one thousand names, one thousand stories
by Laura Fatini
Fully grasping Giufà’s identity is not just impossible but also useless. Just as it is impossible and useless to give him one name, to describe his face or to place him in a confined geographical area or time. In fact his essence is invisible as you can only meet him by ear. For Giufà is made of words – words which have carried his stories through space and time. Giufà is the whole of all the words that storytellers utter and women, men and children listen to, for he is far greater than the sum of all his parts. In order to grasp the essence of this elusive character, who is omnipresent in the entire Mediterranean basin, we need to start from his stories: by following their lead it is possible to evoke common themes, recurrent characteristics, and all that is unspoken and this tells us more about him than anything we can explicitly say.
First of all, Giufà is a naive man who could be either young or old. He looks at the single elements of the world for what they are and questions their deepest, and yet most visible meaning. He never takes the world for granted. He is in awe of it and he cares for it in his own way: if the moon falls into a well, he works to get it back up into the sky (Giufà and the moon) ; if he sees tiny walnuts growing on a great tree, he is surprised.
At the same time, he only understands words by their literal meaning (Giufà, Pull the Door). He does not understand figures of speech as he is a linguistic outsider in the community that hosts him. As a result he is considered a fool by those who communicate using metaphor and analogy, as he only states things explicitly.
This is precisely what happens to a foreigner who uses a language they do not really know: they do not understand phrases, idioms, or metaphors. They can only communicate on a pragmatic, sensorial, and simplistic level.
However, Giufà’s relationship with words has another interesting side: in the culture of Asia Minor he is often considered a wise man. He can use the logic of words to right a wrong (Nasreddin and the Pauper), and to teach lessons to those who impose themselves on poorer and simpler people (Nasreddin and the Stars).
Lastly, in all his stories, Giufà is fatherless and poor (even when he is wise, he is rarely described as wealthy). He often has a female figure by his side, either his wife or his mother. He talks to her, he argues with her, he relates to her. When he is a fatherless child in a peasant context he lives in unstable social and economic conditions. He is often alone in the house and since he has no father figure to refer to, he is forced to understand life on his own and to solve problems with little tricks (Giufà and the Pot). When he is a husband or son, he involves his wife or mother in his (il)logical reasoning (Giufà’s Judgement), as she is his ally as well as someone he can debate with.