Richard Hamilton: Preserving the Storytelling Tradition

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Richard Hamilton: Preserving the Storytelling Tradition

Posted on: July 1st, 2014 by tommyj

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Colin Kilkelly is an editor with 30 years in international publishing. He has worked in all of the countries in the Maghreb and Egypt. He is based in Marrakech.
Richard Hamilton: Preserving the Storytelling Tradition
Richard Hamilton: Preserving the Storytelling Tradition

Marrakech – Richard Hamilton has worked for the BBC World Service as a broadcast journalist since 1998, including being a correspondent in Morocco, South Africa and Madagascar. He also reports for BBC TV, radio and online. While living in Morocco, he co-authored the Time Out Guide to Marrakech and has written throughout his career for magazines and newspapers such as Conde Nast Traveller and The Times. He has an MA in African Studies from SOAS. Richard’s first book, The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco, was published in 2011.

MWN: How can the traditional oral story telling culture survive in Morocco?

Richard Hamilton: When I first researched my book, my initial thoughts about the fate of storytelling were very pessimistic, for a number of reasons. First of all, modern technology has provided Moroccans with more immediately accessible forms of entertainment and distraction. In the old days you would have had to walk to the Jemaa el Fna, muscle your way into the audience or halka and sit down for an hour or so to listen to a story, and probably felt obliged to pay the storyteller a few coins. You might have to come back the next day if you wanted to hear what happened in the story. But now without even having to leave your room or move your rear end from your armchair, at the simple click of a button you can download movies, tv programs, and interact on social media with people from all over the world who tell their stories in bite-sized form. You can also of course turn on your television or rent a pirate DVD.

In North Africa and the Middle East, the story telling tradition started to decline from around the 1950’s with the advent of radio and television. Now it is the internet’s turn to speed up this process. People’s concentration spans have become so fragmented that the chances of them wanting to listen to a long epic tale are very small. Secondly the spread of literacy, while a good thing, has had a huge impact on oral culture. Other parts of the world have seen the same phenomenon; as people are taught to read, they no longer need someone else to read to them. This happens on a microscopic scale within every family; when a child learns to read, he or she is not dependent on mummy or daddy reading to them anymore. This is a sad loss for the parent but perhaps it is inevitable. There are however grounds for greater optimism now. For example the storytelling project at the Café Clock in the Kasbah in Marrakech is starting to gather momentum. In many developed nations too, I sense there is a real appetite to revive oral culture, perhaps because we feel we are missing something. In France for example there are now several hundred storytelling festivals every year.

MWN: How can it best be preserved?

Richard Hamilton: Of course you can record stories in audio form, or you can collect them and transcribe them, as I have done, in the form of a book. While this is a good thing, it is no substitute for the living breathing experience of listening to a folk tale in the flesh. The Native American folklorist Joseph Bruchac put it very well: “the story lives with the storytellers breath.” The danger is that manuscripts, collections, exhibitions, museums of folklore and so on are not alive, they are just archival projects, like putting butterflies inside a glass cabinet. They are frozen in time. I think there is still room for both the recorded version and the live performance. For example, people listen to recorded music, but they also still like to go to concerts to feel the vibrancy and uniqueness of that experience.

MWN: How can young story tellers be initiated into the art of storytelling and can they find an audience?

Richard Hamilton: Again the Cafe Clock is a good example of how to involve the young generation. Here master storytellers are transferring their knowledge to young apprentices. It may be a fairly small venue with a limited audience but it is at least a start. I would like to see the Moroccan authorities doing a bit more. For example the Ministry of Education could include storytelling on its curriculum or even create an academy of storytelling. I also think that international organisations like UNESCO have to show a bit more gumption. They need to demonstrate that they are more than just talking shops and actually do something concrete. In the past, storytellers have visited schools to tell stories to young children. I understand that there was a lot of enthusiasm for this among the pupils, but I am not sure it was done on a big enough scale to make a real difference.

MWN: Would videos and YouTube be a good way to preserve story telling?

Richard Hamilton: I think the internet has huge potential to come to the rescue of the storytelling tradition. Although, as I say above, modern technology is killing off traditional culture, it could also paradoxically hold the key to its survival in the future. Some years ago Moroccan national radio recorded some of the great epic Islamic tales told by the storytellers, and still has the archive recordings in its vaults. In the same way I think it would be wonderful if young people across the globe could have access to these fantastic narratives via YouTube. But again, it is not quite the same as the real thing. In the end we can only hope and pray that storytelling will somehow survive.

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Qatar Offers To Convert Barcelona’s Bullfighting Arena into a Mosque
Qatar Offers To Convert Barcelona’s Bullfighting Arena into a Mosque

Taroudant, Morocco – The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is reportedly willing to convert “la Plaza de Toros Monumental de Barcelona” or more shortly “la Monumental,” one of the oldest bullrings in Spain, into a gigantic mosque for $2.99 billion by 2020, according to Spanish website  20minuto.

If the city council approves the project, the bullring of Barcelona will be converted into a “40,000-capacity mosque”, which will be the biggest in Europe.

While the Balaña group has not yet officially confirmed the reports, it has already agreed the sale, reports 20minuto.

If the offer comes to fruition, the mosque will include a 300 meter minaret, a museum of Islamic art and history, and a center for Koranic studies.

According to the same source, Barcelona, despite having a large Islamic community, is the only major city in Spain that does not have a mosque.

Inaugurated in 1914 with its first bullfights, la Monumental is one of the oldest bullfighting arenas in Spain, with a gigantic building that mixes the Moorish and Byzantine architecture.

Despite being a popular sport in Spain, “la corrida de toros” (bullfighting) has been banned in Barcelona after the Parliament of Catalonia passed a bullfighting ban in 2010 that came into force in 2012.

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