The project al- Hakawati – the Storyteller contributes to the preservation and dissemination of one of Syria’s intangible cultural heritages, the tradition of oral storytelling, with support from the Swedish Postcode Lottery. These stories are seen as a potential common denominator for solidarity across ethnic, geographic, and religious boundaries. The project is based on the collaboration between CHwB and Hakaya network represented by the Arab Education Forum (Jordan), The Arab Resource Collective for Popular Arts – Al Jana (Lebanon), and Al Balad theatre (Jordan) in association with Fabula storytelling (Sweden). Hakaya is a network of 13 organizations and groups with a long and solid experience of working with storytelling in the MENA region.
At a time when Syrians are suffering from displacement and destruction we were afraid it might be inappropriate to talk about traditional stories. However people are eager to remember and tell in front of the camera and so far 7 Syrian researchers have collected more than 100 stories from Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon and Syria. It is worth noting that all of the storytellers are “natural” storytellers rather than professional ones, and many of the stories collected were important personal testimonies. Some of the storytellers were young people who rushed to ask their elders for stories to tell.
Hisham Kayed, al-Jana, a representative from the Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts, states that “this project isn’t easy because people are afraid, they are afraid to tell stories to strangers. But the choice of traditional stories made it easier to start this collection: tales are somehow seen as neutral.”
Paul Matar, lead researcher of the project says: “I found the stories very original, different from the Lebanese ones despite the expected common heritage of the two countries. What struck me the most was the diversity of the traditions in these stories, one that reflects the diversity within Syria itself.”
The collection process also revealed that people of 30-50 years old are those who volunteer their stories: the older generation no longer tells, and the younger ones no longer listen. According to Serene Huleileh, director for AEF (The Arab Education Forum) this is “a proof of the timeliness of this project since the generation that still remembers and has the incentive to tell is still young and motivated. The Hakawati project can ensure that these stories are not only preserved but also transmitted.”
The project al-Hakawati is financed by the Swedish PostcodeLottery.