Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves: A Version for Children

This version of Ali Baba was written by Joanna Jenkins, a long time middle school social studies teacher and veteran storyteller.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Many years ago in the ancient land of Persia, Ali Baba lived with his old father and a brother named Kasim. One day the father said to his sons, “Boys, before I die, I want to see you prosperous, so both of you hurry up and marry rich women.”

Kasim did as his father wished. His rich wife set him up in the carpet business.

Ali Baba, however, married for love and his wife was as poor as he. Each day, therefore, Ali Baba worked hard at his trade as a cutter of firewood. It wasn’t much of a life but he liked it.

One day he went as usual to the forest. He cut a pile of wood and was about to load it onto his donkeys when, in the distance he saw a cloud of dust coming his way.

“Oh, no!” he said to himself. “Only a gang of robbers can afford fast horses like that; I’d better hide.” He pushed his donkeys into the bushes and he climbed a very tall tree.

The robbers rode up beneath this hiding place, got down from their horses, and the chief of them strode through the bushes toward a stone wall, calling out, “OPEN SESAME!”

Immediately the wall opened like a door and all the thieves went inside, carrying their very full saddle bags. After a while they came out again with empty saddle bags Their chief said, “CLOSE SESAME!” The door swung shut.

The thieves remounted their horses and rode away. Ali Baba waited for a while, then he climbed down. Approaching the stone wall, he said, “OPEN SESAME!” When the wall opened, he entered a cave lit by holes in the ceiling. Around him lay bags and bags of gold pieces, carpets, silks, embroideries. Seizing three bags of gold, he left the cave, turned to the door, and said, “CLOSE SESAME!” As the door closed, he situated the gold on the backs of his donkeys, covered the bags with firewood, and returned home.

Ali Baba and his wife rejoiced. “We’re rich!” he shouted, pouring gold all over the floor. Then looking around nervously, “Wife,” he cautioned, “we must keep this a secret because I stole it from thieves. If they find us, they’ll kill us.”

Ali Baba’s wife wanted to count their wealth. Ali Baba, however, told her that would take too long.

“Then,” suggested his wife, “why don’t I borrow a scale from the wife of your brother, Kasim? At least we’ll have an idea of the weight of our money.”

She ran to the home of Kasim and asked to borrow a scale. Kasim’s wife wondered, “How do these poor people have so much of anything that they need to weigh it? I wonder what they plan to weigh?” So she rubbed sticky meat fat on the bottom of the scale and brought it out to the wife of Ali Baba.

When the scale was returned, Kasim’s wife found a tiny golden coin sticking to the meat fat, unnoticed as Ali Baba hurried to weigh his treasure and return the scale.

Kasim’s wife was angry and jealous, “Aha! They only pretend to be poor. Really they’re rich. This is annoying because I've been giving them food and money! ”

When her husband returned for his dinner, she whined, “Kasim, you consider yourself a rich man but you’re relatively poor. Ali Baba has so much money that he weighs it instead of counting.” She showed the scale and told her tale.

Kasim jumped up and went to the house of Ali Baba, “Brother, “ he shouted, “tell me about your money. If you don’t, I’ll report you to the caliph’s tax collector.”

After hearing Ali Baba‘s story, Kasim ran to the market place where he bought ten mules. In the forest he found the stone wall and said, “OPEN SESAME!” Inside the cave, he marveled at the treasure. Suddenly he felt the earth tremble from many running horses. The gang was coming back.

He grabbed a sack of gold, ran to the door of the cave which had closed behind him. “OPEN WHEAT!” he yelled. Nothing happened. Sweating with anxiety, he screamed, “OPEN OATS!” Nothing happened.

At that moment the door opened. Thieves rushed in and attacked Kasim with their scimitars, hacked him into three pieces. They hung these pieces inside the door, one on each side and one above the opening. Then leaving their loot, they closed up the cave and rode away.

When Kasim didn’t return, his wife hurried to the home of Ali Baba. “Your brother didn‘t come home from the treasure cave.”

