Sunday, January 24

‘Teach us to wonder’: Turkey embarks on a cultural mission to preserve its fairy tales | Folklore and mythology


OROnce, in the old days, when the mouse was a barber, the donkey ran errands, and the tortoise baked bread, there was a great mountain called Kaf Daği on the border of the spirit realm, from which many of fairy tales and myths of the Middle East.

Today, Kaf Daği is believed to be somewhere in the Caucasus mountain range that separates the Black Sea from the Caspian. In this magical place, also known as Jabal Qaf in Arabic and Kuh-e Qaf in Persian, the princes are cursed by witches, who turn them into deer; beautiful maidens are born of oranges; and sultans, courtiers, slaves and farmers are at the mercy of the peri (fairies) and ifrit (demons) that populate the Turkish fairyland.

Oral folk tales from the Anatolian Plateau are a remarkable blend of narrative motifs and traditions, inspired by Arabian Nights and the Brothers Grimm, as well as Kurdish, Persian, Slavic, Jewish, and Romanian influences. Dr. Ignatuis Kunos, a Hungarian Turkologist who was one of the first scholars to collect and write some of them in the 1880s, compared the treasures of Turkish folklore to “precious stones abandoned in the ways of philology for lack of gleaners. to pick them up at “.

He was concerned that the steady advance of modernization, particularly the railway, would erode Anatolian cultural heritage. Happily, more than a century later, the tradition of oral storytelling has survived and a gigantic academic project called Story is collecting and indexing a goal of 10,000 stories to preserve for future generations.

The public and academics from university literature departments across the country can submit a fairy tale to Masal’s online portal, where it is then vetted by three rounds of researchers and language editors in a project funded by the Atatürk Cultural Center. in what is the first company. of this type in Turkey.

The stories are indexed according to the seven regions they come from and five different types of stories: animal stories, magical or extraordinary stories, realistic stories and humorous stories. Chained the stories follow a strict formula, almost like a poem, in which characters and events at the beginning and end form mirror images.

Often there are several different variants of a story, requiring careful cross-referencing to figure out how a story may differ over time from region to region. For example, there are 20 different versions of Tın Tın Kabacık, about two girls abandoned by their father, alone in Muğla province.

If a submitted story is approved, it becomes part of Masal’s online database, which will eventually be available to the public. To date, more than 3,300 tales have been collected from 77 different areas, including Kurdish, Lazian, Armenian and Circassian stories and poems translated into Turkish. The project directors expect the corpus to be completed in February 2022.

Motifs like magic rugs, animals and birds gifted with speech and enchanted mirrors, apples and pomegranates resonate throughout the canon. Characters who challenge Kaf Daği’s dragons and giants or survive a desert hike are rewarded with marriage proposals in beautiful gardens, and the phoenix-like Zumrutu Anka or Simurgh bird is always on hand to help. a hero to get out of a hurry.

The Simurgh, a benevolent Persian mythological creature, who carries Zal to her nest.  From Shah Namah (or Shahnameh), the Book of Kings, a 10th century epic by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, circa 940-1020.
The Simurgh, a benevolent Persian mythological creature, who carries Zal to her nest. From Shah Namah (or Shahnameh), the Book of Kings, a 10th century epic by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, circa 940-1020. Photograph: Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Stories can be ugly too. Black or Moorish servants, Jews, and old witches almost always take the role of the villain; the Pashas have their innocent wives stoned to death and their enemies cut to pieces by wild horses; a sparrow comes to tell a young girl that death is her kiss (destination).

Turkish fairy tales also acquired an important political dimension during the early days of the republic, when the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kamal Atatürk, tried to force what was left of the Ottoman empire on the modern world. Popular culture was rejected for being backwards, and Turkish scholars such as Pertev Naili Boratav, who pioneered the study of folk tales, became the target of Turkish nationalists in the 1940s for highlighting the country’s ethnic diversity. at your job.

“Boratav’s meticulous scholarship and courageous public intellectualism inspired me,” said author Kaya Genç, whose book The Lion and the Nightingale traverses modern Turkey in an examination of the “contradictory soul of the Turkish nation.”

“In folk tales, the heroes are mostly outsiders who suffer the violence of powerful autocrats; for politicians, his defiant tone is dangerous, “he said.

Dr. Mehmet Naci Önal, a professor in the department of Turkish language and literature at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University, who serves as one of the Masal researchers, hopes that academics, writers and artists will be able to take advantage of the history database of the project for generations to come.

“Fairy tales teach us to wonder, to use reason, to be patient, to dream, to overcome obstacles, not to intimidate ourselves, to fight, to be good people, to fight against evil, to tell the truth, to detect lies and deception. , resist and listen. These values ​​are universal human values: times change, people don’t ”.

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