Alibaba and the Forty Thieves

from The Arabian Nights, adapted by Gill Kirk


Once upon a time, there were two brothers: Kasim and Alibaba. Their father had been a very a rich merchant and after he died, both of the young men were left very rich indeed.  But the brothers had very different personalities. Kasim liked the rich life - expensive clothes, shiny jewellery, feasts with lots of left-overs, big parties where everyone could admire his wealth. Alibaba preferred conversations, getting to know people, listening, and exploring the world with his eyes, feet and mind. 


Before long, Kasim married a woman who was also very rich, and he became a wealthy merchant like his father.  Alibaba married too, but his wife, Mylitta, was not rich. She was poor. They chose to live a more simple life. Alibaba knew he had the good fortune to be able to chose what kind of life he lived and that he could live a rich life like his brother. But he didn’t want the life of a rich merchant - he lived in the woods with his interesting wife Mylitta and worked as a woodcutter. 


One day, Alibaba was collecting wood in the the forest. He went to a new, deeper place than he had ever been to before because he wanted especially good wood for his latest project.  There he was, walking amongst the dense trees, when he heard voices. A large group of men - there must have been forty of them - were standing by some rocks.  The leader of the men told the others to stand back, while they all faced the rock face. 


“Open, sesame!” said the leader of the men, and magically, the rock face opened up, and there was a cave! Alibaba watched from behind the trees. This was incredible! The men rushed into the magical cave and Alibaba could see that inside it was the most stupendous treasure hoard. There were wooden chests full of gold and jewels, beautiful statues, piles of golden coins - the cave was overflowing with riches.  Were these men thieves?, wondered Alibaba, and he hid himself deeper in the branches of the tree. If they were thieves, they mustn’t see him because they would surely kill him to stop him telling their secret.  


While he was still worrying about this and deciding when it might be safe to leave this part of the forest, the men all came out of the cave again.  Their leader stood in front of the open cave and called out, “Close, sesame!” and the cave mouth closed, magically, so that you would never know there was a cave there at all.  The thieves went away through the other side of the forest and Alibaba sighed a great sigh of relief. 


As soon as he knew the coast was clear, Alibaba crept up to the rock face where the cave had appeared. He couldn’t resist. “Open sesame!” he called and sure enough, the cliff face opened up to reveal the cave full of treasures. He crept inside and he filled his pockets with gold coins. He left the cave, called out, “close, sesame!” and the cave mouth closed behind him. He made sure there was no sign that he had been in the area and went home. 


That night, Alibaba told Mylitta what had happened. And then he showed her what he had stolen from the thieves. “Stealing from thieves can’t be bad, can it?” he said to her. Mylitta was very worried. “Stealing is wrong, no matter what,” she said and frowned. But Alibaba shook his head. “Look what we have now, though,” he said, holding out the golden coins. “I want to see how much they’re worth,” and even though it was dark, he went to his brother’s house, to borrow some scales to weigh the gold and find out how much it was worth. 


When he reached his brother’s house, his sister-in-law opened the door. “Hello,” said Alibaba. “Can I borrow your scales?” His sister in law gave him a look - “at this time of night?” she said, suspicious of this strange request. 

“Oh, we have some grain I need to sell at the market first thing, lied Alibaba, “and I need to weight it right now.”

“Very well,” said his sister in law and she went inside to fetch their set of scales. 


What Alibaba didn’t see was that the woman put a little bit of sticky wax on the bottom of one of the scales. She wanted to know what Alibaba was weighing and she hoped that a little bit of it would stick to the scales so she could find out when he returned them the next day. 


Alibaba took the scales home and of course weighed all his gold coins. The next morning, he returned the scales and went back to the forest. But he didn’t realise that one of his gold coins had stuck to the wax on the scales! Alibaba’s sister in law was amazed when she saw it and she immediately told her husband, Kasim. 

“Kasim, Kasim! Alibaba has come into great wealth!” she told him. “He borrowed my scales and when he returned them there was this gold coin stuck to it! You have to find out where he got it from - if he didn’t notice this one missing, he must have loads!” 


Kasim’s eyes lit up. He and his wife were always spending money - which meant they always wanted more. So he went to his brother and said, 


“Alibaba, I know you have come into great wealth. If you don’t tell me I will have to think the worst. I will have to tell the police.”


Now, Alibaba loved his brother, and as we know, he didn’t feel bad about stealing from thieves, so he told him about the magical cave and the forty thieves and the incredible amount of treasure. “But please, Kasim, keep this secret to yourself; it is a dangerous secret and I am only telling you to stop you telling the police.”

“Of course, my brother,” said Kasim. “You can trust me.”


Later that day, when Kasim knew that Alibaba was at the other end of the forest, Kasim went to the magical cave, with a donkey and lots of bags that he could fill to bursting with gold and jewels.


