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Description of the divisions and subdivisions
by Warren Walker


 

The Uysal-Walker Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative (U-W ATON) is the world’s largest

well-organized, thoroughly indexed, and completely accessible

collection of Turkish folktales and related forms.   Two somewhat comparable

and potentially good collections in Turkey have not been processed and made

generally available.

 

The great majority of narratives were collected by the three founders of

U-W ATON:  Ahmet E. Uysal, Barbara K. Walker, and Warren S. Walker.  Valuable

contributions to the holdings, however, were also made by Ahmet Ali Arslan,

Wolfram Eberhard, Tuncer Gülensoy, Neriman Hızır, and Saim Sakaoğlu.

                    

The present catalogue lists some basic data for roughly two-thirds of the

U-W ATON holdings as of 1998.  Annotated English translations of these 2000 tales

are contained in seventy-two large typescript volumes.  The vast majority

of U-W ATON holdings were recorded  on magnetic tape.  The holdings and services

of U-W ATON are on record with the National Referral Services of the U.S. Library

of Congress. 

 

The term oral narrative as it is used here encompasses a wide range of forms

and subjects.  For purposes of order and convenience, U-W ATON holdings have

been divided into eight major sections.  The divisions are by no means

mutually exclusive -- the reader will find some tales coded with two

different division numbers -- and anyone wishing to do so might well voice

reservations about the taxonomy.  The rubrics have, nevertheless, served

users satisfactorily since this research facility opened its doors in 1971.

 

 

I.   The Supernatural

 

            This section includes the märchen and other stories set in the

world of fantasy and make-believe.  Tales which contain the impossible

(from a scientific point of view), magic, marvels, monsters, witches,

giants, demons, jinns, speaking animals, and nonreligious miracles, are

found in this category.  So too are tales about the vagaries of Fate, just

so long as these mysterious ways are not directly attributed to the Deity.

Accounts of religious miracles, saints’ lives, and tales based on religious

beliefs appear in one of the subdivisions of Section VIII.

 

 

II. Perplexities and Ingenious Deductions

 

            Many Turkish tales challenge the wits of both their characters and

their audiences.  These narratives may involve riddling dialogue, sign

language, figurative language, symbolic language, puzzles, conundrums, or

dilemmas.  They may also include seemingly unaccountable behavior for

which rational explanation is sought.

 

 

III.   Humor

 

            Regardless of how rigorously one might define the nature of humor,

one would probably have to concede that ultimately humor relies largely

upon the response of the listener or reader. Turks find the tales indexed

beneath this heading funny.  Here are placed slapstick, pratfall,

situational comedy, verbal squelch, and tall tale.  Here too are put the

clever achievements of the trickster.  However exploitative -- at times

even vicious -- the capers of the trickster may be, we usually accord to

this archetypal figure a chuckle for his ingenuity and at least a grudging

admiration for his success.

 

 

IV.   Moralizing

 

            It could be argued that a high percentage of oral narrative is, in

one way or another, at least partially moralistic.  This section of U-W ATON,

however, is restricted to those tales which are overtly and unabashedly

preachy or didactic.  Because most animal fables make clear-cut

distinctions between right and wrong, they could quite logically

appear here rather than in section I.

 

 

V.   Romance -- Heroic and/or Amatory

 

            Here are accounts of the valiant deeds of warriors, both male and

female.  Whether the protagonists are historical or fictional, their

prowess is usually exaggerated almost to the point of fantasy.  The love

stories often emphasize the spiritual aspect of the male/female

relationship.  The Most Beautiful Girl in the World in such tales may

remind one of Dante's Beatrice, though the spiritualized love affairs of

the Middle East predated the Florentine by at least three centuries.

            Narratives in this section are distinguished by their form.  In

the cante fable tradition, most of them are partly prose, partly poetry,

and to one degree or another they are sung tales. They are created and

performed by the folk poet-minstrel who in Turkish is called aşık --

literally “lover” but in this context “lover poet.”  The aşık accompanies his

singing with a lute like instrument known as a bağlama or, more often now,

saz  (The career of the aşık -- his selection for the role, his

initiation and training, his image and social status -- and the many

conventions of the minstrel mode are too complex and detailed to be

described here.)

 

 

VI.   Anticlerical Satire

 

            Tales that comprise this section should not be construed as being

antireligious. Quite the contrary, they reveal and criticize the human

failings and moral lapses of members of the Moslem religious

establishment.  The offenders range from the poor dervish through mosque

personnel to the Caliph himself.  Included among the culprits who betray

their faith is the kadı, the pre-Republic judge of Moslem canonical law,

who was all too often vulnerable to bribery.  Audiences furtively relish

the misbehavior of such backsliders and (even less admirably) enjoy the

exposure which humiliates dignity.

 

 

VII.   Anecdotal Wit and Wisdom

 

            Very short comic tales, usually told in less than four minutes,

are legion in Turkey.  They are placed in this separate section (rather

than in III) because of (1) their extreme brevity and (2) their

predominantly typed characters.  However much historicity may be claimed

for such favorites as the wise but simple Nasreddin Hoca, the daringly

witty Janissary İncili Çavuş, or the madcap holy fool Behlül Dane, their

typicality is patent.

            Seemingly every land has villages or towns whose citizens are

allegedly very shrewd or very stupid.  Kayseri produces the sharpers of

Turkey, and such villages as Çemişgezek and Karatepe consistently generate

dummers.  Anyone, of course, may appear to be stupid when removed suddenly

from his or her native habitat, and rustics in an urban setting play the

fool in many an anecdote (fıkra in Turkish). 

            The fact that there are presently thirty subdivisions of anecdotes

in U-W ATON testifies to the diversity of the genre.  An examination of the

holdings of other collections would almost surely reveal still other

categories of  fikra.  Clearly a type index is needed for this

multiplying narrative form.

 

 

VIII.   Miscellaneous

 

            Within this catch all section is a wide variety of narratives

which have in common only their claim to be true.  Some are sufficiently

historical to qualify as legends.  Others are utterly fanciful, however

seriously they may be taken by teller and listener.  Very few begin with

the standard formulaic opening of the Turkish märchen or masal:  Once

there was and once there wasn’t.

            One group of narratives in this division is made up of what seems

to be folk history. Others contain wish-fulfillment fantasies:  stories of

buried treasure and accounts of supposedly real-life peasant boys and

girls who marry into rich, noble, or even royal families.  Saints' lives

and tales derived from religious sources form two other groups in VIII.

Among the former of these last, a number feature Hızır, who in the modern

era is usually pictured as a saint or as a special agent of God but who in

earlier times was viewed as a water and/or fertility deity.

            Finally, there are in this unit a few nonnarrative items.  They

are included because of their relevance, in one way or another, to tales

in the other sections.  There are, for instance, examples of the

tekerleme, the long, nonsensical jingle used to open some tales.  There

are also songs which could well be related to the minstrel tales of

Section V.

 


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