Back again at the cave, Ali Baba said the magic words, and was horrified to see his brother hanging in three pieces. He hid the parts of his brother’s body...and a few more bags of gold… under wood on the backs of his donkeys and returned to the home of Kasim.

There he met Kasim’s wife and Morgiana, Kasim’s clever slave girl. Ali Baba said, “Morgiana, find a way to make my brother’s death seem natural. We have to be careful. If the thieves learn of a funeral for a man who was hacked into pieces, they’ll know who took their money and they’ll kill us all.”

Morgiana went to the neighborhood apothecary, “Sir,” she said, with tears in her eyes, “My master is desperately sick; I need medication that can save a man lying at death’s door.”

She took home the apothecary’s mixture and then returned to the market place where she approached the tailor, “For you,” she promised, “I have a great deal of gold, but only if you do a special job and keep it secret.”

Blindfolding the tailor, she led him through the streets to the home of Kasim. There, she showed the tailor to a room empty except for Kasim’s body. “Sew it into one piece and you will have ten pieces of gold.” Afterward, Morgiana paid the man, again blindfolded him, and took him back to the market.

The next day Morgiana returned to the apothecary, “That first medicine was no help at all. Make it stronger, please, because my poor master is nearly dead.” She took the stronger medicine home. Several hours later, she and Kasim’s wife set up a loud wail. Morgiana went out into the street. “My poor, sick master has died!” she yelled.

Ali Baba wrapped his brother’s body in grave clothes and then put it into a casket. He brought professional mourners and he called the Imam. They had a wonderful funeral with lots of crying. All the women screamed and threw dust on themselves.

Then Ali Baba said to Kasim’s wife, “You are now my second wife. Your property is mine and Kasim’s carpet business will go to my oldest son. From now on, I and my first wife will live here with you.”

Meanwhile the thieves worried. Their chief said, “Someone knows about our cave. There’s more involved than the man we cut into pieces. The dead man is gone and so are more bags of our gold. If we don’t find who knows the secret of this cave, some thief will steal everything we’ve stolen.”

After discussion, one of the thieves volunteered, “I’ll go to the market place. I’ll gossip and listen until I learn the identity of the thief who dares to steal from us. Then we’ll kill him.”

This thief went to town, talked to various merchants. When he came to the tailor, that little man said proudly, “Why don’t you ask me to make you some new clothes? I’m such a skillful tailor that the other day someone asked me to sew together pieces of a dead body.”

After many bribes, the thief convinced the tailor to again put on a blindfold and try to find the house where he’d sewed a body. The tailor bragged, “I’ll find it. I was blindfolded but I memorized my route as I walked.”

Sure enough the tailor identified the home of Kasim, now the home of Ali Baba. The thief paid the tailor and then marked Kasim’s gate with chalk. “Tonight,” he thought, “we thieves will come back here and kill everyone at this address.”

Shortly thereafter Morgiana came out into the street, headed for the market. She noticed a chalk mark on the door, looked up and down the street, saw no other doors marked in that way and felt uneasy. She found chalk, marked every door up and down the street and then went on her way.

That night when thieves came to kill Ali Baba, they couldn’t find the right house. Disgusted, their chief roared, “ I myself will find the home of the one who knows our secret.”

The next day in the market place, the talkative little tailor again told his story; he allowed himself to be blindfolded and relocated the home of Ali Baba. The thief walked up and down the street, looked around carefully, memorized the directions, paid the tailor.

The thieves did some thinking. “If we just walk up to that house and kill everyone there, we’ll be arrested and punished. We need to find a reason why the homeowner would invite us into his courtyard where no one can see what we do. Then in the dark of night, we can kill the entire household and get away safely.”

Next day the thieves bought huge oil jars, all empty except for one that was full. Also they bought twenty sturdy mules and harnesses. Then they put the jars on the mules’ backs and a thief climbed into each jar except for the one that really held oil.

The chief of the gang disguised himself as an oil merchant and that evening he approached Ali Baba’s gate, leading his mules. Ali Baba sat outside his gate, smoking a pipe. The thief said, “Sir, tomorrow I will sell my goods in your marketplace but tonight I need a place to sleep and to rest my pack mules. May I be your guest?”

