From The Wolf of Baghdad DVD: My Grandmother’s Stories

The Jews of Iraq were bilingual in Judeo-Arabic and the local dialect of the Muslim majority (the more educated were also fluent in classical- standard Arabic). They would speak one language in the home and the other outside. In the 1970’s my uncle Nessim Hay recorded my maternal grandmother Hanini Hay (born Baghdad 1900, died in Be’er Sheva 1972) telling some Iraqi folktales in our Judeo-Arabic dialect. I have made digital versions to go with The Wolf of Baghdad DVD and they appear below in this post, along with the English translations and commentary*. All the photos are of our family in Baghdad.

The DVD and CD soundtrack will be launched with a special live performance of the motion comic at London’s JW3 on 5th March 2020. They will be available from March 6th on Amazon and iTunes or from the shop on The Surreal McCoy’s website.

*With thanks to Nessim Hay, Dr Ayad Abdulahad, Eli Timan, Saad Jadir and Emile Cohen.

1 The Story of Kasayroona

 

Once upon a time there was a little woman called Kasayroona*, and she lived in a little house. While sweeping it one day she found a penny. She went and bought some halawa**, and put it on the ledge. The stork came and snatched it, so she jumped and snatched his tail.
“Give me my tail back” cried the stork.
“Give me back my halawa” she answered.
So they went for judgement to the Khadi of Islam.
“Khadi’l Islam, Khadi’l Islam!”
“Alaykum- al-salam.”
“Peace be with you” the Khadi replied.
“My name is Kasayroona.”
“What a pretty name.”
“And I live in a tiny house.”
“That befits a tiny dame.”
“I swept it.”
“How very tidy.”
“I sprinkled it.”
“How very cool.”
“I found a penny.”
“How very lucky.”
“I bought some halawa.”
“How very sweet.”
“I put it on the ledge.”
“How very elevating.”
“The stork came and snatched it!”
“How very infuriating.”
“So I snatched his tail!”
“Well, that settles it very well.”

*Kasayroona means little one.
**Halawa is a sweet made from sesame oil and sugar.

 

2 The Beetle

 

Once upon a time the Beetle opened her door and sat on the doorstep all pretty and powdered. The Big Mouse passed by. “Why are you sitting on the doorstep so pretty and powdered?” he asked.
“I want to find myself a husband” she replied.
“Will you marry me?” He proposed.
“First tell me, what will you hit me with when you get cross?”
“I shall hit you with my big, long tail.”
“Go away, go away! Curses on your father, you scoundrel, son of a rat!”
So the Big Mouse went away.
Next, the Middle-sized Mouse came by. “Why are you sitting on the doorstep so pretty and powdered?” he asked.
“I want to find myself a husband” she replied.
“Will you marry me?” He proposed.
“First tell me, what will you hit me with when you get cross?”
“I shall hit you with my middle-sized tail.”
“Go away, go away! Curses on your father, you scoundrel, son of a rat!”
So the Middle-sized Mouse went away.
Then the Little Mouse passed by. “Why are you sitting on the doorstep so pretty and powdered?” he asked.
“I want to find myself a husband” she replied.
“Will you marry me?” He proposed.
“First tell me, what will you hit me with when you get cross?”
“I shall hit you with my tiny little tail.”
This time the Beetle accepted and they were married.
Soon she was expecting a baby. One day she had a craving for silan*. She asked Little Mouse to go to his Master and get some for her. So he went to his Master who told him to go and get some out of the silan barrel. Little Mouse clambered up but because he was so small he fell into the barrel and was drowned.
The Beetle waited and waited, but as Little Mouse did not return she went to look for him. When she found him drowned in the silan barrel she threw ashes on her head and wailed and cried.
“Woe, woe my Little Mouse!
Gone from my little house!”

*Silan is a syrup made from the juice of dates.

