Jemaa El Fna square: Humanity’s Oral Heritage

Rachid El Houda

Summary by Dawn Elvis

The Jemaa El Fna square is a unique example of the use of the halqa (storytelling forum) for the oral transmission of folk culture. The halqa is a sort of open-air pulpit where visitors can learn about cultural traditions through various narrative genres. The writer Juan Goytisolo praised the square in a widely published article; persons involved in the arts have found inspiration in the square for their creations; and urban planners across the world are trying to create spaces like it.

Today, this treasure is threatened by a destructive modernism – arbitrary administrative decision-making and economic considerations that would move the facility away from the city center, far from the bustle of pedestrian traffic. It is also threatened by a decline in the numbers of storytellers and their economic viability.

To preserve and revitalize the square, a non-profit association was founded. The association drew up a multi-year plan of action with stated objectives: collecting the various oral traditions; maintaining the halqas; training the storytellers; encouraging schoolchildren to come and see the presentation in the square; organizing national contests in schools so the pupils could discover the art of storytelling; and establishing, as a matter of priority, a fund to benefit the older storytellers who no longer are able to practice their trade. A year after its creation, the association is regularly consulted on every construction and renovation project surrounding the square.