Iranian professional storytellers


«In major Iranian cities, one may still find the professional storyteller (naqqal) performing daily before a crowd of as many as 100 or 200 men. While the craft is certainly one that has been practiced for centuries in Iran, it is now rapidly falling off. […]

»Each storyteller is associated with a coffee house where men would come daily at specified times to see him perform. A storyteller may perform in two coffee houses in one day or two storytellers may perform at different times in the same coffee house. […] The clientele is primarily composed of regulars who come every day to hear the story. The men form attachments to the storyteller, to the coffee house, and to the time of day. An audience member may say he comes to hear the storyteller because he is so good, but chances are that the audience will not go to hear the same storyteller at another coffee house. He may also be apt to leave when ‘his’ storyteller has finished, not waiting to hear another who might be performing later. During the performance, however, everyone in the audience is expected to be listening. If the storyteller is good, the audience will be genuinely interested. The storyteller has no qualms about pointing out the bad manners of those who talk during the performance. Some degree of a storyteller’s success might be seen, therefore, in his ability to captivate a ready-made audience and his ability to add others to the audience who are attracted by the storytelling»

Mary Ellen Page, “Professional storytelling in Iran: Transmission and practice”, Iranian Studies, vol. 12, 1979, pp. 196-197
Illustration inspired by the pottery of the Mimbres People, New Mexico

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