A Yemeni fableAn old man who was better than all youths [Archives:2006/1002/Culture]

November 27 2006

Al-Dandaki was a king who had supernatural abilities. Because his power was believed equal to God's, whenever he commanded, all had to obey and come under his power. Since the ruler had supernatural powers, whenever he commanded, humanity, the mountains and even the forts obeyed.

Al-Janat village, where Al-Dandaki lived, was attached to Selo Mountain. A huge fort called Al-Mansoura overshadowed the village like a huge pair of bird wings. Al-Mansoura Fort was about to fly away when Al-Dandaki asked it to stop, calling out, “Mansoura Fort – stop flying!” It did so, however, its wings opened wide upon the lovely village.

Al-Dandaki once asked the villagers to carry long timbers to Al-Mansoura Fort. The villagers wondered at their king's command, since he knew very well that the fort was located on a high mountain. They were at a loss and faced a dilemma as to whether to obey or disobey because while it was too dangerous to climb the mountain with such long timbers, at the same time, it was too risky to be disobedient.

The villagers began to ponder deeply about the consequences of being disobedient. A good number agreed with a common folk proverb saying, “Obey authority, but don't advocate it.” Others decided not to obey the king because he would become used to commanding and having others obey him and then it would become a habit and very difficult to get rid of it. The remainder were concerned about the penalty they may face for disobeying, declaring, “If we disobey, he'll burn our village like Taqm Kabbas village and maim us!”

The villagers faced a violent dictator and a mad tyrant who feared no one and cared about nothing. While arguing about what to do, an old man came up with a good solution: “The only thing that can save our lives if we disobey him is to exhibit stupid behavior.”

All of the villagers agreed with him, so when the time came to carry the long timbers to Mansoura Fort, the old man asked them to cut the timbers into small pieces and put them in baskets to carry them more easily. Doing so, they consequently carried the timbers up to the fort.

It was a risky action; however, the old man bravely faced the king when asked, “Are those the timbers I asked you to bring?”

“Yes, sir nd they are selective,” the old man responded.

“But they're short,” the king observed, to which the old man replied, “You have the power to connect them to make them longer.”

Al-Dandaki was surprised at such behavior, struggling to believe that they were so stupid. He passed among them, looking at their faces and hoping to read deception and craftiness in their eyes. In order to ascertain whether the villagers were stupid or sane, he prepared a trick to reveal the truth.

He invited them to lunch on a main meal of hulba (a traditional Yemeni dish). However, the king placed 1,000 gold dinars inside the hulba to test their ability to differentiate between dinars and sorrel (some Yemenis add sorrel to hulba).

The old man was sure the king wouldn't believe them immediately, so he exhorted the villagers to beware. “The dinars are but a trick to test us, so take don't take even one gold dinar!” he warned. Therefore, the villagers made themselves appear stupid, raving as they ate, “This hulba is delicious, but it has a lot of sorrel!” When they left, not even one gold dinar was missing.

Al-Dandaki suspected them even more, so he thought of another trick to test them. However, this time was different. He took them to a high mountain summit filled with heavy clouds that made sight impossible.

“What do you think of riding my god's camel, since it walks steadily among the clouds? My god's camel will carry you back to the village so that you won't run into difficulty,” he said.

Such a trick would put the villagers to death. It got the better of them, so they were undecided about what to say or do. All of a sudden, the old man jumped from the high mountain to ride the clouds and return to his lovely village.

“An old man is better than all of the youths!” was the last sentence the old man uttered.

The old man's death shocked Al-Dandaki and assured him that he had only stupid people; therefore, he prevented the rest from following their leader.

Stupidity and death sometimes are the only choices for oppressed people to get rid of unfair rules, causing them to disobey commands like Al-Dandaki's.