Fatna Bent Elhadj

Yasmina Sarhrouny, Mohamed V University, Rabat, Morocco

Part 8 (tale 6) of the author's "Gendering Tales: A Feminist Reading of Seven Wonder Tales"

There was a man who had one single daughter named Fatna. He resolved to go to Mecca for pilgrimage; so he bought his daughter plenty of provisions and victuals, offered her a nice little kitten , left her to Allah's protection and set out for the Orient.

Fatna found herself alone with her kitten; but she was not afraid, she had all the goods she needed at reach, as well as the agreeable company of her cat. The latter had rather strange habits; every morning, she left the tent early and came back a short time later burdened with almonds, nuts and assorted goodies. When Fatna enquired about them, she said:

"It is our generous neighbours who insist on providing for the pilgrim's daughter."

But the young girl doubted the cat's explanations, although the fact of feeding a pilgrim's household was considered an obligation in the good old days.

The following day, Fatna woke up at dawn to watch the cat and follow her. In total amazement, she saw her cat stand in front of every tent to dance and sing:

"Ki derti ha sanada, ki derti maa anada ? Come on, give me something so that I can go back home and awaken my mistress, she is still asleep!"

She saw the tribe's people hand her food, but that was too much for her; she rushed back to her tent to wait for the naughty cat. As soon as the latter returned, Fatna confronted her:

"Shameless, licentious animal! Ki derti ya sanada, ki derti maa anada! I saw everything!"

The cat's reaction was unpredictable; fuming at her mistress's words, she leaped to Fatna's face and mercilessly scratched it, and then she urinated in the kanoun, soaked all the wood, coil, and matches in the tent, and went away.

Poor Fatna felt miserable. Her eyes, swollen due to the scratches, did not perceive the whole disaster. It is only when the night came with its unbearable cold that she realized she was left without fire. She reluctantly set out for the neighbours to borrow some fuel, but she was soon lost in the darkness because of her swollen eyes. A moment afterwards, she discerned a dim gleam she took for a fire and walked towards it. When the light became clearer, she thought the reached a kanoun and said:

"Assalam aleikoum ."

The reply was a horrible roar. The gleam was in fact the blazing of a lion's eye, a lion that was busy devouring a prey. He told the girl who was stunned with fear:

"If your greeting had not preceded mine, I would have made a mouthful of your flesh, a gulp of your blood, and flung your bones in the air."

He then drew near her and cut her finger with his claw, and let her go. Naturally, the blood dropping from her finger traced the way to her tent, and the following night, the lion turned up at Fatna's tent:

"Fatna Bent Elhadj , what was I doing when you came to me?" He asked. She replied:

"I found you sitting on magnificent chairs like a sultan."

The lion was so delighted with her answer that he postponed killing her.

Thus, every night from then on, the lion showed up in front of Fatna's tent, and she escaped from death every time by flattering him.

Months later, her father returned from Mecca; she welcomed him with a thin body, a haggard look and a white hair.

"O my daughter, what has turned your hair grey?"

"That which turned mine grey will turn yours grey too," she said, and related the whole story to him.

The pilgrim meditated deeply, and then decided to trap the lion in a zoubia . They spent the whole day digging the hole, gathering enough wood to make a blazing fire and setting up the snare. At night, the lion appeared again, but that time, Fatna did not reply as usual; instead, she mocked him:

"What were you doing when I came to you? You were devouring the carcass of an old mule, that's what you were doing!"

Wild with rage, the lion jumped at her, only to fall directly in the zoubia. He was burnt instantly in the flames. The following morning, Fatna and her father buried the lion's remains in the zoubia, and rejoiced at the end of their nightmare.

Weeks after that, fragrant coriander grew on the area where the zoubia was set. As Fatna's father caught cold, she cooked a soup with that coriander to warm him up. But, as soon as he drank it, he became a bird and flew in the air. Therefore, Fatna prepared herself for travel; she resolved to find out someone who would free her father from that curse.

She passed through the valley until she came across an imposing tree. She sat for a while under its shady branches when she heard the tree ask:

"Fatna Bent Elhadj, where are you going?"

"I want to know why my father became a bird," she replied.

"If you get to know that, please enquire why a tree does not yield fruits," the tree said.

And Fatna continued her journey until she reached a river. As she was crossing it, the river spoke:

"Fatna Bent Elhadj, where are you going?"

"I want to know why my father became a bird,"

The river implored:

"If you get to know that, please enquire why a river does not breed fish."

Fatna promised to do that and went on her way until she encountered a group of young girls working in a field.

"Fatna Bent ElHadj, where are you going?" they asked,

"I want to know why my father became a bird."

And the girls begged her:

"If you get to know that, please enquire why girls do not get married."

And Fatna went on walking, when suddenly, she found a cavern into which she got to spend the night.

Inside, in complete darkness, she heard a voice say:

"Fatna Bent Elhadj, what do you want?"

But Fatna was loyal and could not start with her case and neglect the others:

"I want to know why a tree does not yield fruits," she said.

"It is because there is a treasure buried under its roots," the voice replied.

"I also want to know why a river does not breed fish."

"It is because it does not drown people," The voice replied again.

"I also want to know why girls do not get married."

"They have to bathe and make up every Sunday, if they want to." the voice said. Then Fatna came to the crucial question:

"I want to know why my father became a bird."

The voice answered:

"It is but the sweat of our shoulders; go back home and you'll find him human again."

At these words, Fatna understood that she was in the presence of a lion. She ran away from the cave, scared to death but also grateful for the lion's mercy and wisdom. On her way back to her tribe, she came across the girls, still working in their field. They ran to her:

"Fatna Bent Elhadj, do you know now why we did not get married?"

"Just bathe and make up every Sunday, and you will."

The girls thanked her and she continued her journey until she reached the river.

"Fatna Bent Elhadj, do you know now why I do not breed fish?"

"Let me cross first and then I'll let you know," Fatna replied.

Once on the opposite side, Fatna said:

"You'll have to drown people if you want to breed fish."

"What a pity you have already traversed me, otherwise I would have started with you," the river said. Then she went to the tree, which implored her:

"Fatna Bent Elhadj, do you know now why I do not yield fruits?"

"It is because you have a treasure under your roots, let me free you from its curse, and you'll be fertile."

Accordingly, she unearthed a chest full of jewellery and gold, and brought it with her back to her tent, where she found her father human again, waiting for her to return. They became very rich and lived happily.


The carpet was at last finished. She removed it from the loom and called the family around. Compliments fused from everywhere. My brother and I were amazed, looking in turn at the delicate diaphanous fingers, and at the huge blue masterpiece. She had the craft.

But I heard her asking about the souk, about the mule that would transport that carpet to sell it, about the prices of carpets, wool, and tints!

"Give it to me! Don't sell it!"

She looked at me. Her eyes were telling of the hardships of life, of the money she needed.

"If you want to, I will. Do I have anything more valuable than my little demon of a grandchild?"

I hugged her. I knew, even then, what a carpet meant in terms of daily subsistence. But that carpet was speaking to me and I was beginning to grasp bits of words. I could not let it murmur under the treads of indifferent feet.

"Another story?"

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Last modified: 14 December 2001