 

3 The Louse and the Flea

 

دا أحكي حكية القمله والبغوضايي
I am going to talk about the story of the Louse and the Flea.
كان وما كان على الله والتكلان
There was and there was not, and in God we trust.
كان فد وحدي قمله وبغوضايي ( برغوثه)
Once there was a Louse and a Flea.
القمله جاها خطاغ التبكت وانشق مداسه
To the Louse came visitors; she got flustered and her sandal got torn.
قامت تبكي قالتلو أش تلبس ما عنده مداس
She started to cry; she told him [the Flea] “What am I going to wear? I have no sandal!”
قاللا خلي تسكت غدا يغوح يخيط الها اياه
He told her to be quiet, tomorrow he will sew it for her.
أخذو البغوض وغاح قيخيطو
The Flea took it and went to sew it.
غاح عند استاذو أبو الخبز
He went to his master, the Baker.
قاللو (بليز) إمغاتو جاها خطاغ والتبكت  وانشق مداسه
He said to him “Please, his wife received visitors and she was flustered and her sandal was torn.”
وما عنده غيغو وقايغيد يخيطه إلها إياه
And that she has not got another and that he wants to sew it for her.
قاللو زين إطلع عالتنوغ وخيطو
He [the Baker] said “All right, go up to the top of the Tannoor [clay oven] and sew it.”
هذا طلع عالتنوغ قيخيطو للمداس
This one [the Flea] went up on top of the Tannoor, sewing the sandal.
انعغج و وقع بالتنوغ وطقطق ومات
He twisted himself and fell inside the Tannoor, crackled and died.
هي القمله تصتندغ و تصتندع تغيد يجي و ماكو
The Louse was waiting and waiting for him to come back in vain.
اشو جا الخطاغ وماكو البغوض
The visitors came but there was no [sign of] the Flea.
قامت غاحت عند أبو الخبز
She got up and went to the Baker.
قالتلو (بليز) جاها خطاغ والتبكت وانشق مداسه
She told him, please, she received visitors and she got flustered and her sandal was torn.
وانمغدت و قاللا البغوض غاد ايغوح ايخيطه الها إياه
She was upset but the Flea told her that he will go and sew it for her.
جا الهوني ؟
“Did he come here?”
قال إلها أيه , كوانو عالتنوغ قيخيطو
He [the Baker] told her “Yes, he [the Flea] is at the top of the Tannoor, sewing it.”
غاحو شافو المداس مفرور عالتنوغ وهوه وقع بالتنوغ و طقطق و مات
They went and saw the sandal left on top of the Tannoor and that he [the Flea] had fallen in, crackled and died.
قامت غاحت رجعت للبيت
She went back to the house.
اتسخمت واتلطمت وقعدت جوه النخله
She threw ashes on, and slapped her face and sat underneath the Palm tree [in mourning].
قالتله النخله ليش ساخمون ولاطمون ؟
The Palm-tree asked her “Oh Louse, why the ashes and the face slapping?”
قالتله القمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون
The Louse replied “Ashes and face slapping [mourning] for the prince of Tarabzoon.”
وقع , شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
He spread his plumes [like a peacock] and fell in the Tannoor.
قامت النخله شلحت السعفه
The Palm tree responded by taking off her branches (fronds) [in mourning].
جت الفختيي ووكرت عالنخله
The Pigeon came and perched on the Palm tree.
قالتله ليش النخل نخل خيش ؟
She said “Why are the Palm tree’s branches dry?”
قالت له النخل نخل خيش , القمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون , شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
The Palm tree said “The Tree has dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
قامت الفختيي شلحتو الغيشه
The Pigeon took off her feathers.
غاحت قتشغب بالشط ماي
She went to drink water from the River.
قالّه الشط ليش كنفش  منا ريش
The River asked her “Why no feathers?”
قالتلو كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
She told him “Pigeon with no feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
قام الشط كّدغو , كدّغو المايو
The River made his water murky.
جو الغنم  قيشغبون ماي  قللولو ليش الماي كدرون ؟
The Sheep came to drink water, they asked him [the River], “Why is the water murky?”
قاللم الماي كدرو , كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش
He told them “The Water is murky, the Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches…
والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
…The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
قامو الغنم تعكرو وقعدو بلأرض ما يقبلون يمشون
The Sheep kicked (folded) their legs, and sat with their knees on the ground refusing to walk.
جا الغاعي مالم  قال ليش الغنم معكرون ؟
Their Shepherd came, he said “Why are the Sheep on their knees?”
قالو الغنم معكرون والشط كدرون كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
