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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Cultural Insights and Symbolic Resonance in Arafat Musleh’s “The Day of Maimoon’s Disappearance


Hatem Al-Shamea


This paper provides a critical analysis of Arafat Musleh’s short story “The Day of Maimoon’s Disappearance” through the theoretical lenses of ecocriticism, mythology, and postcolonialism. It examines key themes relating to the cultural and ecological dynamics between villagers and their habitat in rural Yemen. The analysis is divided into five main sections exploring representations of rural Yemeni culture and society, narrative techniques, natural symbols and archetypes, ecological knowledge, and practices, and how they reveal insights into cultural resilience.

Keywords: Ecocriticism, mythology, postcolonialism, rural Yemen, cultural resilience, agricultural practices, oral storytelling, archetypes.


Arafat Musleh’s short story “The Day of Maimoon’s Disappearance” offers a glimpse into rural village life in Yemen through vivid descriptions anchored in local realities. Beyond surface narration, applying relevant critical lenses uncovers deeper layers of meaning and cultural importance rarely accessible otherwise. This paper analyzes the text through ecocriticism, mythology and postcolonial theory to illuminate what is revealed about relationships between people, land, traditions and ecological changeability. It examines representations of rural Yemeni culture and key narrative techniques before exploring natural symbols, traditional ecological knowledge, and how these perspectives highlight cultural resilience themes.

Representing Rural Yemeni Culture

Musleh’s short story offers a respectful portrayal of rural Yemeni culture that challenges mainstream depictions framed by colonial ideology. Through multidimensional characters facing realistic challenges, he resists exoticization tendencies that reduce locals to stereotypical tropes (Said, 1978, p.25). Vivid descriptions of daily agricultural activities grant insights into lived realities that were often obscured or dismissed under colonial rule. Accounts of subsistence tasks like using donkeys to transport goods, cooperating to repair flood damage, and relying on the unpredictable climate reflect an intimate relationship villagers cultivated with their environment out of necessity (Fanon, 1963, p.37).

Rather than presenting villagers as primitive nobles lacking complexity, Musleh’s characters demonstrate sophisticated ecological knowledge and social structures that enabled sustaining their livelihoods in difficult conditions over generations (McGregor, 1994, p.387). For example, the grandmother character embodies both spiritual leader and pragmatic roles through her nightly prayers appealing to God for rain and advising on repair efforts following flooding. The young narrator too learns traditional practices and relationships to the land through participation in daily life rather than didactic teachings.

By re-centering these marginalized rural perspectives from within their own cultural frame of reference, Musleh preserves indigenous knowledge in danger of erasure under colonial domination that privileged urban modernizing narratives. His authentic insider representations assert the dignity of localized realities with a sophistication equal to, not less than, urban modern societies (Iseke-Barnes, 2011, p.13). The realistic yet sympathetic portrayals revive suppressed voices and place-based practices, constituting an act of cultural restoration that empowers rural Yemenis.

Narrative Techniques and Reader Positioning

Musleh further enhances his project of cultural restoration through skillful narrative techniques that position readers to collaboratively uncover deeper meanings. Employing a young narrator initiates readers into the village culture gradually through his fresh discoveries rather than imposing rigid definitions from the start (Eco, 1990, p.12). Situating the perspective within local reality but with limited understanding allows for cultural elucidation versus definitive explanation and avoids didactic strategies more aligned with colonial paradigms.

Readers are thus drawn into an interpretive relationship with the text and characters where they collaboratively discover deeper dimensions alongside the narrator. This invites thoughtful consideration of cultural nuance versus surface-level comprehension that often results when outsider perspectives or omniscient styles are utilized instead (Iser, 1978, 345). The lack of complete authorial control leaves interpretive space that authentically honors oral storytelling traditions of communal meaning-making rather than fixed written explanations.

Natural Symbols and Archetypal Dimensions

Applying a mythological lens to Musleh’s narrative illuminates rich symbolic dimensions that enhance the story’s cultural and artistic significance. Natural elements like rain, the mountain, river, and animals take on metaphorical resonance beyond literal descriptions. For instance, rain holds ambivalent meaning as both a critical necessity for sustaining crops yet also an unpredictable force that can destroy agricultural lands through flooding (p.1). This dual symbolism taps into existential questions about humanity’s precarious reliance on climate patterns partly outside of their control.

Maimoon the donkey’s sudden disappearance after the heavy downpour also carries metaphorical weight beyond a mere missing farm animal. His symbolic absence mirrors the literal ruins of the flooded farm plot, subtly suggesting a deeper interdependence between villagers and the land that sustained their community (p.2). Through this natural symbol, Musleh hints at bonds more profound than documented agreements or transactions defining property relations.

