Monday, June 18, 2018

The Hodja in the refugee camp (Following folktales around the world 70. - Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

It was near impossible to find a collection of Bosnian tales in any of the languages I read, so I decided to highlight a great book project instead.

Menekülő Mesék / Price-izbjeglice / Fugitive Tales
MASZK Egyesület, Szeged, 1996.

This book is a trilingual (Hungarian - Bosnian - English) edition of 24 folktales collected from Bosnian refugees at the Temporary Shelter in Nagyatád, in 1995. The Bosnian families fled to Hungary from the war, and were waiting in limo, when the editors of the book collected the stories from them. They noted that "people can only tell stories when life is not keeping them down;" war, genocide, and migration can break the oral tradition, and many tales are lost this way forever. Luckily, the collectors managed to gather some great stories here. The illustrations are all drawings by Hungarian and Bosnian children; the names of the storytellers are listed in the front of the book. They used the money from book sales to support the refugee families.


The book is full of Nasruddin tales, which I absolutely loved. For example, Nasruddin hodja's mission told about the time when Timur Lenk stationed a battle elephant in the hodja's village. People sent a committee to complain about the chaos the elephant was causing, but one by one, the committee bailed, until only the hodja arrived to court. To take revenge for being set up, he requested a second elephant for the village from Timur Lenk. In Nasruddin and the qadi, the judge wanted to lure the hodja to be his guest by having him slapped by a servant. The hodja did show up to make a complaint, and while the servant was sent "for money to pay his fine," the qadi bored and bored Nasruddin with his company... until the hodja slapped him across the face, and told him he can keep the fine.
Among the fairy tales, one of the best was The nine candlesticks, and Aladdin-like tale about a poor boy who worked hard to get ahead, and found a magic item that the emperor tried to cheat him out of.
There were to great tales about prejudice and acceptance. The Red Beard was about a boy who was advised by his father never to trust a red-bearded man; of course he forgot, and was cheated out of his inheritance. However, another red-bearded man helped him get the money back, proving that the rule was not always right. In The two millers on the Sava, a Christian and a Muslim miller hid their money in the same place before the war, and returned at the same time after - discovering that they had gone through the same thing, they became lifelong friends.
Bread on the grave was a little darker in tone: A man left bread on a grave, symbolically inviting the dead to his feast at the end of Ramadan. The ghost did come, and invited him back, taking him on a visit to Paradise. When the man returned the next morning, he discovered that he had been away for decades...


There were many tales in the book that sounded familiar. Nasruddin and the Frenchman, for example, was a variant of the "debate in sign language" (and the Frenchman did covert to Islam at the end). The man and his wife was a neat telling of "husband and wife swap jobs", and no one even died at the end, other than the man's pride, and some chickens. The vizier and his son was similarly a very neat version of Fortunatus, with three magic items (including Pants of Invisibility), and cherries that make horns sprout from the princess' head. There was also a Cinderfella tale, about Three brothers that had to jump over a ditch to win the princess (I have seen this ditch-jumping test in many Balkan tales, replacing the glass mountain climbing version).
I have encountered the tale type of the Greedy and the kind-hearted brother last week in Montenegro. The father's advice was another variant of "why they don't kill old people anymore", combined with a clever boy instead of a clever maid, who did have to go to the emperor "dressed and not dressed".
The most interesting parallel in the book was Why there is no justice anymore - the only other version I have seen is from Burma (!). The tale explains how a divine polygraph can be cheated...

Where to next?

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