In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah
Once upon a time there was a country called the Land of Pots and Pans where there were no games of any kind. No children ever played soccer or hopscotch, and no grown-ups ever played tennis or backgammon or chess. All they ever did was to gaze adoringly at the pots and pans they made, and all their conversation dwelled on how the could make even better pots and pans.
Then one day a man digging his field came across a chessboard and pieces, fashioned from the most beautiful dark blue stones flecked with gold. He had never seen a chessboard or pieces before and certainly had no idea of how to play chess.
He ran into the village with the object and marveled at it in the central square. Very soon a crowd gathered and soon after that the entire country had heard of the beautiful objects and of the man who had found them.
The farmer became famous and traveled far and wide displaying what he had found. When people asked him what the fabulous blue and gold board and pieces were for, as they sometimes did, he would laugh at them. ‘Are you so stupid that you think everything should have a purpose?’ he would shout. ‘This is art and that’s quite enough of a purpose!’
Eventually, news of the man’s great treasure spread beyond the borders of his own land and he received an invitation to the next country to show off the art. When he arrived at the capital of the country, the Land of Games, a banquet was held in his honor.
When all the guests had eaten their fill, the king stood up and asked the farmer if he would show the treasure. The man pulled out a box from under the banqueting table and showed the king the carved figures and the board. The monarch, who was a wise man, smiled. He guessed at once what had happened: that the people of the neighboring kingdom celebrated the beauty of an object but were blind it its deeper and original use.
Our society is in some ways like the Land of Pots and Pans. We all grow up hearing stories, and marvel at their ingenuity and their brilliance. But we forget that the stories, like the chessboard and pieces, have a far deeper and more instructive use. But all is not lost. We can be re-taught how decode the messages in the tales that surround us, how to learn from them, in the same way that you can teach almost anyone the rules of chess. It will of course take them a lifetime to appreciate the full complexities of the game.
In Arabian Nights looks at how stories are used to pass on ideas, information and values in Morocco and across the Arab world… in a way that we have almost lost in the West. We forget that stories have been used for millennia to teach— like a peach, the delicious flesh on the outside is there to amuse, to allow the inner value, the stone, to be passed on so that it can thrive. We relegate stories as an entertainment for children, while in actual fact they can be decoded and used to instruct.
In Arabian Nights shines light on the knowledge to decrypt stories that we have all known our entire lives, and illustrates how it’s there for us to grasp. At the same time it is a book about the hidden cultural bedrock upon which Morocco is constructed.
Morocco is an Arab land steeped in history, a kingdom of rich textures, aromatic spices, and magical belief, set on a canvas of vibrant cultural color. Nudged up in the north-west corner of Africa, it is the bridge between Orient and Occident, separated from Europe by only eight miles of water.
Arriving in Morocco can be like stepping into the world of A Thousand and One Nights. It’s a land ruled by ancient codes of honor, duty, chivalry and respect. These values are passed down now from mother to daughter, from father to son, as they have been for centuries. They are an ancestral birthright inherited through a system once well-known in the West, but long since calcified.
Tahir Shah’s family have been storytellers for a thousand years. One generation has conveyed to the next a vast corpus of tales, and the secret know-how of activating the wisdom held within. Like a baton in a relay race, the stories have been passed down through centuries, ready to act like an instruction manual to the world.
In Arabian Nights looks at Morocco in a way the kingdom has never been presented before, observing it from the inside out, through its ancient use of stories as a teaching tool.
At the same time, Tahir unravels his family’s preoccupation with this secret matrix, and learns how the West can once again benefit from inner knowledge contained within tales we belittle or take for granted every day.
The author has rated this book PG (not necessarily suitable for children).