The Palestinian Hikaye

The Palestinian Hikaye is a form of narration told by women for other women and children that has evolved over the centuries. The tales are fictitious but deal with real concerns of Middle Eastern Arab society and family issues. In this way, the Hikaye offers a critique of society from the women’s perspective and draws a portrait of the social structure that directly touch the lives of women. The majority of conflicts narrated in the tales often describe women torn between duty and desire.  


The Hikaye is usually told at home during winter evenings, at spontaneous and convivial events attended by small groups of mothers and children. Men rarely attend as this is considered inappropriate. The expressive power of the narration lies in the use of language, emphasis, speech rhythms and vocal inflections as well as in the ability to capture the attention of the listeners and successfully convey them into a world of imagination and fantasy. The technique and style of narration follows linguistic and literary conventions that set it apart from other folk narrative genres. It relies on verbal mannerisms and linguistic forms that are not used in ordinary conversation.

The tales are narrated in the Palestinian dialect, that is, either in fallahi, a rural dialect or in madani, an urban dialect. Almost every Palestinian woman over the age of 70 is a Hikaye teller, and the tradition is mainly carried on by elder women. However, it is not unusual for girls and young boys to tell tales to one another for practice or pleasure.

Hikaye is in rapid decline due to the influence of television and other mass media, which are inducing people to regard their native customs as backward and inferior. As a consequence, mothers read and narrate foreign rather than Palestinian tales to their children. Another factor, which is threatening the continuation of the Hikaye, is the continued disruption of the peoples’ social lives due to the current political situation in Palestine