x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

At the knee of history

Scholarly efforts to preserve ancient fairytales around this region assure us that the stories will have a future as long as their past.

The demise of Arabic oral traditions may have been exaggerated. Across the Gulf, bibliophiles are recording and updating the region's folklore for a modern audience.

As The National reports today, faculty members from Qatar University have joined a group of student in collating a series of Qatari fairy tales gleaned from the country's elderly population.

"These stories change from generation to generation," said Al Hussein Wanas, one of the students. "What we are trying to do now is make a collection that is as socially relevant as possible." Even the most unlikely characters - such as the half human-half donkey woman, Om Hamar - offer lessons for today.

Across the region, heritage and history have been transmitted by word of mouth, and efforts to preserve the stories of the UAE have had a similar effect. Some of these tales, predating Islam, have already been restored, protected and documented extensively in online databases.

In 2009, four Emirati communications students published a collection of traditional UAE fairy tales in a book titled Khrareef, or "fairy tales. Here we meet Baba Darya, a feared sea creature, the mirage spirit Khattaf Rafai and the wicked temptress Um Al Duwais.

The old stories are being updated for a modern world, but the tales will continue to captivate future generations, as will the characters.