A cartoon of a book wearing glasses, accompanied by Arabic text that reads ‘hakawaty’

When was the last time someone told you a story? Not an anecdote or a recounting, but a tale, so rich in detail and filled with drama that everything else fell to silence. Has time ever stopped as you found yourself lost in a narrative? The feeling of your synapses firing as the plot twists, or the delicious agony and suspense of a cliffhanger…

Storytelling is truly powerful. It’s a brilliant teacher masquerading as a pastime and has thrilled, educated and informed communities for centuries. In the Arab world, the ‘Hakawati’ (storyteller) would command huge crowds, taking listeners on a journey of exploration through history and legend, everyone in thrall at tales of kings, warriors and foreign lands. These stories would be passed from Hakawati to Hakawati in a tradition that lasted for centuries. It is hard to say when it began, but some of the adventures shared by fictional storyteller ‘Scheherazade’ in ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ (the infamous collection of Middle Eastern folk tales) have been found to date back to the 9th Century. Even today, in an internet-saturated world, there are still travelling storytellers – and those with a modern twist, using the internet as a place to share their tales.

But it’s not simply a fun tradition. The European Journal of Language and Literature Studies found that storytelling promotes cognitive development in young children, as well as contributing to new vocabulary and phraseology. Empathy with protagonists can also cause children to model positive behaviours. In the younger generation, many children speak English at home and are not familiar with the region’s traditions of storytelling. These were all driving forces behind the work of Canon Middle East (CME), as they launched their own all-Arabic storytelling initiative, ‘Hakawaty’. Every Saturday professional storytellers share new and original short stories on CME’s social media. Each tale takes under-tens on a journey of imagination that also teaches important life lessons and values as they are entertained – in the same way the Hakawati have for thousands of years.

A Canon Medical Viamo sv7 portable ultrasound, a tablet-sized screen with a probe attached by a short cable.
Every week, under-tens can tune in to hear traditional Arabic tales and legends.

‘Hakawaty’ also plays a part in wider efforts across the region to promote Arabic skills among students. It is hoped that a familiarity with Arab literature will not only inspire young people to share these stories, but to preserve and continue a centuries-long tradition that has been affected by modern life. The first stories went live, appropriately, during the holy month of Ramadan. Traditionally a time of great community and closeness, it was unusually quiet as families stayed apart during the Covid 19 crisis and entertaining children presented its own challenges.

“Storytelling is at the heart of the Arab heritage,” explains Mai Youssef, Corporate Communications & Marketing Services Director of Canon Middle East and Central and North Africa.’ “The diversity of themes, settings and characters that Hakawaty will present will further strengthen a love for literature in children. We will continue to build Hakawaty over the coming months and create a strong digital bank of Arabic stories that will celebrate the richness of Arabic literature and the proud tradition of story-telling.”

Discover the world of Hakawaty on Facebook.

Written by Marie-Anne Leonard

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