They said “The Sheep on their knees, the Water is murky, the Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
قام هوي قعد عالقزوغ وتقوزغ
He [the Shepherd] sat on a peg and was pegged down
التالي أبونو يصتندغ ويصتندغ وأبنو ما جا
After a while, his father was waiting and waiting but his son did not return.
قاللا الأختو ما تغوح توديلو قوصه خبز وكاس لبن وتشوف ليش بطا
He told his [the shepherd’s] sister to go give him a flat round of bread and a glass of yogurt and see why he tarried.
جت أختو شافتو الأخوها قيعد عالقزوغ قالتلو الأخوها  ليش مقوزغون ؟
His sister came, saw her brother sat on the peg, she asked her brother “Why are you pegged down?”
قاللا أخوها مقوزغون و الغنم معكرون والشط كدرون كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
Her brother told her “Her brother is pegged down, The Sheep on their knees, The Water is murky, the Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
قامت أختو قوصة الخبزقوغته خلته بحلقه واللبن دلقتو على وجّه
His sister made a hole in the middle of the bread loaf, stuck it into her mouth and poured the yogurt on her face.
هاي أبوهم قام قيصتندغ إثنين هم الغاعي وهم اختو
Now her father was waiting for both, the Shepherd as well as his sister.
قال أغيد أغوح أشوف أش صاغ بيهم
He said I want to go see what happened to them.
جا , شافه , قِالّه البنتوهيي ليش لبنون ؟
He came and saw her, asked his daughter why is she drenched in yogurt?
قالتلو والخبز بحلقه : بنتو لبنون , أخوها مقوزغون و الغنم معكرون والشط كدرون كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
She told him with the loaf in her mouth: His daughter is Yogurt, her brother is pegged, The Sheep on their knees, The Water is murky, the Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
هذا ضغبه وقالّه دي خلّي تقوم تغسل وجّه وتشيل الخبز من حلقه
He hit her and told her – quick, let her get up, wash her face and take off the loaf from her mouth.
غد  جا على إبنو قال ليش مقوزغون
Then he came to his son and asked “Why [are you] pegged down?”
قاللو أبنو مقوزغون و الغنم معكرون والشط كدرون كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
He told him [that] “His Son is pegged down, The Sheep on their knees, The Water is murky, the Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
ضغبو بالعوده وقاللو خلي يقوم من عل قزوغ
He hit him with a stick and told him to get off the Peg.
قام رجع عالغنم قاللم ليش معكرون ؟
Then he returned to the Sheep and asked them why are they on their knees?
قاللولو الغنم معكرون والشط كدرون كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
They told him “The Sheep on their knees, The Water is murky, the Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
قام ضغبم , قامو الغنم , جاع الشط قاللو ليش الشط كدرون ؟
So he hit them, the Sheep got up. He came to the River. He asked him why is the River murky?
قاللو الماي كدرون  كنفش منا ريش النخل نخل خيش والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
[The River] said “The Water is murky, the Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
ضغبو للماي وقاللو صفّي مايك , صفانو المايو
He hit the water and said to the River “Purify your Water.” He purified his Water.
جا عالفختيي قالله ليش كنفش بلا ريش , قالتلو كنفش بلا ريش والنخل نخل خيش  والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
He came to the Pigeon and asked her why no feathers?
She told him “Pigeon without feathers, the Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
ضغبه للفختيي وقالله ألبسي ريشك , لبستو
He hit the Pigeon and told her “Put on your feathers.” She put them on.
جا عالنخله , قالله ليش النخل نخل خيش ؟
He came to the Palm tree. He asked her why the Palm tree with dry branches?
قالتلو النخل نخل خيش كنفش بلا ريش والنخل نخل خيش  والقمله ساخمون ولاطمون على أمير الطربزون شلح أذانو و وقع بالتنوغ
The Palm tree told him “The Palm tree with dry branches, The Louse with ashes and face slapping for the prince of Tarabzoon, he spread his plumes and fell in the Tannoor.”
ضغبه و قالله إلبسي سعفك , لبستو السعفه
He hit her and told her “Put on your [green] branches.” She put them on.
غاح عالقمله أفغكه وفرّه بالتنوغ , هيه هم طقت وماتت مثل البغوض
He went to the Louse, rubbed her in his hand and threw her in the Tannoor.
She also crackled and died like the Flea.
وكنا عندم وجينا
We were with you but came home…
وأكلنا صحن لوزينه
…and had a dish of Luzina [sweet made of quince].

