Folktales of the Canadian Sephardim
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
Edith Fowke is a professor emeritus at York University and author of the
recently published Canadian Folklore: Perspectives on Canadian Culture.
André Elbaz, who was born in Morocco and studied in France, currently teaches French and comparative literature at Carleton University in Ottawa. He has specialized in the culture of the Sephardim — originally the descendants of Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal before the expulsion of 1292 but today including all Jews living around the Mediterranean.
When the Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies of the National Museum of Man asked Professor Elbaz to prepare a study of the folk literature of the Moroccan-born Canadian Sephardim, he interviewed informants in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec, the centres where most of Canada’s 15,000 Moroccan Jews settled. He collected 341 narratives in Judeo-Arabic, French, and Judeo-Spanish, and from those chose 80 which he translated for this book.
Most of the tales are quite short — a page or less — and the majority have a religious content, reflecting the piety of the older Sephardim. Many deal with the exploits of miracle-working rabbis associated with particular towns, thus emphasizing the popularity of the cult of saints in Morocco. A few deal with biblical heroes and others with ogres and jnun — harmful spirits living in the underground. Some 15 are extraordinary stories about personal experiences which often involved miracles or magic.
The headnotes for each tale identify the story-teller and list relevant tale types and motifs. At the back are a glossary, a list of all the tale types and motifs identified, an extensive bibliography, and an index.
The collection will be of interest to folklorists because of the light it throws on the traditions of a small ethnic group now living in Canada. However, most of the stories are not sufficiently interesting in themselves to appeal to a wider audience. They cannot really be considered part of Canadian folklore as the informants learned them all in Morocco before emigrating and, as Professor Elbaz indicates, the younger Sephardim are unlikely to preserve them.