If you know that luxury comes as a result of a combination of simplicity and uniqueness, we can offer you a private appointment with a Moroccan storyteller unwind one of his fascinating tales privately for you, either outside or in some exclusive setting.
Perhaps, it does not sound as enticing as assisting the birth of a baby whale, but Moroccan storytellers are the last survivors of traditional art which has accompanied men from the beginning of time and, like whales, you are now facing extinction.
Watching the performance of a storyteller, his gestures and facial expressions, the modulations of his voice—a highly ritualized art, subjected to complex unwritten rules that take years to master—is an experience that brings you back to the primal joys of mankind, when men and women gathered around the bonfire to listen to the tales of the elders. And it’s an experience that might very soon die away.
Back in the 70s, there were around twenty storytellers in Marrakech; moreover, all big cities in Morocco—as well as many of its towns—had their storytellers too. We are talking about trade and art that had become extinct in Europe almost two centuries earlier.
Nowadays, it’s believed that no more than three or four storytellers remain in Marrakech, perhaps less than eight in the whole of the country—old men with no apprentices. At least one thousand years of oral narratives and techniques, of countless variations, of legends and myths told and retold never in the same way, of secrets to capturing attention and codes to pass information from generation to generation, are probably coming to an end in our ruthless age, which is hypnotized by too much television to care.
As a famous writer and Marrakech resident Juan Goytisolo puts it, “it is important to understand that the loss of a single halaiqi (storyteller) is much more serious for humanity than the death of 200 best-selling authors”.
It’s worth noting that the only reason why Djema el Fna was declared UNESCO Heritage Site has nothing to do with its architecture or its monuments (it has nothing worth mentioning in this regard), but with the fact that it is one of the very last places on Earth where ancient oral narratives are still being enacted (some of the tales being told there show traces of almost unheard of Greek myths, for instance).
Juan Goytisolo told me the story of Sarouh, one of the most famous storytellers in Djemaa el Fna, who is already dead, and I will reproduce it here so you can get a feeling of the wonderful sense of humor that is one of the landmarks of the square—and also because nothing pleases a storyteller more than to become a part of a story himself, after death.
Sarouh was a very strong lad, a peasant from the countryside, with a beautiful voice. He came to Marrakech in the 40s, looking for work. Not finding it, and already in hunger, he decided to sing the verses of the holy Koran in Djemaa el Fna for a living, but nobody paid him any attention. For three days he sang but people passed by without leaving a single coin in his hat, whilst Sarouh grew hungrier and hungrier.
On the fourth day, Sarouh was in total despair. He sang and sang the best he could, with no results. It was as if he didn’t exist. A Berber peasant on a donkey passed by, almost stamping on him. In a rage, Sarouh lifted both the donkey and its rider in his arms as if you weighed nothing. Needless to say, the donkey, which had never thought a human capable of such strength, brayed loudly in terror, causing all passers-by to turn their attention to the curious scene that was taking place.
‘Idiots!’ cried Sarouh indignantly, besides himself. ‘you didn’t bother to stop and listen to the words of Allah for four days, and now you leave everything to listen to the cries of a donkey?’
The general burst of laughter that ensued marked the beginning of Sarouh’s popularity in the square. With time he became the most famous and original storyteller in Djemaa el Fna, and people would travel from the most distant corners of the kingdom just to listen to his tales.
Sarouh left an apprentice, now a very old man, and one of the last storytellers to be found in Djemaa el Fna.
If you would like to know more about the storytelling experience, and how it can fit in your itinerary, please do not hesitate to get in touch.