Arab Tradition Of Oral Storytelling Gets A 21st Century Revival In Beirut

Hakawati, or Arab storytellers, were once famous for retelling the journeys of legends, compelling fables and stories from the Quran which were left lingering in the minds of the audience for many days. However, with recent times, there has been a shift of what is shared in hakaya sessions. In today’s society of Beirut, those stories tend to be recollections of familial and personal experience, often of incredible and captivating events.

Hakawati In The Heart Of Lebanon

In a local café, situated in the heart of Lebanon, a crowd gathers closely and eagerly to hear the next generation of hakaya storytellers. Some of the stories covered are highly emotive and heartbreaking, and a way of preserving the accounts of valuable lives: The story of how a 13-year old girl’s father was threatened in Syria endlessly lives in the mind of its audience.

The ancient tradition of Arab storytelling is spread through a new wave of oral storytelling in Beirut. Maintaining the individuality and uniqueness of stories and events, hakayas support the growth of individuals listening in to draw on the important lessons that can be taken from each experience. But a bigger and more hopeful message is aimed to get the population of unheard voices heard by others; stories that are otherwise ignored by the media and lost to those around them.

Hakaya Sessions Where Voices Are Finally Heard

A multi-talented professor, writer and actress by the name of Dima Matta reconnected gatherings in Beirut with the trend of storytelling by launching the Cliffhangers storytelling event.

Lebanon’s neighbours, Egypt, also have set their own version of hakawati by introducing The BuSSy Project – described as a safe, uncensored space for women and men to share their untold personal stories of abuse and trauma.

The re-emergence of these groups have come at a time that sees the need for societal issues to be discussed. The hakaya sessions are thought-provoking sessions where societal expectations are challenged and a safe space is created, allowing individuals to share what they have been bottling up for so long. For some, this is what they have been waiting for: for someone to hear their voice.

Written by Sara Tofiq

Sara Tofiq

Sara is an undergrad student living in London and through writing she hopes to inspire others. She is obsessed with cats, green tea and likes the sound of rain during the night