On the 6th day of Christmas: Meet Tiryaki the opium addict with narcolepsy


Kanbur TiryakiToday, we meet one of the more shadowy figures in my head – and in the history of Karagöz shadow puppetry in Turkey, Tiryaki Bey, who is addicted to opium and nods off on a regular basis – sometimes due to narcolepsy and sometimes due to, well, just nodding off from all of that opium. Like any other person who becomes addicted to substances, Tiryaki started out as a sweet-faced child, enamored of fairy tales, holding on to his mother’s apron strings and following his father’s trade visits through the Koza Han (or silk market) in his hometown of Bursa and visiting his grandparents’ chestnut farm on the outskirts of town – chestnuts (kestane) for which the region is most famous).

We can imagine a scene in the Ottoman court from looking at this image - this is a scan from the original engraving by F. W. Topham (London: E. Bell, c. 1850) via Wikicommons.

We can piece together the history of what happened to him – with a bit of the flourish of fairy tale fantasy thrown in – by looking at what we know about opium during Ottoman times….we know, for example from Wikipedia thatŞerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu used opium in the fourteenth century Ottoman Empire to treat migraine headaches, sciatica, and other painful ailments”  This was the time in which the puppets got their start – in the 1300s in Bursa.  We know that opium became something that was popular for recreation amongst the well-to-do.  Perhaps Tiryaki felt the tyranny of living up to his status as the firstborn son – and spent too much time hanging out in the Sultan’s court, as a member of the up and coming class of adolescent children of the  monied class…and perhaps he became exposed to opium…and perhaps, well, perhaps the rest is history? Opium did become a major export from the Ottoman Empire to Europe – but is reported by many to be well-used in Constantinople…one letter from 1573, for instance, documented that a “Venetian visitor to the Ottoman Empire observed that many of the Turkish natives of Constantinople regularly drink a ‘certain black water made with opium” that makes them feel good, but to which they become so addicted that if they try to go without they will ‘quickly die.'”

As I write this, Tiryaki Bey is nodding at me, with half-lidded eyes, in a cool man fashion, laughing through his Opium high haze enough to gaze out in my direction with a suave, nodding, cool acknowledgement that all I say here is true.  I remember this look that I thought was so cool when I was caught up in doing drugs et alia during my punk-hippie phase.  I guess I was a just a good kid doing bad things, reacting against some things in my life in a stupid way.  It was “cool” to do drugs, to be different, to rebel against the status quo of suburbia.  This is what I thought at the time – if you can call it thinking.  I did a bunch of different stuff – but I only smoked opium once (that I know of – pot is often laced with things that smokers are not aware of), and it resulted in a disastrous experience I would rather forget.  Suffice it to say, I am lucky to have made it out of that phase without significant and lasting trauma, brain damage, disease or criminal justice involvement.

I think that Tiryaki the puppet stays in the shadows of the corners of my mind as a reminder of how easy it is to get caught up in things that may seem alluring, different and interesting – but can be very damaging.  I see him nodding at me when I approach choices in my life that are not so good for me  – say – the decision to take on yet another research project because it is so tantalizingly interesting – despite the fact that I am already over-committed.  Tiryaki is the one that gets me to stop for McFatness (our niece’s word for McDonald’s) meals when I am starving at 10 at night after 12 hours at work instead of waiting for food at home.  Tiryaki is the one who draws me in to watch 3 hours at a time of E! entertainment TV when the Kardashian clan are on and I really need to be grading papers but am totally brain dead from a week’s worth of workaholism. Tiryaki is the one that is addicted to protesting during faculty meetings – when I really should be engaging in what is often referred to as “STFU” behavior in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s tenure track blogs (you can google that acronym, I don’t want the censors on my trail here).  Tiryaki is the one who opens the curtains wide when depression is peeking in the window of my life…and encourages me to sleep long, deep hours when depression is too much.  He is a mixed fellow, someone who wants to be a reminder of what is the wrong road – but too often takes that wrong road when he knows better.

So, Tiryaki is still addicted to opium, and as he has sipped from the fountain of youth (ok, he used it in his opium bong), he will be forever…and his goal is to forever be my reminder of bad choices – and if possible – the maker of bad choices.  It is my hope that my nieces and nephews will never experience this and that they will be a lot smarter than me in this regard and not need to recede into avoidance of the world around me when it was too difficult to stay, and to difficult to resist the allure of doing something “on the dark side.”  Thank goodness it all turned out ok – or – maybe this is part of why I am as weird and tortured as I am.

At this point in the narrative, Kenne standing right in my line of vision, in the middle of the laptop bed, glaring at me as she is wringing her hands at the horror of me admitting all of this.  She is interrupting my thoughts to shoot me this message in her shrill, uptight voice “a discussion of this nature, m’lady, it is most certainly not in the etiquette book, please do cease and desist.”  Karagöz is grinning from ear to ear about the fact that Kenne has her knickers in a knot, as the Brits like to say.  However, this post is not about Kenne, we learned all about her yesterday, and today is Tiryaki’s day in the limelight.  Every character – or puppet troupe of characters – has a dark side, and this is mine.

So, for a moment, let’s go to what Ermin Senyer has to say about this stock character in the world of Karagoz shadow puppets in Turkey:

“Tiryaki, the opium addict, spends all his time smoking opium and sleeping in the neighbourhood coffee house. He can easily be identified by his pipe, his fan and a huge humped shoulder. He is a flippant type but always tries to look serious. He speaks like Hacivat but has a bad habit of frequently going to sleep in the middle of a conversation and snoring loudly. He is inclined to make mountains out of molehills.”

So, have compassion for Tiryaki, but watch out when he comes around…whether it is mountains or molehills, you need to be wary of him.

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

16 Responses to On the 6th day of Christmas: Meet Tiryaki the opium addict with narcolepsy

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