Al Hakawati (The storyteller)

حكواتي Hakawati is an Arabic word that Literally means ‘a storyteller’. 

In Arabic Culture a Hakawati is the person who is known for his/her talent in storytelling, that who attracts everyone to sit and eagerly listen. However, never one to tell nonsense or aimless stories of self heroism – which traditionally is seen as a shameful act of boasting – rather one to tell meaningful stories with universal wisdom.


سرد ارتجالي – Spontaneous Narrative

Back in the day, when TV was not yet an essential part of people’s life, Hakawatis الحكواتية were one of the main sources of entertainment. People would gather, usually in coffee shops – however sometimes even at homes or in parks and outdoors- and the Hakawati will narrate stories of heroism, action or romance in the form of tragedies and comedies including all sorts of events and characters that are either fictional or real. Most of the times the narrative is spontaneous  and on a few occasions the stories are pre-conceived. All stories however will have a morale in the end and all people would listen to know the morale or wisdom of the story. The Hakawati might even tease them as s/he (more often he than she) narrates, and people would be urging him/ her to continue. Adults, children and most probably even their pets, all sat and listened.

It is said that at times, if an issue arises in the community for which no solution is found, a Hakawati would narrate stories suggesting solutions, without being so obvious as in reference to the actual drama taking place! It is even said that some mothers would discuss their children’s issues – such as the choice of bad friends, or rejection of some traditions… – with a Hakawati and ask him to narrate a story to insinuate a resolution for such conflicts!

Painting by Egyptian painter Ihab Hulusi of a coffee shop in Cairo pre 1920

While Hakawatis were never limited to Ramadan, Hakawati sessions did condense in Ramadan. So much so that in Ramadan many Hakawatis would be in competition, as to who attracts more people and whose stories are better… some would even go to far away places in search for more exotic stories to bring in more audience. The Hakawati tradition lived on for many years in most of the Arab countries, but started diminishing in the past few decades, which is sad really, because it is such a beautiful tradition that is truly authentically entertaining.

In the past few years, some efforts have been put to revive the Hakawati Tradition, especially during Ramadan. Cities such as  Beirut, Cairo, Abu Dhabi have all brought Hakawati productions to their city’s cultural life. One must admire the people who understand the importance of reserving culture, even if it no longer is part of our daily life. Because these traditions are an open display of a society’s unique spirit, that, which does not disappear with those gone, but remains to tell their stories. So I am delighted to know that more and more people are interested in reviving this tradition, as I would be one to sit in a Hakawati Session 🙂 just like I did in my childhood, not because TV was not around, but because it was another and a just as good means of entertainment. While I would still enjoy my favourite TV shows, options are always good to have.

How do I explain this to my TV, playstation, ipad, and computer loyal children? No other way than by taking them to one! ‘See for yourself’ is always my most reliable approach 😉


Food For Thought- Let’s focus on our similarities instead of our differences; regardless of the details, we are all essentially the same in the end.

I hope you have enjoyed getting to know about the Hakawati Tradition, and hope this post inspires you to go to one when available.  I would love to hear your thoughts… have you ever been to a Hakawati Session before? Did you have any member in your family who is a gifted storyteller? Do share with us and keep the tradition alive.  

The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end – all out there for us to explore…
Ramadan Kareem

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