Saturday, December 12, 2015

Lunja in Sicily, and more Lunja from Dellys

I've now read quite a few Lunja stories, enough to say that there is in fact a core Lunja story which is virtually identical in the mountains of Morocco and Kabylie, as well as a few more scattered stories about Lunja. But the biggest surprise for me was that a Lunja story virtually identical to the northern Moroccan ones is told in Sicily. You can read it online in Crane's (1885) translation, "Fair Angiola", and compare it with several obviously much less closely related stories from the rest of Europe. The name is interestingly distorted: I can only suppose that it represents an etymological hybrid of Lunja with Angela.

Its presence in Sicily should not be too surprising; Sicily was ruled by North African Muslims for several centuries, who are ancestral to many Sicilians today, and they even tell stories of the pan-Arab trickster Juha (baptised as Giufa). But comparison of the two versions is instructive. In North Africa, after they escape, the hero is carried away by a vulture, and Lunja has to disguise herself as a dog (in Morocco) or a slave (in Kabylie) in order to find a place in his parents' household while waiting for his return - a transparent metaphor for the situation of a new bride, who in this part of the world traditionally comes to live at her in-laws' house under the thumb of her mother-in-law. In Sicily, it's the witch she escaped from who curses her to become a dog, and she can't come to live with the hero's parents until the curse is lifted. I don't know what social reality that corresponds to in Sicily, if any, but the difference in the story does correspond to a difference in marriage customs: in Sicily and the rest of southern Italy, newlyweds traditionally started their own household ("neolocal"), rather than living with the groom's parents.

I've also managed to learn a little more about the Lunja story in Dellys - enough to confirm that, despite the substantial differences, it must be cognate. Apparently, at some point in the story, the hero comes and asks "waš ʕšatək əl-lila ya lunja, ya lunja?" ("What was your dinner tonight, Lundja, Lundja?") and she replies "ʕšati nŭxala, wə-mbati mʕa zzwayəl" ("My dinner is bran, and my sleep is with the livestock"), or words to that effect. This is immediately recognisable as what happens in the better-known versions of the story after they run away, while the hero is a captive. It also seems that the superhero team consists of her brothers, which suggests some possible leads. But more investigation is required...

1 comment:

John Cowan said...

Malta might be a good place to look for the story.