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My Name is Jbene

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Jbene Laghoo“Jbene” is a story from the Palestinian Folklore. It is one of many collected and edited by Ibrahim Mohawi and Sharif Kanaana in their book titled ” Speak, Bird, Speak Again”.

 

Like any other traditional folktale, cultural values and memes are conveyed in a simple yet profound style.  Accordingly, folktales could be classified under similar subject or shared discourse. In this regard, Mohawi and Kanaana listed Jbene and other similar stories under “Sexual Awakening and Courtship”.

 Once upon a time there was a woman who could not get pregnant and have children. One day, when a cheese vendor passed through, she gathered herself and cried out, “You who ask, your wish be granted!1 May Allah grant me a daughter with a face as white as this piece of cheese!” Allah spoke with her tongue, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter with a face so fair it was like a square of cheese, and she called her Jbēne.2

When Jbēne grew up she was very beautiful, and all the girls in the neighborhood became jealous of her.3 One day her companions came to her and said, “Jbēne, let’s go pick dōm together.”4

“Not until you ask my mother,” she answered.

So to her mother they went and said, “O Jbēne’s mother, for the life of Jbēne, won’t you let Jbēne come pick dōm with us?”
“It’s not my concern,” she answered.5 “Go speak with her father!”
They went to her father and said, “O Jbēne’s father, for the life of Jbēne, won’t you let Jbēne come pick dōm with us?”
“It’s not my concern,” he answered. “Go speak with her paternal aunt!”

They went to her paternal aunt and said, “O Jbēne’s aunt, for the life of Jbēne, won’t you let Jbēne come pick dōm with us?”
“It’s not my concern,” she answered. “Go speak with her maternal aunt!”
So to the maternal aunt they went and said, “O Jbēne’s aunt, for the life of Jbēne, won’t you let Jbēne come pick dōm with us?”
“Fine,” said the aunt to them. “Let her go with you.”

The girls gathered together and went to pick dōm. When they reached the dōm trees, they asked, “Who’s going to climb the tree for us?”

Jbēne was the youngest and the best behaved among them. “I’ll climb it,” she said.
Climbing the tree, she picked dōm and dropped it for them under the tree.
“We’ll fill your basket,” they said to her.
They filled their baskets with dōm, but they filled hers with snails. As the sun was setting, they abandoned her up in the tree and went to their homes. Night fell, and Jbēne could not climb down from the tree.6

Her mother went and asked her friends, but they said, “Jbēne didn’t come with us.”
Later a horseman came by, riding a mare. The mare approached the tree but backed away in fear. Looking up into the tree, the horseman saw the girl. “Come down!” he said, but she would not because she was afraid. “I swear by Allah your safety’s guaranteed,” he said to her, and only then did the girl heed him. She came down, and he set her behind him on the mare and rode home with her.7

During the night Jbēne painted herself black all over because she did not want anyone to know who she was. In the morning they thought she was a servant and sent her out to graze the herds of sheep and camels.8
Every day after that, while roaming with the herds, Jbēne would cry out:

  • “O birds that fly
    • Over mountains high!
    • Greet my mother and father
    • And say, ‘Jbēne’s a shepherdess.
    • Sheep she grazes, and camels.
    • And rests in the shade of the vine.’”

Then she would cry, and the birds would cry, and the sheep and camels would stop grazing and cry.

The son of the emir noticed that the animals were going out to pasture and were coming home without having eaten. They were getting thinner day by day. “By Allah,” he thought, “I must follow her and find out what the matter is.”
He followed the herds until they reached their grazing ground. Jbene sat down and cried out:

  • “O birds that fly
    • Over mountains high!
    • Greet my mother and father
    • And say, ‘Jbēne’s a shepherdess.
    • Sheep she grazes, and camels.
    • And rests in the shade of the vine.’”

Then she started crying, and the birds cried. The herds all stopped grazing and stood in their tracks and cried. Everything around her cried, and the son of the emir himself stood up and cried.
In the evening he said to her, “Come here! Confess the truth! Who are you, and what’s your story?”

“My name’s Jbēne,” she answered. “This and that and that happened to me.” She then removed the soot from her face, and behold! what was she like but the moon?

The son of the emir made her his wife.9 They arranged festivities and beautiful nights.10 He married her, and she brought her mother and father to stay with her. I was there, and have just returned.

 

 

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