The Twelve Days of Christmas: Karagöz puppet-style

Image of the Karagöz puppets from this website

Traditionally, the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” referrs to the days leading away from Christmas, starting on Boxing Day, December 26th.

In an unusual nod to tradition in this, my non-traditional household, I have decided to take a different spin on the twelve days.

For each of the twelve days leading up to the day before Christmas, starting tomorrow, I will introduce one of the members of the troupe of Karagöz shadow puppets who play a major role in my head (and, therefore, who play a major role in this blog). You have already met Karagöz Bey (Mr. Karagöz, for the English speakers out there) in this post, but I am re-posting it below this description of the puppets in the real world.

Over the next twelve days, you will meet the following puppets – all of whom inhabit my mind (and the back seat of the proverbial car) on this roadtrip called cross-cultural marriage…you may meet more along the way – but these are the major players.

1. Esma the organic hippie puppet who loves fuschia & tangerine roses

2. Bebe Ruhi the puppet with Dwarfism & questioner extraordenaire

3. Khadijah the worker from Egypt who drank from the fountain of youth

4. Celebi the modern lover and thinker

5. Kenne the traditional lady in search of maintained honor

6. Tiryaki the opium addict with narcolepsy

7. Zenne the nervous Nellie like a bowl of jelly

8. Mercan the spice trader from Arabia

9. Safiye the vainglorious dancing girl

10. Yehuda Rebbe the Jewish wise man

11. Perihan the fairy godmother

12. Hacivad Bey, the inimitable and learned leader of the puppet troupe

I love this description of the puppets and who they are in the real world of puppetry (from 2010 European Off-Network Festival. Sponsored by Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture):

“The Karagöz shadow theater tradition dates back at least 500 years and is still actively performed in Turkey. The plays originally portrayed the layered cross-cultural hierarchy of Ottoman Imperial life, creating a comic ethos filled with shape-shifting, class conflict, cross-dressing, deconstruction of language, and the clash of cultures. Although its stock characters reflect the costumes, language, and historic context of a bygone era, the characters themselves – Karagoz the trickster, Hacivat the intellectual, Celebi the romantic, Tiryaki the addict, etc. – remain timeless and relevant.”

While the role of women in the Karagöz plays is often limited to a shrill wife or sexy dancing girl (a la Ruby in the Berlusconi scandal) – geez no better than girls in a modern day rap video – I have chosen to re-create and/or create female characters in the world of my puppet mind. Traditionally, women are portrayed as follows in this puppetry tradition, again to Ermin Senyer:

“Women in Karagoz plays are young, middle-aged and old, flighty, quarrelsome, only just faithful and always prone to gossip. The main type is always flighty and given to intrigue. In nearly every play, this type causes a scandal in the neighbourhood. Karagoz,s wife often abuses him for not feeding her and not clothing her. As the women in Karagoz are always dubbed by male puppeteers, they speak in cracked voices. They wear a loose, sleeved, cloak-like garment called ferace, two pieces of fine muslin or tarlatan called yasmak, folded and pinned in such a way that one edge covers the mouth and lower part of nose and the other passes across the brow above the eyes, while the rest hangs behind. As the veil is very thin, the features can be quite-clearly seen. They wear a blue bonnet called hotoz, patent leather or velvet slippers on their feet and each carries an umbrella. Some wear a red ferace, a black alpaca thrown over the head and held by a pin under the chin, entirely concealing the face. Courtesans always have their breasts half or fully exposed. Some wear slipper boots of yellow Morocco leather called cedik and carry a stick in their hand. If the woman character represents a Negro slave, she wears black gloves, a red ferace, red pabuc (a strong soled shoe) and a white head band.”

Original post on himself:

Karagöz is a word that refers both to an individual puppet character from the Ottoman Empire era AND to the entire troupe of Karagöz shadow puppets that surround him. I have described this band of puppets in brief, here. And I have also introduced them as they introduced themselves to me, in their hometown of Bursa.

