A quarterly specialized journal
The Message Of Folklore from Bahrain To The World

The Biography of the Bani Hilal in Oral and Written Traditions

Issue 43
 The Biography of the Bani Hilal in Oral and Written Traditions

By Mahmud Ramadan Al Jabur


Many researchers insist on distinguishing between myths and tales. However, one should differentiate between three concepts, although they are sometimes interchangeable: the tale (narrative); the myth; and the legend.


Related to mythology, legends are of a religious nature. Firas Al Sawwah described legends as the first adventures of the mind, saying that the folktale is characterised by its social content and its subjects, which are limited to issues related to social and family relationships; it is a person’s attempt to interpret events. However, the tale, which may have emerged from a legend, is influenced by environmental, social and cultural changes; a description of an event in the past, it is transmitted orally from generation to generation. It is a deliberate creation of the collective imagination that people weave around incidents, persons, or historical places.


The myth is associated with supernatural stories and strange events, and it is usually transmitted through oral narration. The legend is associated with written narrative; it is derived from the Arabic word ‘sattara’ (wrote).


The tale is related to what is known as hadduta (a short story) in Egypt; hadduta is derived from the verb ‘hadatha’ (narrated). In Bedouin societies, it is known as ‘salfah’.


The folktale is a major component of culture. It is part of children’s early awareness. It is fertile ground for social, cultural and anthropological studies, and literary criticism, but studies of Arabic folktales are marginalised in favour of studies of other genres. This is because folktales are oral literature, which is better able to express the culture of the masses. Folktales are a major component of folk and non-folk literature.


There are three parts to ‘Al-Sira al-Hilaliya’ (the Biography of the Bani Hilal).


The first part describes the history of the Bani Hilal in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, and Najd. It also includes the names of their chieftains and heroes. Jaber and Jubair were sons of Mundhir Al Hilali. Jubair and his mother travelled to Najd, where he eventually became the Sultan. Jaber’s descendants Prince Hazim and Prince Rizk governed parts of Yemen. Prince Rizk married Sharif Makka’s daughter, who gave birth to a black child whom Prince Rizk named Barakat, (later known as Abu Zaid).


The second part describes the Bani Hilal’s journey to Najd following a famine in Yemen. The biography includes information about wars between the branches of the Bani Hilal; these wars lasted for years.


The third part describes the Bani Hilal’s journey to the west, when Abu Zaid and his followers went to Tunisia in search of a fertile land after a famine struck Najd. It also describes their connection to the Berbers, and their conflicts with Zinati Khalifa and Thiab bin Ghanem, which ended in Zinati Khalifa being killed. The Bani Hilal were divided over Zinati Khalifa’s property; a war broke out between Abu Zaid and Thiab, and ended with Thiab killing Abu Zaid.

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