Palestinian Folktale: Rummana

There was and there was not a queen desperate for a child. She looked out her window and saw a holy man selling pomegranates. “These are only for barren women, to help them have children.”

“That is just what I need!” And so the holy man sold her a single pomegranate instructing her that she should eat half and the king the other. This is what she did and soon she gave birth to a girl she named Rummana, or “Pomegranate.”

Rummana grew to be a beautiful girl, and incredibly sheltered. She was so precious to her parents that she was constantly watched and kept within the palace grounds. She longed for a taste of freedom.

At last she was able to convince her parents to allow a camping trip.

Rummana delighted in the meadows, the flowers, and birds. Her nurse accompanied her as she strayed further and further into the forest in search of flowers. Her nurse grew weary, and sat to rest telling Rummana not to go too far. The nurse fell asleep.

Rummana was so enthralled with the beauty of nature, and with her freedom, that she soon lost herself in the forest. She wandered further and further away as she tried to get back to her nurse until she came across a cabin. The door was unlocked, so she boldly went inside.

But there was no one there. She explored the house and found three sets of dishes set out on the table, and some animals hanging in a back room. It was home to three brothers devoted to hunting.

She was hungry, so she cut and prepared some of the meat, ate, and cleaned.

When she was finished, she slipped into a closet in the kitchen where she had placed a mattress and fell asleep.

When the brothers returned, they marveled at the freshly prepared food– still hot– in their kitchen, and how tidy the place was.

“Whoever you are, human or djinn, please come out so we can thank you,” they said. Rummana woke but was too scared to stir. The brothers searched but didn’t find any clue to the identity of their benefactor.

Again they went out and again Rummana ate and cleaned.

This time when the brothers returned they cried. “If you are a man, you will be our brother. If a woman, you will be our sister,” still Rummana was too scared to stir. But this time the youngest brother found her in the closet and brought her out.

The brothers discussed which of them should marry her, seeing how beautiful she was. But the youngest said “no, she is too young to marry and besides, we said she would be as a sister to us.” And so they agreed to live as dear siblings.

The brothers continued to hunt, and their home was blessed with warmth and happiness. Rummana was overjoyed to have brothers, but she still sorely missed her parents.

One day she ran out of kindling for the fire. She left in search of some, and spotted a fire in the distance.

Boldly, she followed it in hope of getting a brand for lighting her own fire. At the fire crouched a ghoul, a creature some say is a spirit, others a monster that eats human flesh and roams graveyards.

“Greetings, Uncle,” said Rummana.
“You greeted me first, so I can’t eat you.”

(It is always wise to respectfully greet a ghoul because, as he says, they cannot eat someone who greets them first.).

“Can I have a brand from your fire, for lighting?”

“Indeed, I can. Give me your handkerchief so I can fill it with some of this boiled wheat.”

Rummana was too scared to refuse. She took the brand and the handkerchief of wheat back home. Now, the wheat slowly fell out, leaving a trail behind her. The following day, her brothers left to get provisions and to hunt.

Rummana bolted the door, as usual.

The ghoul followed the trail of wheat and knocked on the door.

“Who’s there?” said Rummana.
“It’s your uncle the ghoul. Open the door!”
“I can’t,” said Rummana, keeping her head. “My brothers lock me in.”

“Then pass your finger through.” Terrified, she did as she was told and the ghoul sucked blood from her finger. She was in a daze when her brothers came home and didn’t tell them what had happened.

The ghoul returned for many days.

Eventually, Rummana grew faint from loss of blood. Her brothers finally coaxed the truth from her. “Why did you not tell us?”
“I was afraid for you,” she said.
“Do not be afraid,” they said. “We will kill the ghoul!”

And so they pretended to leave for their daily errands but laid in wait for the ghoul. As the ghoul began to suck Rummana’s finger, the youngest brother leaped out and landed a swift blow with his sword right on the neck of the ghoul.

“Strike again, brave boy!” said the ghoul.

“Oh no,” he said. “I know well that one blow kills a ghoul but a second brings him back to life!” And so the ghoul died. But before the brothers could rejoice, they noticed Rummana lay unmoving, dead in the doorway.

The brothers were beside themselves. So deep was their grief that they could not bring themselves to bury their sister. Instead they placed her in a glass coffin and tied it to a white camel. They set the camel to wander, in hopes that whoever found her would bury her.

The camel wandered into the city, into the palace gardens where the prince came out to see the marvel. As soon as he saw Rummana he fell in love. He brought her to his room and wept over her.

He finally asked his mother to prepare this woman for burial.

The queen herself took Rummana and washed her body. As she washed, a fang from the ghoul slipped out of her hand and Rummana gasped and groggily opened her eyes.

The queen was astonished. But Rummana was so weak, she was near death.

The queen took care of her, gave her medicines and good food until Rummana was healthy once again. Only then did she tell her son that his love was alive again.

For Rummana’s part, she fell in love with the prince and so they made a happy match. They were married.

And Rummana bore children and was still more happy, although she sorely missed her brothers and parents. Messengers said her parents had left to search for her, and that her brothers had abandoned their house.

The prince had a painting made of Rummana and placed it over the fountain in the city square where all travelers may see it. He set guards at it.

One day, a group of travelers came to drink. Three of them raised their eyes to the portrait and began to weep.

The guards took them, saying “we have orders to take anyone who weeps at the sight of this painting to our prince.”

It was, of course, Rummana’s brothers! The reunion was splendid.

They were overjoyed to see her, and to see their nieces and nephews! The prince gave them clean clothes and bags of gold and bid them stay and live with them in the palace.

Sometime later, an old couple arrived in town. The pilgrims wept at the sight of the painting and were brought to the prince. It was, of course, Rummana’s parents!

The family was reunited again and great was their joy at seeing Rummana and their grandchildren, and sons!

So impressed was the king, Rummana’s father, that he sent the youngest of the brothers who was by far the wisest and bravest back to his own kingdom to rule in his place since he had become a holy pilgrim. The brother was sad to leave Rummana, but they visited each other often.

The remaining brothers stayed with Rummana and they all lived very happily ever after.

The story of Rummana was adapted from Abu Jmeel’s Daughter and Other Stories from Palestine and Lebannon by Jamal Sleem Nuweihed.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: