Friday, December 08, 2006

Nasruddin Hodja

I finally did it. I gave an entire evening of stories of the Turkish trickster, Nasruddin Hodja (well, I did include a couple of other stories that weren't strictly Hodja tales, but they could have been). Over the years I've collected lots of these stories, some of which I've translated from Bulgarian, Russian, French and a few other languages. I began the quest when I discovered stories in which the Turkish trickster runs into the Bulgarian trickster, Clever Peter (Khitur Petur). Because the Ottoman Empire ruled in Bulgaria for 500 years, the Bulgarian trickster always wins out in those encounters.

The stories of Nasruddin Hodja traveled all over the Ottoman empire. They melded with other stories, with other cultures. There are collections from Central Europe and North Africa, in Bulgaria and in Iran. He's a cultural hero in Turkey, where he actually lived (1208-1284) in Aksehir. His stories are used as Sufi teaching tales and serve as the basis for many expressions in the Turkish language.

The Hodja--the word means teacher or master--is a classic wise fool. In one well-known story, he goes to a party wearing tattered clothes and is seated well away from the action, given no attention and little food. He goes home, changes into his best clothes and returns to the party. He is then seated next to the host and given the choicest food from the platters. He takes this food and applies it to his robe, saying, "eat, eat." When the host asks why, he says, "When I came here earlier, the only difference was what I was wearing. Clearly the honor given is due to my clothes, not to me. "

The Hodja is an expert at delivering this kind of critique to those who act badly in one way or another. At the same time, he also is a perfect fool. In another story, he has a terrible time counting the donkeys he's taking to market. When he's riding on one, he only counts four, and when he gets off that one, he counts five. In the version I tell, he runs into Clever Peter, who says, "Hodja, I count six, but one has only two legs."

Hodja stories are generally short, more of an anecdote than a story. In the performance on Tuesday, I told about 15 of them. I was worried about the pacing of the show, with all these choppy bits mushed together. Many of the stories seem to beg for a drumroll at the end, like a late-night talk show joke.

I'm still thinking about this, wondering if it worked. The audience at this bookstore performance was small, only nine listeners (not including the owner, out of sight at the cash register). My next idea is to do it again but with more publicity. This show was part of a folk series and I didn't advertise what I was planning to do, other than a brief mention in my newsletter of upcoming events. Next time maybe I'll let the folks at the Islamic center on campus know, as well the Slavic department. It would be really interesting to have a time at the end for other people to tell their Hodja stories.

1 comment:

Ernesto Alves said...

Hey! I'm currently starting to work on Nasruddin stories and I'm interested in sharing experiences and thoughts with you. I'm in Ecuador at the time and I'll continue to travel with the stories around september...

I see that you posted this on 2006, how has it been since then? Do you still tell Nasrudin's stories?