Ali Baba didn’t recognize the man. He welcomed the thief into his courtyard, helped to unload the mules.

Ali Baba told Morgiana to prepare extra food for dinner. As he did so, the thief whispered into every jar, “When it’s time to come out, I’ll let you know. Until then, be quiet.”

Morgiana made a good meal and Ali Baba and the thief had a fine evening of eating and talking. Then Ali Baba went to bed, first showing the thief to a spare room.

In the kitchen, finishing her work, Morgiana ran out of lamp oil. She took her lamp into the courtyard where the thief had left his jars that she thought were full of oil.

She lifted the lid on the first jar and a voice whispered, “Is it time yet?” Surprised, she managed to keep her head, and she whispered back, “Not yet.”

In this way she finally located the only jar of oil, filled her lamp and then filled a whole huge pot over the kitchen fire. When the oil boiled, she carried it around in a pitcher, pouring enough into each jar to kill the thief hiding there. When she was finished, she woke Ali Baba.

As she showed him what she’d done, his heart swelled with gratitude, “You saved our lives. Because of that, you are no longer a slave, you can work for wages.” Quietly, and digging fast, Morgiana and Ali Baba buried all thirty-nine thieves in the dirt of the courtyard. Then they waited in the dark and listened.

After a while, the chief of thieves, hearing no sound, came out of the house. He lifted the lids on his oil jars and whispered, “It’s time. Come on out.” Still hearing nothing, he put his hand down into every jar and found that his gang was gone. In a panic, he scrambled over the wall, ran down the street and disappeared.

Ali Baba prospered. His son did a good job with Kasim’s carpet business and all went well. After a while, Ali Baba returned to the cave and brought away more sacks of gold.

The final thief, seeing his treasure diminish, plotted and schemed and had an idea, “I’ll disguise myself, pretend to be a merchant, make friends of Ali Baba’s son, and get him to invite me home for dinner. In that way I’ll have another chance to privately kill that family."

The thief bought a stall in the market place. He stocked his business with items from the cave. For a few weeks he spent every day working and forming friendships with his fellow merchants but especially making a friend of Ali Baba’s son, the carpet merchant.

One day Ali Baba’s son said to the thief, “Why don’t you come home with me this evening, meet my family, and share a meal?” The thief agreed.

As the thief was well disguised, Ali Baba didn’t recognize him. Morgiana, however, was not fooled; she told herself, “He's come to kill us; I need to get him first.”

After dinner, Morgiana dressed in her finest belly dancing costume. She bowed low before the men and asked Ali Baba, “May I entertain you and your guest? I have learned a new dance, called the dance of the sharpest knife.”

Another servant played the tabor and Morgiana danced. Carrying a newly sharpened kitchen knife, she danced around and around the thief.

At last, with a fancy flourish, she stood before the guest, tossed her knife up, caught it and then plunged it into the man’s heart.

Ali Baba was aghast at this breach of hospitality until he realized that the dead man was their old enemy, the chief thief, in disguise. Once more Morgiana and Ali Baba buried a body in the courtyard.

And then Ali Baba said to her, “I have freed you from slavery but that’s not good enough. Now I will marry you to my son.” It was a lovely wedding with feasting, music, and dancing, no expense spared.

The secret of the cave has passed from father to son in the Ali Baba family, generation after generation, but plenty of treasure remains. I know what you’re thinking. You want to travel to ancient Persia…now Iran…find the cave, and get rich. Be careful. The Ali Baba family probably doesn’t want to share with you, and if they find you in the cave, you might not make it out alive…especially if you forget the magic words like Kasim did. Better write OPEN SESAME on the back of your hand, in case of emergency.

Published here with permission for the Arabian Nights class at Homeschool Out of the Box.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:03 PM

    Hah, this is one of my favourite stories from my childhoo and I like how it was made. It's alittle different from what I remember, but then again, my mom never skimmed on the gruesome details o kasim's death. Thanks for putting this up.