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Dubai Abulhoul: Introducing Emirati folklore to younger generations
October 29, 2017
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

A few years ago, I took a literature class that explored the narratives of ghosts, demons, and devils from different literary traditions around the world. For my class project, I decided to write a research paper on the djinn figures of Emirati folklore. All the currently existing literature on the subject is the accumulation of different versions of stories that were passed on from one generation to the next. There is little and, almost to a certain extent, no formal documentation of the narratives of different mythical figures that existed in the collective memory of the older generations of Emiratis. With the aid of the work published by Abdulazeez AlMussalam, Director of Heritage in the Department of Culture & Information, and the support of the Emirates Foundation, I started conducting the research I needed not only for my class project, but also for my own creative work and curiosity.

My research made me conclude that the older generations of Emiratis used folktales centred around the lives of djinn to express and project their own morals, beliefs, and values. The narratives, passed down from one generation to another, were a form of doubling of personalities, thoughts, and fears. Within our societies, which were not unlike many others, was a deep attraction to the supernatural and the hidden. The folktales were used as a tool to deter children from committing any form of moral, religious, or cultural deviation.

All of the stories I read and heard about the djinn portrayed them as evil figures that were shunned from their societies. The one thing none of the narratives provided was an explanation for why these figures were considered ‘evil’, apart from the fact that they were not human. I decided to fill that gap by writing a series of children’s books centred around the narratives of the djinn that belonged to the Emirati folk tradition, and I decided to do so for a number of reasons. I grew up reading Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter, and while I enjoyed every bit of their stories, I could relate neither to the names of the characters, nor to the places that they came from. I decided to write the kind of stories I would have loved to read as a child. The djinn figures have not been extensively documented or archived, and have survived purely on having their stories passed down orally from one generation to another. My series is not an archival attempt to preserve these stories, but rather an attempt to immortalise our country’s rich folklore through the collective memory of its children.

I was very keen on providing original alternative explanations to the ‘evil’ narratives that these djinn figures have notoriously been known for. Were they really evil, or were they judged simply because they were different? It is never too early to start a conversation with children about the importance of tolerance, and the danger of judging others based on how different they look or act. Of course, these are themes that children might not be able to directly grasp, but my hope is that as they grow up with these stories in the back of their minds, they will slowly dissect and understand the moral reasoning behind them.

I am happy to share that the book series, with the support of the Emirates Foundation, will be published by Kalimat, the children book imprint of Kalimat Group, next week at the Sharjah International Book Fair. The three Arabic books, titled Khattaf Raffay, Um AlSibbyan, and Gom AlDussais, are targeted for students in the third and fourth grade. They are only the beginning of a longer series that I will continue to write in the next few years to come. While the series is targeted for a younger audience, I invite adult readers to take the opportunity to also reflect on the notion that evil is not necessarily born, but rather, it is made; that even djinn, when given the proper chance to explain themselves, might be more human than we think.

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The author is an Emirati novelist-writer
 

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