, in remembering bits and details and keeping the stories creative and compelling.

For another version of this description, see The Gulf News.