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Youth Transformations in Storytelling: Transmutability, Haunting, and Fen al Hikaya in Marrakech, Morocco

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Fen al hikaya, the famous form of oral Moroccan public allegorical storytelling, is being “revived” by youth in Marrakech, Morocco at the same time as the general public discourse states that fen al hikaya is “disappearing” and that youth are suffering from lack of opportunity during the “youth bulge.” I argue that this youth revitalization of storytelling practice is haunted by the disappearing figures of older storytellers, but also that as youth move through the transmutable role of storyteller, they transform storytelling to fit their contemporary, internationalized, and economically precarious lives.

While youth precarity, particularly in artistic spheres, is not unique to Morocco, my research provides a case study from which to examine how young people, influenced by the haunting of time-honored forms of expression, transform contemporary practices of cultural expression, “reviving” these forms but also innovating and changing conceptions of these practices. Through two and a half years of ethnographic fieldwork in Marrakech with over 40 storytellers and community members, this research examines how youth transform and innovate creative expression, one of the myriad of strategies youth employ to find belonging and meaning in their contemporary, precarious lives. I use conceptions of haunting and specters to examine how the figure of the storyteller and Marrakech’s Jemaa el Fna Square, the most famous location for storytelling performance in Morocco, haunt transformations Moroccan youth are making within their contemporary storytelling practice in Marrakech through elements such as performance configuration, language choice, and the use of costumes and props. I discuss how skills like public speaking and fluency in English through storytelling can lead Moroccan youth to different career paths both within and outside Morocco, contributing to their flexibility but also to their role as internationally influenced individuals.

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