Saad Jadir comments:

“I think this story does not lend itself to translation because it principally relies on the play on words, made-up words that are at best meaningless. They are made up for the purpose of rhyme.

قملي is a louse and بغوض  is a Flea.

إلتبكت  is an old-fashioned term for being confused إرتبكت بالعربي الفصيح . They say تلبكني  which means you confuse me.  This louse was surprised and confused with the sudden visitors.

مداس    is old fashion footwear. The terms used to describe hand made shoes, some call them يمني أو كلاش

طق طق  I think means ‘crackled’, if you throw an insect in the fire, you will hear it crackle and burn.

I think أمير الطربزون    is a funny way of saying he is the prince of his kingdom or fiefdom.   طربزون is a town in Turkey and it may have had an importance at one time that to describe someone as important, you call him أمير طربزون

شلح أذانو  أو  شنتر أذانو  This was an expression to describe someone showing off, as in a peacock spreading his colourful plumes.

إنفيش مناريش  again is pun on words which means plucked or shed his feathers.

خازوق  it is referred to historically as ‘impaler’. It was an instrument of torture that dates back centuries. I think was used during the inquisition in the 15th century in Spain against ‘conversos‘ who continued to practice Judaism in secret when in public they displayed Christianity. It was also used as far back as the time of the Babylonians.

On the whole, if you wished to translate this lovely story, you will strip it of its pun and linguistic value, and it would be just an amusing children’s tale. I loved the lady’s classic accent, it is very close to the Mosul accent that I heard as a child from my grandparents. Alas, this does not exist anymore!”

Eli Timan notes:

“From Saad’s comments above, we may delve deeper into the story. Essentially it is the story of the Louse and her husband, the Flea. These two insects are hated by humans, then and now. They are also very small so they are the lowest of God’s creatures.
The Louse’s sandal is torn so the Flea goes to mend it on top of a clay oven (Tannoor). In the process, he falls, is burnt and dies. The Louse, on discovering this, goes into mourning in the traditional Eastern way of putting ashes on and slapping her face. She sits under a palm tree who asks her why is she mourning. Then in sympathy with her the Palm tree goes into mourning in its special way by taking off its green branches, leaving useless dry fronds. From now on we meet different creatures: a Pigeon, a River, sheep and two young human siblings who join in the mourning, each in his/hers/its way.
So an insect, a plant, a bird, water, animals and humans all talking to each other and sympathising with the Louse: a utopia of compassion.
This state of affairs is reversed when the siblings’ father admonishes them for their act and orders them to get up and resume work. He goes to every other creature, beats them up and tells them to get themselves back to their natural state. Finally he throws the Louse in the oven to die with the Flea.
The moral of the story?
You could argue that the moral of the story is to teach that every creature is important and equal on earth even down to the smallest insect. In a perfect world, they would all live in harmony.
The last part of the story shows that in practice, the world cannot come to a halt just because a Flea has died. The father, an experienced down to earth human being, takes over and puts the world straight with reverting to what we are used to: creatures which have a useful role in benefiting mankind are left alive and bothersome insects are killed.
That is of course my interpretation and there will be many others.

