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by Dina Elabd

It’s true, you know. Stories like Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and Sinbad the Sailor are all examples of folklore—stories passed along by word of mouth that reflect people’s beliefs and lives. Yet, out of all the folklore that has ever been recorded in history, I am here to argue that Goha’s folklore is the most outrageously, extravagantly, humongously funny of them all. It’s funnier than Germany’s The Brothers Grimm, ancient Greece’s Aesop, the Middle East’s Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights, India’s Panchatantra, and even Holland’s Hans Christian Andersen.

These are a lot of big names—the most famous tales in history. The simple fact that people kept listening to these stories and retelling them to their children and grandchildren proves how timeless they are. Their children did not forget them either, so when they became parents, the cycle continued. The verbal tradition endured down the generations until finally the stories were collected and published, allowing us to read them today.

Goha’s stories were particularly clever and funny. Now, no one knows who Goha really was, as in whether he was real or imaginary. In fact, people even debate about what his actual name was. What we do know is that he was an older man, quite poor, with a wife, a son, and a donkey. Goha often found himself in all sorts of trouble, though he didn’t actually go looking for the adventures himself. Whenever his luck was bad, Goha was thankful that nothing worse had happened to him. Here’s an example so you know what I mean. Read this story below:

Goha Gives Thanks to God

Once, when Goha lost his donkey, he wandered around all day looking for it, repeating the words, “Thanks to God.” People overheard him and said, “Losing your donkey is not something to thank God for!” He replied, “I am thanking God that I was not riding my donkey—because if I was, I would be lost too!”

Funny stuff, right? Upon first reading it, the story may seem very simple—it is only a paragraph long after all—but there are usually two ways to look at each Goha story. On one hand, Goha seems a bit silly because how could he—or the donkey—get lost if he was riding it and, we assume, telling it where to go? On the other hand, we can marvel at Goha’s ability to see the good even in a very bad situation, and realize that this is an important strategy to live by.

Read the next one:

“Goha the Wise Fool”

Goha’s Nail

One day, Goha sold his home to a friend. The only condition was that Goha would still own a single nail in an inside wall of the house. After his friend moved in, Goha began visiting the house at all hours of the day and night to check if the nail was doing all right. In just a short amount of time, all of Goha’s many visits drove his friend mad. Eventually, his friend moved out of the house and Goha married his friend’s wife. With the marriage, the house once again belonged to him.

This story was so influential that when the US Secretary of State visited Egypt in 1953, the Egyptian Prime Minister told him this story in the hope that America and Egypt’s relationship would not be like Goha and his friend. He didn’t want America to be Goha,

Egypt to be the house, and the oil or natural gas to be the nail (Holland, 1986). [1]Stanford W. Gregory Jr. and Kessem M. Shafie Wehba, “The Contexts of Inshallah in Alexandria Egypt,” Anthropological Linguistics Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring, 1986): 95-105, accessed July 6, 2014 from … Continue readingIn fact, the words Goha’s nail have become an everyday Arabic proverb.

Other Goha stories also teach a great deal about Arab culture. For example, one story teaches listeners how to use the word inshallah or God willing (Gregory & Wehba, 1996).[2]M.F. Holland, America and Egypt: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower (London: Praeger, 1996). One day, Goha plans to buy a donkey. However, throughout the story, he tells his friends that he will buy a donkey, but does not say, he will buy a donkey inshallah. His friends all tell him to say inshallah, but Goha refuses. In the end, Goha never does buy the donkey, but loses his money instead! The lesson is very straightforward.

How about you read this story in Arabic, instead?

Goha and the Dinner Party

Mara we Goha mashi, el’eyal a’adu ye’aksuh. Fa ’ashan yitkhalas minohom alohom innu fi ’ozooma fi beyt sahbo el-Hag Aly. El ’eyal ma sada`u rahu tal’een giryu delhom fih sinanhom. Ba’d ma rahu, Goha fakar we al ma gayiz yekoon fih ’ozooma bi sahih we tile’ yigri howa kaman ’ala beyt el-Hag Aly.

مرة و جحا ماشى العيال قعدوا يعاكسوه، فعلشان
يتخلص منهم قالهم إنه فى عزومة فى بيت صاحبه
الحاج علي. العيال ما صدقوا راحوا طالعين جريوا ديلهم
فى سنانهم. بعد لما راحوا جحا فكر و قال: “ما جايز يكون
فى عزومة بصحيح” و طلع يجري هو كمان على بيت الحاج

Once, while Goha was walking, children began teasing him. To rid himself of them, he told them that his friend Hag Aly was having a dinner party at his home. Excited, the children ran off, the tail of their galabeyas in their teeth. When they left, Goha thought, “What if there really is a dinner party?” and ran to Hag Aly’s house as well. (McGuirk, 1986)

Many people have written books and even produced movies about Goha and his adventures. One book was written in French by two French authors, one of them just twenty six years old! The book, translated to mean Goha the Fool, was written in 1919 and has been reprinted and translated many times since.

