Although this might seem slightly controversial given my last two posts, I am above all a storyteller, or so I intend to be. I am often expected to write about Spain and in Spanish, which I normally wouldn’t willingly do but in this case I would like to make a exception.
Last night I heard a story that I think many people might not know about, I personally didn’t, and I would like to share it. I heard it during a TED talk video by Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of the new best-seller “Eat, pray, love.” She mentioned this story as part of a talk about creativity and inspiration for writers. You can check out the video on this link: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html (around min 15 it’s where the story starts)
The story goes something like this: “Centuries ago, in the desserts of north Africa people would gather up for moonlight dances to sacred dancing music that would go on for hours and hours until dawn. These dances were always magnificent with professional dancers but every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen. One of these dancers would be more than just a dancer. Time would seem to have stopped and this dancer, who would be doing the same thing s/he had done a thousand night before that, would become special. So special he’d seem to be shining from within and be surrounded by divine fire, no longer a human.
When this happened, people would put their hands together and chant: "Allah! Allah!”
They used the word for God in their language as they believed that this magical moment was a glimpse of God.
This tradition continued through generations and when the Moors invaded southern Spain the pronunciation eventually changed over the centuries from “Allah, Allah, Allah” to “Ole! Ole! Ole!” which you still hear in bullfighting and flamenco dances. In Spain, when a performer has done something beautiful, impossible, magical, “Ole!” is used to describe this amazing act.“
I always found it really hard to explain to people from other countries what the meaning of "Ole!” was. To me, and many people I know, it is an expression to imply something was just so amazing, usually in an artistic context, that “Ole” is the only word that could describe it fairly. But this regains a whole new meaning now that I know where the word comes from.
I love this story in so many levels. First as a Spanish person native from the south of Spain, where I grew up between the rests of a clearly Moorish influence, it brings back a beautiful fact about the area where I was born. From a linguistic point of view and as a linguistic geek that I am, it is just such a beautiful way of explaining where a beautiful word, widely used to this day, comes from.
And as a storyteller that I aspire to be, and an eager reader that I have always been, my imagination takes me to the times when dancers, surrounded by an endless dessert danced by the fire. and God watched them as people chanted his name.