The Tales of Mamo Yona: Jewish Neo-Aramaic Folktales


Mon, 21/03/2022 (All day)
Delal Bridge in Zakho, Kurdistan


Mandel Building


Dr. Oz Aloni

The Neo-Aramaic-speaking Jews of Kurdistan, living in isolated communities spread across the many towns and villages of this rugged mountainous land, migrated collectively to Israel in 1951, carrying with them, so to speak, their unique language, culture, customs and exceptionally rich oral heritage. The transition to Modern Israel had an effect on all areas of life: culture, economy, social structure, family structure, intergenerational gap. It also brought the dialects of Jewish Neo-Aramaic to the brink of extinction.

In the colloquium an overview of Neo-Aramaic and its speakers was given, touching upon both linguistic and cultural themes. The lack of non-linguistically oriented study of the language and its speakers was stressed. The colloquium discussed the tales of Mamo (‘uncle’) Yona Gabbay Zaqen (Zakho 1867–Jerusalem 1970), an exceptional bearer and performer of the rich tradition of the Jews of Kurdistan and a well-known storyteller throughout Iraqi Kurdistan. He was recorded telling his “oral novels” during 1964 by Professor Yona Sabar. One of Mamo Yona’s folktales was discussed as an example, and possible approaches to its analysis were explained. The colloquium concluded with a discussion on a possible grant application aimed for a cultural and historical study of the North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic speakers communities.