From Granada to Jerusalem
Leo Africanus and the legend of the amphibious bird in Birds of a Kind by Wajdi Mouawad
Keywords:Wajdi Mouawad, Birds of a Kind, Leo Africanus, epic theatre, palimpsest
The present article examines the drama Birds of a Kind by the Lebanese-Canadian author Wajdi Mouawad. It analyses the allegorical character of Wazzan which is based on the historical figure Leo Africanus, a Moroccan diplomat and polymath of Granadan origin who in the early 16th century was kidnapped by Christian pirates and offered to Pope Leon X. Following his conversion from Islam to Catholicism he became the first author to present Africa to the Europeans through his works, published under the patronage of two popes from the Medici family.
Leo Africanus was introduced to Mouawad by the American scholar Natalie Zemon Davis. In her study Trickster Travels (2006) she discusses the ambiguity and the evasiveness of this enigmatic historical figure whose character she highlights through the story of the amphibious bird. It is a parable placed as the author’s paratextual notice at the beginning of The Book of Cosmography and Geography of Africa (1526 ), Leo Africanus’s most important scholarly work, and in spite of many possible sources, it is definitely his own invention.
This article aims to demonstrate how Mouawad distanced his dramatic character from the original figure – the historiographic image of a trickster – by changing the point of the aforementioned parable. The story of the amphibious bird in Birds of a Kind, told by Wazzan to a Jew who right before his death is revealed to have an Arabic origin, is transformed form the parable of a trickster into a legend of someone who manages to overcome prejudice in order to find his identity. For Mouawad, Wazzan personifies the reconciliation between Judaism and Islam, transmitting at the same time an idea of the world dreamed of by the humanism of the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
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