Traditionally protecting and providing for villagers, the looming mountain takes on expanded significance through its failure, at least perceived, to shield them from disaster this time (p.2). As a symbol of the bountiful earth mother figure, the mountain’s inability prompts sorrow and deeper questioning. superstitious rituals meant to appeal for protection, though dismissed as irrational by outsiders, take on new resonance as representations of profound reverence for natural forces rather than dismissible superstitions (p.2).

Characters also carry archetypal dimensions that activate themes beyond their specific roles. The elderly grandmother embodies wisdom as a mystic elder figure who retains Traditional ecological knowledge and fulfills a spiritual role through her nightly prayers (Campbell, 2008, p.25). Blending realistic portrayals with these symbolic associations imbues the story with greater socio-cultural and universal resonance.

By weaving realistic details within a pattern of potent natural symbols, Musleh amplifies narrative impact. Readers are invited to perceive deeper layers of existential meaning rooted in relationships between villagers and unstable yet vital local environments they closely depended on for millennia. This fusion of quotidian and symbolic realms demonstrates storytelling prowess and cultural sensitivity within the form.

Local Ecological Knowledge and Practices

Applying an ecocritical lens to Musleh’s narrative reveals the interdependent relationship between villagers and their habitat that was integral to long-term sustainability in challenging environmental conditions. Their entire livelihood and food security relied on maintaining a fragile balance with the climate and rainfall patterns in ways contemporary industrialized societies have divorced from (McGregor, 1994, p.388). Even small changes like an unexpected heavy downpour, as depicted in the story, threatened to destroy critical agricultural lands and crops.

Traditional ecological knowledge is evident in various practices that demonstrated an intimate understanding of landscape relationships built up over generations of inhabiting the area. For example, repairing flooded fields cooperatively from downstream to upstream exhibited awareness of watershed dynamics (p.2). Rituals like donkey burials also reflected deep reverence for natural forces that, while unpredictable, sustained the community’s existence and which they did not view as able to be controlled or engineered by humans alone (p.3).

Musleh conveys an appreciation for the complex nuances of villagers’ environmental ethics rather than reductionist perspectives. Their close bond with the land incorporated spiritual and pragmatic dimensions integrated into daily life. This is seen when the grandmother laments potential disruption to rituals meant to safeguard crops, hinting at the failure to uphold ecological equilibrium rather than merely superstitious displacement of responsibility (p.4).

Cultural Resilience Themes

Weaving together postcolonial, mythological and ecocritical threads, Musleh’s short story powerfully evokes how cultural continuity depends on change. Despite deep connections to place and ancestral lifeways, realities of constant transformation are acknowledged (p.4). Yearning for stability naturally coexists with inevitable material disruption as climates, landscapes, and challenges evolve over time.

The story conveys potent insights into navigating unstable worlds through cultural resilience and adaptive knowledge systems rather than stasis. Musleh suggests spiritual identity and community interconnectedness can endure against disruption by respecting ancestral traditions while adaptively evolving understandings and practices according to new conditions (p.5).

Rather than divisions between past and present, the story espouses continuity of experience and wisdom across generations linked through traditions of oral storytelling. This integrated vision emphasizes perpetuating relationships fundamental to humanity rather than objects or fixed histories. Musleh’s depiction powerfully evokes culture’s capacity to regenerate through shared imagination and values connecting dispersed communities across temporal change.


In bringing together postcolonial, ecocritical, mythological analyses, Arafat Musleh’s short story emerges as a work deserving extensive critical examination. Situating ordinary encounters within a historical context, it restores suppressed realities and knowledge facing erasure. Skillful narrative techniques encourage collaborative interpretation versus rigid explanations. Underlying metaphoric dimensions activate existential reflection on relationships fundamental to humanity. Overall, the analysis demonstrates the story’s multilayered cultural and artistic significance, supporting its scholarly consideration.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Third ed., New World Library, 2008.

Eco, Umberto. The Limits of Interpretation. Indiana University Press, 1990.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press, 1963.

Iseke-Barnes, Judy. “Decolonizing Mainstream Educational Research on Indigenous Peoples: The Case of Storywork Methodology.” Education Canada, vol. 51, no. 1, 2011, pp. 12–15.

Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

McGregor, Deborah. “Coming Full Circle: Indigenous Knowledge, Environment, and Our Future.” American Indian Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 3/4, 2004, pp. 385–410.

Musleh, Arafat. “The Day of Maimoon’s Disappearance.” Translated by Hatem Al-Shamea, 2002. Short story.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. Pantheon Books, 1978.

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