Other notes on transcription/translation:
I have used Capitals for the names of the creatures just like a human name.
Prince of Tarabzoon is an odd expression; Saad says it denotes that the Flea was the king of his kingdom, arrogant and too confident. Tarabzoon is also the name which old Iraqis gave to a balcony’s railings/banister. So it could that he was a master of balancing on the railings but still fell down.
ShallaH adhAnu شلًح أذانو means literally, ‘he bared his ears’. I have used the expression from Saad i.e. spread his plumes like a peacock.
Qazoogh قزوغ is as Saad notes, is an impaler used for torture. I have used the polite words ‘peg’ and ‘pegged down’.”

 

4 The Misfortune of Yahya the Baldhead

 

There was once a Sultan who called his men and said to them “You go out into the street and collect a penny from any passerby who sells eggs and hens; a penny from anyone whose name is Yahya; a penny from any man who has a bald head; and a penny from whoever is afraid of his wife.”
So the men set themselves up in front of the palace while the King watched from the window. Soon a man approached carrying a cage full of cackling hens on his head and a basket of eggs. The King’s men stopped him and said “Put down one penny.”
The man said “Poor old Yahya! What a start to the day!”
The King’s men said “What? Your name is Yahya? Put down two pennies!”
Whereupon Yahya took of his cap and looked up to heaven and said “Dear God! What have I done to deserve this?”
The men seeing his bald head said “That makes it three pennies.”
Yahya slapped his bald head in despair and cried “What am I going to tell my wife?”
“Ah!”, said the King’s men, “So you are afraid of your wife? Put down four pennies then!”
Yahya, holding his mouth tightly shut with one hand, counted out four coins “Um, um, um, um”, and hurriedly went on his way.
The King was so amused by Yahya’s misfortune that he sent after him and rewarded him with four hundred gold coins.

5 The Tale of a Bald-Headed Man

 

I will tell the story of the bald headed man

Once upon a time

The bald headed man set up shop

He fell into debt

Time blundered him

He started walking around stroking his beard

His wife came and gave him a slap and nearly killed him

A chicken came by and pecked him

He returned to his home exhausted

 

Saad Jadir notes:

“Old Iraqi tales are always finished with a bit of rhyme, it is often:

 كنا عدكم وجينا وأكلنا صحن لوزينا

‘We were with you but came home and had a dish of Luzina [Iraqi sweet].'”

 

6 The Tale of the Old Woman

 

 

I will tell the story of the old woman

Once upon a time there was a restless old woman

A curse be upon her as she couldn’t keep still

A bit of ember in her pocket, flaming white hair

A grain of barley came to her, and aubergine like pistachio

She went to the spice seller. She said to him “Uncle spice seller, uncle spice seller, give me Clove and Gunfular [clove oil]!”

He said to her “For whom and how?”

She said “For a Very Famous Beauty.”

He said to her “If you show me that place, I will fill your pocket!”

The old lady told him “Dress as a gentleman, wear the blue turban and ride the blue horse. Go to an area where you will see that the first place is well swept, the second is well swept and watered, the third is well swept, watered and covered with golden gabardine.

You will see a door, knock with the ring. You will be received by a black woman, well put together, elegant and 41 adornments on her head.”

So he said to her “I want to see the Very Famous Beauty!”

She said “Now you will go up and see the Very Famous Beauty!”

He went upstairs and saw the Very Famous Beauty

Her head is like the walnut from an orchard

Her forehead is as wide as an arena

Her eye brows are like pencils

Her eyes are like those of a doe

Her nose is that of a ban [unkown]

Her cheeks are like Damascus apples

Her chin is that of a ban

Her lips are like coral

Her teeth are pearls

She is tall as the sails of a ship, her neck is long like an arm

Something is like the runner beans from a farm

And we were with you but we came home and ate a dish of Luzina

 

Saad Jadir notes:

“The tale relies on linguistic rhymes and at times, words are used because they rhyme not because they fit in the story. Also the story ends with no conclusion!”

 

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