Whilst every corner of the world has a strong storytelling tradition, the Middle East is blessed with its own unique strand of folktales exploring nature. Water scarcity, rain and drought feature heavily due to the hot and arid climes of the region. A new community education/outreach project with the Qatar Heritage and Identity Center has partnered folklorists, scholars, and storytellers with local Qatari youth to encourage oral storytelling, and also help train them to collect and document this heritage. One Qatari folktale has already been transformed into an animated film called ‘Rain’, which will be screened at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival this November.
“Our film ‘Rain’ is based on an oral folktale called ‘Amtir Ya Matar,‘ which is about a traveler stranded in the desert and rescued by a tribe of Bedouins who then offer him hospitality while he recovers,” explains Autumn Eve Watts who is one of the organisers of the initiative.
“However, discovering that the traveler’s name is Matar [which means rain in Arabic], they beg him to bring rain to their drought-parched land. Matar repeatedly tries to explain to them that only God do this, but the misunderstanding persists. He eventually turns to prayer for help, and Allah answers his prayer by bringing rain to the land. The moral lesson of the folktale involves miscommunication, and the mistaken belief that man can control all aspects of the natural world.”
Indeed at the heart of many Qatari folktales are the limitedness of man in the face of nature – something which the modern world could do with remembering. We can’t conquer nature and be its master. Our lives and future survival is based on caring for the environment and allowing it to remain in equilibrium so that we can live our lives in comfort and peace. One of the mentors of the folktale project is Dr. Kaltham Al-Ghanem, a Qatari anthropologist who has done a lot of research on culture and the environment and has a forthcoming book on this subject. ‘Rain’ along with other Qatari folktales will be published in a book in their original dialect as well as in English.
Autumn Eve Watts, who is the screenwriter of the ‘Rain’ film, also remarked that the group was meeting with the COP18 UN Global Climate Change Conference organizers to plan a cultural program for the conference that would involve Qatari storytellers sharing tales related to heritage and environment. So, I guess we can expect to hear more from them in the future!
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