Kara, meaning black is linked with göz, meaning eye. Presumably, this name refers to the puppet with the big, black eye – not from a punch in the face – just a big black eye. While you have heard lots and lots about Karagöz’s favorite approaches to life – namely – twisting, turning, jumping, cartwheeling, flipping and being generally flippant in the most rhyming manner possible, I haven’t told you much more about him than the ways that he tends to act as the shadow puppet personification of the outlier voice in my head, the proverbial agent provocateur. He is the puppet that nags at me, questions me in the most cruel ways, makes me question myself (and sometimes my sanity) and always gets a fight going. He is the nay-sayer that drives me nuts in my head. The problem is, there is always a grain of truth in his antics, it is always in there somewhere.

One of the best English-language websites I have found on the Karagöz puppet tradition in Turkey, , talks a bit about this fellow, saying “I have touched in passing on Karagöz and Hacivat, the two cronies who are the leading characters of the Turkish shadow theatre Karagöz, but the main character is Karagöz . Karagöz is uneducated but honest.” As M. tells it, the Karagöz of his childhood is more than honest – he is brutally honest, calling a spade a spade, as well say, regardless of the context, the company or the consequences. The author of this super website continues on to describe Karagöz in contrast to the ever-present Hacivad (or Hacivat) , saying:

Karagöz the drummer – drumming home his crazy message of the day

“It is always doubtful whether Karagöz and Hacivat ever really existed and, as we have already seen, there are many legends about this. Karagöz was supposed by some to be a gypsy and there are many allusions and much evidence in the plays to support this theory. Karagöz has a round face, his eye is boldly designed with a large black pupil, hence his name –Black Eye-. He has a pug nose and around thick curly black beard. His head, completely bald, sports an enormous turban which, when knocked off, suddenly expose his bald head which always provokes laughter. In all dialogue between Karagöz and Hacivat, we find Hacivat always uses flowing language full of prose rime while Karagöz uses the language of the common people. His promptness with repartee procured for him his fame and reputation. This contrasts artificiality with simplicity and is the first satire to attain these differences. This contrasting language is also noticeable in Hacivat’s erudition. He can recite famous poems, has a vast knowledge of music, is conversant with the names of various rare spices, the terminology of gardening, many varied encyclopedic extracts, and with the etiquette of the aristocracy. This however is superficial and gives him only a scholastic type of making a living for himself and his family. Because he has no trade, he is usually unemployed and fails to provide for his family, and has enough sense to realize that to rectify this, he does not need Hacivat’s superficial knowledge. Though he is stupid and easily taken in, he is constantly able to deceive Hacivat and others.”

The Karagoz Museum in Bursa – From the Bursa Daily Photo blog (click photo for link)

For a more academic exploration of the character, see the Turkish Cultural Foundation‘s description, here.

While I have taken some liberties in my interpretations of the puppets based on my own artisitic license, this is where they started. Even though I cannot understand the majority of Karagöz dialogue in live or video performances of this shadow puppetry, these puppets have fascinated me since I first saw them in 2004. I have loved hearing M.’s stories about them – and about the stock character types they represent – straight out of the Ottoman Empire. One more reason to improve upon my Turkish is next year’s planned visit to the Karagöz museum in Bursa.

This entry was posted in Introducing the Karagöz puppets, On writing about my life with the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Twelve Days of Christmas: Karagöz puppet-style

  1. Alan says:

    . . how wonderful to have museums, books and websites dedicated to the inside of your head! Fascinating; as always. Roll on Summer 😀

  2. Liz Cameron says:

    Indeed. My ego is a-stretchin (like lords and ladies a-leapin’) to have so many museums, websites and books dedicated to my psyche! This only feeds the fire of the out of control Karagoz puppets these days. Provincetown set them wild – abandoning their Ottoman ways in spades. 🙂 We will have to see what happens! Thanks for all of your support, A.

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