Monday, 30 June 2014

Mowza and Zuweyna, or Omani Cinderella

An Omani variant of Cinderella-type tales that neatly answers the question of how to solve the impossible task: get a jinni to do it.  

*Where we would say step-mother in English, Arabic says either father's wife or sometimes paternal aunt.


It is said that there was a man who had two daughters: Mowza from his deceased wife and Zuweyna from his current wife.  The father’s wife treated Mowza like a servant, making her sweep the house and clean the furniture and bring water and wood and cook and wash the dishes and clothes, all while she and her daughter were chatting or have neighbours and close relatives over as guests, or going to visit them.   One day the father’s wife gave Mowza an order, saying:

-Today you must go and bring wood that is not from the sun and not from the shade, not crooked and not straight, not green and not dry, not too much and not too little, and not too short and not too long. 

So the girl went with her friends to bring wood.
While her friends were gathering wood, Mowza was sitting on a rock thinking about where she would find wood with the conditions that her father’s wife had set.  Her friends finished gathering their wood and left her alone, confused and thinking.  When the place was empty a male jinni came to her and asked:

-Why are you sitting alone hanging your head in this deserted place?
-Because my father’s wife wants me to bring her wood that is not from the sun and not from the shade, not crooked and not straight, not green and not dry, not too much and not too little, and not too short and not too long.
-I will bring it to you on one condition.
-That you marry me.
-And you will take me away from the bitterness of life with my father’s wife, but how?
-I will turn into a ghul (here, a snake), and enter the bundle of wood, and when you put it down by the door I will exit it and enter your private room and you will ask to marry me.

It did not take long for him to bring her the wood, and she carried it and returned with it to the village.  When her friends saw it they were amazed at its shape because it was different from any wood previously and from any they had brought.
Woman carrying a bundle of wood, Adis Ababa (wiki)
When she arrived at the house, she threw the wood down from on top of her head to the ground, and the ghul slipped out and crawled into her room, and then she asked her father’s sister [her father’s wife] if she could marry the ghul, without telling her that he was a male jinni.  When her father heard the request he refused to marry his daughter to a ghul, but his wife insisted on accepting, so as to be rid of the girl.

And in this way Mowza’s marriage to the ghul was celebrated in her room…and when they closed the door on her they heard Mowza scream, because the jinni was piercing her ears in order to put in each one a gold ring.  

When her father’s wife heard the scream she called to the ghul, saying: sawwigh wa zeed (sawwigh has two meanings in Omani dialect: either to make gold jewellery, and so meaning to give her more gold, or to bite, as in a snake or insect bite.  Zeed means to increase).  And every time Mowza screamed, her father’s sister screamed in turn at the ghul, saying: sawwigh wa zeed.
An Austrian silver Maria Theresa thaler dating from c.1880–

1920 used as a pendant on an Omani necklace of the 1950s (British Museum)

Then Mowza screamed: my throat, my throat, while the jinni was putting jewels around her neck, and her father’s sister supposed that he was wrapping around her neck to strangle her and she encouraged him from outside the room, yelling: sawwigh wa zeed.

When it was morning, Mowza left her room weighed down with gold which the jinni had showered her with.  Her father’s wife was astonished and filled with spite and jealousy, and she decided to search for another ghul for her daughter Zuweyna among the cracks and filth, until she found a viper and it was larger than the ghul which her husband’s daughter had married.  So she brought it and took it into her daughter’s room and they had their wedding celebration.
Chinese sharp-nosed viper (source)
When they closed the door upon the snake and her daughter, Zuweyna screamed once.  Her mother yelled with joy: sawwigh wa zeed.  But no other sound emerged.

The mother waited until the morning for her daughter to come out of the room weighed down with gold, but her wait became long without anyone coming out.  When she got very worried she knocked on the door three times, and when no one answered she pushed the door hard to see the snake slither crawling across the earth, and he slipped hidden out of the room and left the house to return to the cracks and the filth.  As for Zuweyna, she was dead and unmoving.

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