Another book, Goha the Wise Fool[3]“The Council for Arab-British Understanding : Goha – The Wise Fool?” accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.caabu.org/sites/default/files/resources/Goha%20-%20The%20Wise%20Fool.pdf (2005), pictured above, was published more recently by the leading Arabic translator of our time, Denys Johnson-Davies. Even though Goha himself may not be very smart, he often attracts smart people to him. No doubt, the writers who compiled these books learned a great deal from Goha’s wisdom.

In 1958, Omar Sharif starred in the French- Tunisian film Goha. The film did so well that it was shown in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival in the classic section. The movie poster is interesting because it showed the two-sided approach to studying Goha with half the cover red and half the cover yellow.

Well, that is all I have to say about Goha for now. Enjoy these last couple of stories, and if you’re still interested, pick up his stories yourself! Dar el-Balsam in Dokki offers many Goha books. The ones in Arabic are very well written and though the stories are longer, believe me; you don’t want them to end. Whatever you do, don’t forget there is a wise old man, riding his donkey (or looking for it), named Goha.

Goha and the Nut Tree

Mara kan Goha a’ed taht shagaret bundok, we a’ad yefakar eih el hikma in rabina yikhali shagara kibira titrah bundok soghayar wi yikhali il bateekh illi how akbar min el bondok lih far’ soghayar maye`darsh yesheelo. Min kutr el tafkeer, Goha nam we ba’dein sihi makhdood ’ala bondoka wi’et ’ala raso. Fa el hamdullillah ya rabi. ’ereft hikmitak in el shagara el kibeera di mabtitrahsh bateekh. Kan zamani ruht fashuush!

مرة كان جحا قاعد تحت شجرة بندق، و قعد يفكر إيه
الحكمة إن ربنا يخلي شجرة كبيرة تطرح بندق صغير
و يخلي البطيخ اللي هو أكبر من البندق ليه فرع صغير
مايقدرش يشيلوه. من كتر التفكير، جحا نام و بعدين
صحي مخضوض على بندقة وقعت على راسه. فقال
“الحمدلله يا ربي. عرفت حكمتك إن الشجرة الكبيرة دي
مابتطرحش بطيخ، كان زماني رحت فاشوش.”

Once Goha was sitting beneath a nut tree, and he thought of why did God make a large tree carry little nuts, while a watermelon’s tree only has a thin stem that can’t support its fruit. Due to all his mental effort, he fell asleep and woke up in shock when a nut fell on his head. So he said, thank God, I understand now. Had the large tree carried watermelons, it would have been curtains for me (very idiomatic, meaning: It would be my end). (McGuirk, 1986, 76–77)[4]Russel McGuirk, Colloquial Arabic of Egypt (London: Routledge, 1986).

Goha and the Poor Man

One day, a man who was often hungry—on account of his being poor—walked past a cafe where meat was being grilled. He ate his bread, which was all he could afford, outside the café so that he could smell the delicious smell of the meat while he ate. But the owner of the café came outside and was angry. He demanded the poor man pay him for smelling his meat! When it became clear the poor man could not pay, the café owner took him to Goha, who had become a judge. After hearing the story, Goha paused and thought. He asked the man how much he wanted to charge for the meat. Five piasters, he replied. So Goha took a five piaster coin out of his pocket and threw it on the table. When it fell, he asked, “Did you hear the sound the coin made?” When the café owner said he had, Goha said, “Take the sound of the coin as payment for the smell of your meat.”


1 Stanford W. Gregory Jr. and Kessem M. Shafie Wehba, “The Contexts of Inshallah in Alexandria Egypt,” Anthropological Linguistics Vol. 28, No. 1 (Spring, 1986): 95-105, accessed July 6, 2014 from www.jstor.org/stable/30027948.
2 M.F. Holland, America and Egypt: From Roosevelt to Eisenhower (London: Praeger, 1996).
3 “The Council for Arab-British Understanding : Goha – The Wise Fool?” accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.caabu.org/sites/default/files/resources/Goha%20-%20The%20Wise%20Fool.pdf
4 Russel McGuirk, Colloquial Arabic of Egypt (London: Routledge, 1986).
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