The Folktale as a Site of Framing Palestinian Memory and Identity in Speak, Bird, Speak Again and Qul Ya Tayer

  • Farah Aboubakr Alkhammash

Student thesis: Phd


Following the trauma of the Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948, Palestinians still suffer from constant violations of their rights, land and culture. To fight forgetfulness and denial, some Palestinian folklorists have sought to collect, document, analyse and translate pre-1948 Palestinian folktales. One major example is Speak, Bird, Speak Again (1989), a selection edited by Ibrahim Muhawi and Sharif Kanaana, and its Arabic version Qul Ya Tayer (قول يا طير (2001. The folktales, told mainly by women, are divided by the compilers into five main groups, following the individual's life cycle from childhood to old age: Individuals, Family, Society, Environment and Universe. This thesis analyses the folktales in the English and Arabic compilations along with their paratextual elements (introduction, footnotes, afterwords etc) in order to explore the importance of orality and folktales in framing and preserving Palestinian memory and identity. Structured into four chapters, the thesis starts by highlighting the cultural and social roles of storytellers in Palestine, followed by an overview of the religious, social and psychological functions of folktales. It then describes the paratextual elements in the Arabic and English compilations, shedding light on the need to carry out scientifically and academically based documentation of Palestinian folktales. The compilers' contribution, the thesis argues, reinforces the discourse of cultural resistance and cultural identity affirmation. The thesis takes memory studies as its main theoretical framework. Synthesising various concepts within memory studies, Chapter Two explains relevant ideas for analysing the folktales, such as collective memory, post-memory, cultural/communicative memory and prosthetic memory. The discussion connects memory to a number of generations across time and space, creating a narrative of continuity. This chapter also explores the components of Palestinian collective memory - oral history, language, nationalism and the Nakba; the latter the thesis attempts to situate within the field of memory and trauma studies.The thesis then probes the essential role played by Palestinian women in transmitting and preserving Palestinian memory and cultural identity, and explores their agency both as storytellers and protagonists. Through their roles as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, and through their narrative skills and humour, women, the thesis argues, engender and gender Palestinian memory and identity. To understand the interconnection between language, cultural and collective identity, Chapter Four highlights the significance of peasantry discourse in the folktales' pre-1948 setting, creating a site of memory and homeland while triggering nostalgia and collectivity. Folk religion and food culture are important markers of Palestinian cultural identity and memory; hence, religious expressions, folktale characters and food references in the folktales and tellings are also investigated. The thesis highlights the agency of Palestinian women via food culture, and thus their power in promoting long established cultural and social values as well as regenerating cultural memory.This research sheds new light on the role of the Palestinian folklorist, folktales and storytellers, adopting a novel approach that combines memory, trauma, and food studies among others
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorUrsula Tidd (Supervisor), Dalia Mostafa (Supervisor) & Siobhan Brownlie (Supervisor)


  • folktale, memory, identity, Palestine, storyteller, paratext
  • folk religion, food culture, women's narrative, peasantry

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