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The Last Storytellers: tales from the heart of Morocco

24 June 2011

Richard Hamilton has witnessed at first hand the death throws of a tradition that has passed seamlessly from generation to generation for nearly a thousand years. It is thought the storytellers or hlaykia in the main square in Marrakech, the Jemaa el Fna, have recounted ancient folktales and fables to rapt audiences since the city was first founded in the eleventh century. But this unique unbroken chain of oral tradition is now teetering on the brink of extinction.

The Last Storytellers: tales from the heart of Moroccoby Richard Hamilton (BA 1987)

Richard Hamilton has witnessed at first hand the death throws of a tradition that has passed seamlessly from generation to generation for nearly a thousand years. It is thought the storytellers or hlaykia in the main square in Marrakech, the Jemaa el Fna, have recounted ancient folktales and fables to rapt audiences since the city was first founded in the eleventh century. But this unique unbroken chain of oral tradition is now teetering on the brink of extinction.

The competing distractions of television, movies and the internet have drawn the crowds away from the old bearded, djellaba clad, men in the square and no one wants to become their apprentice. Hoping to save their tales for posterity, Richard Hamilton, the BBC correspondent in Morocco, tracked down the last few hlaykia and recorded their wonderful stories for this anthology. The tales are full of the mysteries of the Maghreb and peopled by a rich cast of characters from greedy merchants to wise hermits, from beautiful princesses to ugly ghouls, genies and djinns.

Those who have seen the storytellers in the Jemaa el Fna have experienced something that is no longer part of this world, a treasure as precious as the planet’s most endangered species and of immeasurable importance to humanity. With an introduction that explains the history of storytelling in Morocco coupled with descriptions of Marrakech and the hlaykia themselves, this book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Morocco or the wider Arab world.