Book Review: The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco by Richard Hamilton

The Last Storytellers“Never act in haste. Think first.” Those are the words of a storyteller who sells his words for 100 pieces of gold per portion to the Sultan of Marrakesh in Abderrahim El Makkouri’s story, “The Vizier and the Barber.” These words end up saving the Sultan’s life. If it were not for the work of Richard Hamilton, we would not know Makkouri’s story today.

In 2006, Richard Hamilton was sent to Marrakesh as a correspondent for the BBC. Shortly after arriving, he heard of the hlaykia – oral storytellers – who had been plying their trade in Marrakesh for nearly 1,000 years. He was intrigued by the possibility that people in Morocco, where the literacy rate hovers around fifty percent, still practiced the dying art of oral storytelling. Hamilton interviewed one of these storytellers and, over the following three years, continued traveling to Marrakesh to track down more hlaykia. While interviewing them, Hamilton learns about the history of oral storytelling in Marrakesh, how the art of oral storytelling is becoming lost, and, perhaps most importantly, he recorded these stories that had previously only been told in small circles in the Jemma el Fna, the main square and carnival heart of Marrakesh, for a millennium. (more…)