“Open sesame!” called Kasim, and the magical cave opened. Kasim could not believe his eyes - rubies, sapphires, diamonds, silver, gold, pearls, crowns, mirrors, vases, coins - everything he loved was here in this cave.  He went inside and stuffed as much as he could into his bags and laughed as he made plans to come back day after day after day. “There’s so much here, no one will ever notice, no matter how much I take!”  He was there for so long that he didn’t notice the cave close behind him. But when he was finished, he stood up with great confidence and called out, 


“Open scissor-me!” But nothing happened.  Hmm - maybe that wasn’t quite right. “Open razor-meat” Still nothing. “Wake up, apricot!” “Vanish, olive oil!” nothing, nothing, nothing.  Kasim tried for hours to remember the magical password that he had forgotten in all his treasure-grabbing glee.   But to no avail. 


A week later, the thieves next returned to the cave. They were concerned when they saw a dead donkey tethered to the tree by the rock face.  “Someone’s been here!” said the leader, pulling his dagger from his belt.  “Open sesame!” he called, and the cave rolled open. And there, on the floor of the cave, clinging onto bags and bags of gold and jewels, was the body of Kasim, who had starved to death surrounded by stolen treasure. 


Alibaba’s sister in law had not told Alibaba or Mylitta that Kasim had gone missing. She had been worried, of course, but because she knew they were not only stealing from the thieves but from Alibaba and his wife, who were poor, she had begun to feel bad. But she eventually went to Alibaba and told the couple that she was afraid for Kasim, and that he hadn’t come back from the magical cave. 


Alibaba - very carefully - went back to the cave and was just in time to see the thieves discover Kasim’s body. He had to stop himself crying or else he might have been heard. He felt terrible that he had discovered the cave and told his brother, because now his brother had lost his life.  When the thieves went away, they left Kasim’s body and when the coast was clear, Alibaba carried his brother home.  The family held a very quiet funeral for Kasim with just a few of his closest friends. But Kasim’s friends were not all good people -some of them had only been his friend because they cared about wealth and this was a dangerous thing for Alibaba. 


The leader of the thieves had been restless since discovering Kasim. And when he saw that the body had been taken, he knew that MORE people had known about the cave, and not just the dead man. Disguising himself as a travelling medicine man, he went into the nearest town - where Kasim had lived - and began asking questions.  


It wasn’t long before he came across some of Kasim’s friends. “Hello,” he said, and started telling the story he was telling everyone he met. “I am a travelling medicine man. In the neighbouring towns there have been some sudden deaths of healthy young men. There’s a terrible disease going around and I can save lives. Are there any young men around here who have died unexpectedly?”


Of course, Kasim’s friends tell this stranger the story of Kasim’s surprising sudden death and how it had been kept a secret by his brother, Alibaba. And of course, this meant it was a secret no more. “Take me to this man’s house,” said the thief. And so they did. The thief chalked a cross above the doorway of Alibaba’s house so he would remember where he’d lived and went to collect the rest of his gang of thieves.  He planned to come back in the dead of night and reclaim all his stolen treasure -and perhaps the lives of the people who’d stolen from him.   


Luckily, Mylitta had been at home when she saw Kasim’s friends lead a sinister-looking stranger to her front door. She expected a knock at the door, but all the man did was chalk a mark above the doorway. As soon as he was gone, she took her won piece of chalk and made exactly the same mark above every door in the town. 


That night, the thieves crept into the town. But when they looked for the house with the chalk mark, they found that every house had a chalk mark and they didn’t know which one to break into!  


The leader of the thieves was furious and shouted at the others. Who all shouted back. And before long, all the thieves were having a loud, angry brawl, fighting with their punches and their daggers and their kicks and their knives until not one single one of them was left alive. 


Everyone in the town was woken by the terrible fight. But try as they might, they were not able to stop the thieves killing each other. Every single one of them had wanted the treasure for himself, and every single one of them had died. 


Alibaba and Mylitta looked at each other while the people of the town looked at the pile of dead thieves.  “Come with us,” said Mylitta, and the pair of them led everyone in the town through the forest. 

“This is what killed my brother, and killed all these men,” said Alibaba as they stood before the rock face. “What do you mean? Is there a lion in these woods?” asked the people. 

“We will show you,” said Mylitta, “but unless we can share, it will kill us, too.” The people were quiet and then said, “we promise we will share fairly.”

“Open sesame!” said Alibaba. 


The townspeople gasped as the cave rolled open and they saw what was inside. “If we share it we will thrive, but if we seize more than a fair share, we will wither and die,” said Mylitta. The people nodded wisely, some laughing and some thinking deeply.


You will be glad to learn that the town became known as the best run town in the land. People were kind, thoughtful, and spent money on helping those who had less than themselves. They had seen how greed could cost lives and they were determined to use it for good - not greed. 

- Let’s think! 

Have you seen people squabble and hurt each other over possessions?

Can you understand the feeling of wanting it all for yourself?

How can we overcome that?