Palestinian Folktale: The Camel Husband.

There was and there was not a poor woman who wanted nothing more than to have a child of her very own. Every day she would go to the fountain and see mothers with their children, even camels with their young and she would ask ‘why am I different? I want a child, even if it’s a camel!’

You know what happened… So she named her camel-son Jumail (little camel). And she was ever such a doting mama to her little boy even though the neighbours were appalled.

Jumail grew up and told his mother that he wanted to marry. “Well, we can only afford a gold piece for a bride price. I will see if any families in the village will accept–” but Jumail did not want to marry a village girl; he wanted to marry… the sultan’s daughter!

Not just the sultan’s daughter, but the sultan’s youngest daughter, his favourite. The poor woman tried to dissuade her son but it was no use and so she went to the palace. “Sultan… I come to ask kinship with you.” And she explained her son’s request.

Now the sultan was a kind man and he did not want to embarrass the poor woman and so he said he had no objection provided that she could give him a worthy bride-price: his daughter, the princess Ward’s, weight in gold. Impossible…

But Jumail was undaunted. He told his mother his plan and she informed the sultan… who had all of the city’s camel drivers follow Jumail out into the desert to a certain cave which was filled with treasure! In short, he more than paid the requested amount by far!

Princess Ward pleaded with her father who said he was sorry but he had given his word… Everyone cleared the streets for Ward’s marriage procession and when she saw Jumail… she screamed. A tall, handsome man stood before her.

“Who are you?!” “I am Jumail, your husband. Incidentally, I am a prince of the djinn caught in the shape of a camel. If anyone else should discover this secret, we shall be parted forever.” The following day, the sultan visited his daughter…

He was… surprised to see her so happy. “All I want is for you to be happy, father,” she said. He went away puzzled but relieved. Time passed. War came to the nation. Jumail told Princess Ward that he would ride on a white mare, and be clothed all in white on the battlefield.

Battle raged outside the city walls. The princesses gathered to point out their husbands. “My husband is the tallest knight! And mine the bravest! See?!” And so on. “Where is Ward’s husband?” “Don’t you know? He is eating grass in her courtyard! Tee hee!”

Princess Ward turned her face away, trying to ignore them. Just as the battle was going poorly for the defenders, a white knight appeared and rallied them all. The enemy was routed and the city was saved!

“Isn’t that shameful?” said the eldest princess. “that in our time of greatest need, Ward’s husband should be nowhere to be found?” Before she could stop herself, Princess Ward blurted out the secret of who the white knight truly was… Jumail vanished instantly.

Princess Ward was in shock. Her father took her home, laid her on a bed of 7 mattresses, covered her with 7 blankets. He ordered a bath house be built in her name, with the cost of admission a story to divert the princess from her grief.

One day a poor woman and her son wanted to go to the bath house. Problem was they did not have a story. “Well,” said the poor woman. “Let us travel to the city anyway and perhaps we will see something on the road and so have a story to tell.” And so they set off.

Night fell. A cloud covered the moon. The poor woman and her son climbed into an olive tree to be safe from animals and robbers for the night. Soon, a rooster and a hen fluttered into the branches…

“O rain, scatter!” cried the rooster. “O wind, sweep!” cried the hen. A storm blew in. It uncovered a cave beneath the olive tree. The cave opened up and revealed forty servants and forty beautiful noble women feasting!

In their midst was Jumail, weeping. He cut an apple, saying “this piece is for the east, this for the west. This one for me to feast, and this for the woman I love best.” And then he kicked the ground. The cave closed without a trace! Now that was a story!

The poor woman and her son hastened to the palace. They were presented to the princess to tell their story. She listened until they mentioned the tall, handsome prince weeping in the midst of such a bright banquet. She knew it must be her Jumail!

She threw off the 7 blankets and hopped off the 7 mattresses and demanded to know which olive tree this was. She was shown the tree. She climbed up into it. For a week she stayed up there in the tree until one night a cloud covered the moon.

The rooster and hen came and said “O rain, scatter! O wind, sweep!” The cave opened and as soon as Princess Ward spotted Jumail, she leaped down and embraced him. He was overjoyed to see her. “You have made a path between the world above and that beneath!”

“Now we will never again be parted! And I can live in my true form always!” Tuta tuta tuta, finished is my tale!

The Camel Husband was adapted from Arab Folktales by Inea Bushnaq.

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