Monday, October 19, 2020

Tales at the crossroads (Following folktales around the world 173. - Tajikistan)

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 here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Tadzsik népmesék
Jeremiás Éva
Európa, 1970.

This is another volume of the Tales of Nations series, which is one of the best and most popular folklore publications in Hungary. It contains 30 folktales from Tajikistan, organized by type from animal tales to anecdotes. At the time of publication, it was the only collection of Tajik folktales in Hungarian (I think it still is, and I couldn't find an English edition either). The afterword talks about Tajik culture, history, and storytelling. The book comes with a source and tale type index, and a glossary of foreign words. The tales are beautiful, and eloquently written.


The wonder and hero tales of the book were definitely the best. The story of Iradjpahlavan, for example, was about a boy whose father had been abducted by devs; when he grew up, he went to his rescue, and succeeded after a series of epic battles. The tale titled Alive in the grave reminded me of some Nart sagas; the hero grew up inside the grave of his wrongly accused mother, and then emerged to bring justice to her. He went through many adventures, fighting devs and venturing into the kingdom of snakes.
Tajik woman, 19. c.,
image from here
The most beautiful story in the book was the one mentioned in the title: Moon Angel was a variant of the "silent princess" tale type. What I liked is that suitors had to keep the girl awake and intrigued (not make her speak). After the hero failed his friend succeeded (with riddles and stories), and the princess decided to marry him instead, even though he was a commoner.
Among the animal stories the most interesting was that of the bird and the elephant. The elephant kept knocking the bird's nest out of a tree while scratching, and he refused to take responsibility because he was stronger. The bird then recruited the wasps, the frogs, and a crow, and together they almost killed the elephant through a trick; in the last moment they granted him mercy, warning him that small animals can be strong too when they work together.
There was also a riddle tale where a king was warned of impending danger by a treasury guard who'd seen it in a dream. The king rewarded him then fired him. Why?... Because he fell asleep on duty.
I also felt like the tale of Lak and Pak was relevant to our times. A girl accidentally ate bread with dirty hands, and she was so ashamed that she asked the king to declare that no one can ever mention her eating with dirty hands, because she would be shamed if people found out...


Due to the cultural crossroads that is Central Asia, there were also many familiar tale types in the book. For example: Brementown musicians (The donkey's journey), golden-haird twins (The talking parrot; the girl sibling got incredible power in this one), innocent girl wrongly accused (Mehranbu), a king learning a trade (The shepherd girl and the padisah - here she married someone else instead), and a mass-hysteria chain story (Lak and Pak). 
I was reminded of a Hungarian folktale by the story of the djugara seed who went to see the world with an ember and a piece of straw. Crossing a river the ember burned the straw and they were washed away. The seen grew into a plant on the riverbank, keeping the memory of its friends.
The resident trickster is Nasreddin, who was referred to as Effendi or Mosfeqi. There were several familiar tales, such as the pot that gave birth, or the one-legged geese. My favorite was the one where the clever effendi brought a tree as witness to theft, making the culprit unwittingly confess his crime.
There was also a clever fox, once again outwitted by a pheasant, who rescued all the other prey animals too.

Where to next?

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