A General Note on the Tales of Djuha
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A General Note on the Tales of Djuha Djuha is a popular buffoon figure of many colors—a numskull, a naive fool, a trickster, a comic who satirizes people in power, and an idiot whose literal logic exposes the ambiguities of the language. His “are stories of apparent stupidity which gets the better of brain or brawn, quick wit which saves face, humor which overcomes sorrow, naiveté which hides a deep philosophy of life.”1 The wide range of his attributes represents historical development, regional variations, selected documentation, and the use of anecdotes for deliberate purposes. Djuha is the primary humorous figure in the jokes and proverbs of Judeo-Spanish oral tradition.2 Grunwald3 recorded Judeo-Spanish folktales, folk songs, and proverbs from Sephardic narrators from Turkey and the Balkans. His sources were World War I soldiers who had been brought to Vienna as prisoners of war. The tales were told in Judeo-Spanish, but Grunwald wrote them down in German. His collection includes fifty-five Djuha tales, ten of which have been published.4 The Sephardic community in the United States has retained Djuha as a comic figure. On the basis of fieldwork conducted in Los Angeles in 1974, S. Stern5 concluded that “the Goha [Djuha] stories constitute the largest body of narrative within the tale-telling tradition of the Sephardic Jews of Los Angeles.” Djuha in the IFA There are 232 Djuha tales on deposit in the IFA; they are supplemented by 28 Nasreddin Hoca and 23 Abu Nuwas stories. As a group, these 283 narratives represent almost 1 percent of the texts in the archives, making up one of the largest groups of tales in the collection. There are approximately the same number of tales about King Solomon as either the archetypical wise child or the wise man of Jewish tradition; the largest group is stories about Elijah the Prophet (630). The narrators of the Djuha tales in Israel were Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, Circassians (Cherkessians), Samaritans, and Sephardim. The Jewish immigrant storytellers came from Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Rhodes, Syria, Tunis, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Yemen. The JudeoSpanish tales constitute 42 percent of all Djuha stories in the IFA. The other tales come from North Africa (30 percent), the Mideast (22 percent), Iran (3 percent), and miscellaneous regions (3 percent). Ben-Ami6 analyzed a collection of 250 jokes recorded among Moroccan Jews and found that Djuha was featured in 27 percent of them. The Nasreddin Hoca stories are mostly from Iran and Afghanistan. The 547 Djuha-like hero of those tales is sometimes called Molla (or Mulla), which means “teacher.” The Abu Nuwas tales are mainly from Iraq (thirteen),Yemen (six), Iran (one), Lebanon (one), and Israeli Arabs (two). Koen-Sarano collected Djuha stories from seventy-two narrators from twelve Mediterranean countries. Koen-Sarano’s sources learned their tales in a JudeoSpanish environment; hence only a few of the narrators were from North African countries. However, tales from Africa, particularly from Tunisia, have been translated from the Judeo-Arabic and published.7 A collection of Djuha stories by an Israeli from Turkey is available.8 The comic hero of the humorous anecdotes told in Turkey and in the Balkans is known primarily as Nasreddin Hoca (also Khodja, or Hodja); the Sephardic narrators from these countries refer to him mostly as Djuha, his name in Arabic traditions . With some dialectical variations the narrators whose stories appear in Koen-Sarano’s collection Djoha ke dize?9 retain the name Djuha. The only significant, and somewhat curious, name change occurred in the texts of Sephardic narrators from Israel. Some of these storytellers employed the name “H.usham” for the numskull. This is a biblical name of one of the Edomite kings (Genesis 36:34–35; 1 Chronicles 1:45–46), and inYiddish it became one of words for a fool (khushim[nik]).10 From Yiddish, it entered modern Hebrew and, in a few cases, replaced the character name “Djuha” in Sephardic tales from Israel. Early History of the Djuha Tales The first available reference to Djuha as a blundering fool occurs in the early ninth century in the work of al-Djahiz (776–868/869), who counted him among other comic figures known at that time.11 In another work, al-Djahiz12 quoted a whole story in which Djuha gives a witty reply to the residents of Hims, known as a town of fools at that time. By the last quarter of the tenth century, a...


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