بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Kan ya ma kan is a place for sharing materials, resources, and ideas. This website aims to help people to increase their knowledge and access to information, and to think and communicate across cultural boundaries.
The name is the traditional beginning of Arabic stories (like ‘Once upon a time’ in anglophone stories). Literally, it means “There was, there was not.”* It uses phonemes (repeating the open “a” as the only vowel) and a relatively heavy cadence to open an imaginary world where things are not as they seem.
My academic training is in Arabic literature. By literature, I don’t mean written materials alone. I mean instead the manipulation of language in all of its various forms (whether stories, poems, rhymes, etc.) to reach an audience–expressing feelings, communicating experiences, asking questions, offering advice, and so on.
When I first studied in Morocco, I had to reevaluate my own definition of literature. Having grown up in a very bookish anglophone family, it took some adjustment to understand how people can live quite fully without any great use of books in their lives. The book lovers were few and far between, and yet most people enjoyed some kind of art. Being a fan of myths and fantasy, I found myself searching for stories in Morocco. People didn’t necessarily understand my quest, offering me instead music, dance, or poetry. I came to the conclusion that the role that books tend to play in the United States is filled by a variety of related arts in Morocco and throughout Arabic and some other cultures.
I went to graduate school and studied Arabic literature, in a variety of forms, for almost a decade. My studies included prestigious Arabic classical literature (such as Jahili poetry, the Qur’an and early Islamic texts, the maqamat and akhbar, medieval literary criticism, and philosophy). I felt particularly compelled to study examples of oral and folk literature as well (such as the historical epics, tales of the trickster Juha, and traditions of public storytelling and poetic performances). My studies also included an introduction to Hebrew language and medieval Hebrew literature. This site is a place for the culmination of my studies to share what I’ve learned and to provide a resource for others.
Bienvenidos • مرحبا بكم • Welcome • ברוכים הבעים • Bienvenue
* In North Africa, storytellers use the similar phrase: ḥājītak (mā jītak), ‘I’ll come to you, I didn’t come to you.’ Like the more generic Arabic phrase, this statement followed by its immediate negation causes the listener to pause (at least the first time they hear it). It introduces a genre in which listeners should pay careful attention because they may hear marvelous or fantastic stories.