Man with no brain

When I translated this story for Margaret Read MacDonald’s Peace Tales: World Folktales to Talk about, I ended the story here: “if I had any brains at all, I would never have come with my ‘friends.’” Audiences taught me to stop at that point. That’s where they reacted.

Looking at the story again, I see my telling and their reaction were cultural. My audiences and I interpreted the story as an anti-war tale. As Algerian storyteller Mohammed bel Halfaoui told and wrote it (in Arabic, then translated into French), the story has a quite different intent.

How would you interpret it?

In the past, many things happened.

Many things happened in days gone by.

Basil and lily I offer to the Prophet Mohammed. May God bless and honor him.

Arabesque wooden art

Arabesque wooden art, photo by Sam Mugraby from his stock site

Here is one of the adventures of the renowned Jouha. In Algeria he is called Jha or Ben Sakrane. Farther to the east, he is Nasredin Hodja. He is, in fact, Tyl Eulenspiegel, or Jean le Sot: the fool who sells his wisdom, he who brays like a donkey in order to be heard, and sometimes the most unbeatably cunning.

One day Jha met some friends armed for battle with shields, spears, bows, and quivers full of arrows.

“But where are you going in these disguises?”

“Listen, don’t you know we are soldiers? Obviously we are going to into battle, and it promises to be rough!”

“Good. This is my chance to witness one of these things I’ve heard about but never seen with my own eyes. Let me come with you, at least this once!”

“Well, come on then. You are welcome.”

And there Jha was among the small platoon going to join the rest of the army on the battlefield.

The first arrow struck him in the forehead.

Quick! A surgeon! The doctor arrived, examined the wounded man, nodded, and declared, “It has gone in deeply. To remove it will be easy. But if the tiniest piece of brain comes with it, he will die.”

The wounded man seized the doctor’s hand and kissed it, expressing his “deep gratitude to the Master”. He declared, “Doctor, you can remove the arrow without fear. There won’t be the tiniest atom of brain on it.”

“Hush!” said the doctor. “Let the experts take care of you. How can you tell the arrow hasn’t penetrated your brain?”

“I know only too well,” said Jha, “because if I had any brains at all, I would never have come with my ‘friends.’ I’m not a soldier. I just wanted to watch. I got mixed up with something that didn’t concern me. Punishment was swift.”

The story has tumbled down the hill. I climb back in my boat.

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