Turkish Odyssey

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Nasreddin Hoca

Karagoz and Hacivat

Yunus Emre

Anatolian Culture Part 6
Folk Heroes of Turkey


Nasreddin Hoca (1208-1285 AD)


He is a folk hero of the Seljuk period who was born in Sivrihisar and lived in Aksehir. He received religious education first from his father who was an imam and later at a theological school. He also worked as an imam for a period of time.

Hoca's view of the world and his opinions on the essential or even metaphysical questions of life are frank, natural and often disarmingly candid. Straightforward common sense is one of the secrets of his oriental wisdom and solace.

As a philosophic humorist he became the symbol of people's creativity and sense of humor of his time. His witticisms have become popular sayings and are quoted in everyday conversations. These can be regarded as anonymous folk jokes. Here are some examples:


Who are you going to believe?

One day a friend wants to borrow Hoca's donkey. Hoca does not want to lend it and tells him that his donkey is not there.

In the meantime the donkey starts to bray. The man says: "But Hoca, I can hear the donkey! It's in the stable." Hoca stays cool and answers with dignity: "Who are you going to believe, me or the donkey?"

In the shop

Hoca goes to the market to buy some trousers. After trying on a few pairs he chooses some trousers and tells the salesman to wrap them. Right after they are wrapped he changes his mind and wants the salesman to give him a shirt instead. He takes the packaged shirt and walks off. The salesman calls him:

"-Sir, you haven't paid for the shirt yet." To which Hoca replies,

"-But I left you the trousers."

"-You didn't pay for the trousers either!", exclaims the salesman.

"-Of course not! Why should I pay for trousers that I didn't get." concludes Hoca.

None of your business

A man gossips to Hoca:

"-Hoca, I saw them taking a big plate of stuffed turkey."

"-It's none of my business, replies Hoca."

"-But I think they were taking it to your house."

"-Then, it's none of your business!" says Hoca.


A neighbor asks Hoca: "Why do you always answer a question with another question?" He replies: "Do I?"


Karagoz and Hacivat

These are the two folk heroes of Karagoz shadow-puppet theater. The language they use, the way they look at life and the class they represent are never the same. With these clashes and also a wide range of folk characters, they play out a rich social and political satire.

Legend has it that these two types were construction laborers who worked on the building of the Ulucami in Bursa. They spent most of their time clowning around and stirring up trouble by keeping the other workers from working. The sultan, who was upset with the delay of the construction of Ulucami, had them executed. People felt sorry for them and have continued to remember their jokes. It is from these that the Karagoz theater derives.

For the production of Karagoz figures, dried camel and calf skin are used because of their translucent quality. Hides are treated, shaped and painted. The puppets are colorful and semitransparent with jointed limbs. The performances are back projections of shadows on curtains.

The Karagoz shadow-puppet plays have enjoyed great popularity for many years. With the emergence of technologically advanced visual entertainment means such as cinema, television and video, Karagoz has become a museum exhibit today.

Karagoz and Hacivat

Yunus Emre (c.1238-1320 AD)

This is an Anatolian folk poet and mystic who transcended his period. He played an important role in the shaping of Anatolian poetry, the Turkish language and above all, the Turkish language as a poetic medium.

He introduced mystical philosophy originating in Neo-Platonism into the Turkish intellectual environment.

He established a bridge connecting earlier Anatolian cultures with the present. The concepts of "earth", "fire", "wind" and "water" which appeared in his poetry are integral elements of "Being" to be found in earlier Anatolian philosophy. The same concepts were put forward by philosophers of Anatolia centuries ago; water, for example, by Thales, wind by Anaximenes and fire by Heraclitus.

Yunus Emre was a poet whose thought was based on love, whose faith on longing and whose actions on knowledge.


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Nasreddin Hoca

Karagoz and Hacivat

Yunus Emre