The following is a post which I had linked to my previous one on Bursa and the Great Mosque, an exquisite example of Ottoman artchitecture. I received numerous comments in personal messages suggesting I should repost it. Much has changed since two years of my original post - the best of which has been my opportunity to visit Karagöz Müzesi in Bursa last July, and to delight in an up close look at not only the two main characters who have entertained millions of children and adults for centuries, but also their companions in their almost life-sized, colourful costumes.
Here is the story of Karagöz and Hacivat, followed by a demonstration of making these puppets out of leather. But first allow me to introduce some of the secondary characters.
Some of these marionettes were given as gifts by the ambassadors of other countries some of which are shown. They too have taken their place of honour along their forefathers, the unimitable, delightful, unforgettable duo, born in Bursa. Today they live not only in our memories, but also in a beautiful museum along with all their friends and their paraphernalia.
Karagöz and Hacivat are part of the folklore of a brief childhood I spent in Turkey, and they make up the threads of tapestry of who I am today. Perhaps it is the wonder of my child's eyes, or the uniqueness of these outrageous characters which performed on a shadow stage that have influenced me so much that when I look back, I fill with nostalgia and amazement at the creativity and the origins that I never questioned when I watched them with my parents. As an adult, I like learning and spreading about my roots and culture as much as possible.
According to Evliya Celebi, a 17th century Turkish writer, Karagöz was first performed at the Ottoman palace during the reign of Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402). These two characters are said to be based on real people who lived during the reign of Orhan Bey (1324-1360). At that time Bursa was the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and a mosque was being built in the city. Among the labourers were Karagöz and Hacivat who kept distracting each other and the other workers by their witty repartee. The result of this was that the construction of the mosque took far longer than it was planned. When the Sultan heard about this, he was angry and ordered Karagöz and Hacivat to be executed.
This saddened the townspeople who dearly missed the duo. Thus a man named Seyh Kusteri made images of Karagöz and Hacivat from camel hide and started performing puppet shows.
Over time Karagöz came to represent the common man on the street- trying to look forthright and trustworthy. He is virtually illiterate, often unemployed, nosy, tactless, often deceitful and inclined to lewd talk. Like his European counterpart Pulcinella, he frequently resorts to violence, and beats Hacivat and the other characters.
Karagöz literally means “black eye”. He is the illiterate, uneducated but witty hero of the Turkish shadow play. He often gets the better of his gentle friend Hacivat, who, despite his education and refinement, is no match for Karagöz's wit and street savvy. These two characters have fascinated Turkish audiences for centuries by their antics, which on the surface look like simple everyday plots.
On a deeper level, however, they represent the society at large. Karagöz represents the public morals and common sense. He is the ordinary man in the street – straightforward, reliable but often kind of rude. One can recognize him by his turban, his bald head and his black beard. His character is dyed more in green tones. Illiterate and usually unemployed, he embarks on money earning projects that never work. He is not refined at all. Hacivat, on the other hand, is educated in Islamic theology, speaks an Ottoman Turkish and a literary, poetic language besides being extremely intelligent. The artists have selected more red dyes to distinguish him.
The shadow play puppets are semi-transparent, colored with Indian ink or natural dyes, and have jointed limbs. Light from a lamp behind the stage reflects their images onto a muslin curtain, around which there's a border of floral material. This curtain is known as the ayna (mirror) and the light as a sem'a (candle), which consists of an oil lamp with a cotton wick or a string soaked in beeswax.
The puppets are made from camel or water buffalo hide. The hide is worked until it is semi-transparent and then it's cut into the desired shape with a special knife, before it's painted with vegetable pigments. The joints are made by threading gut strings through the perforations made with a special needle. The puppets are usually 14 to 16 inches high.
Karagöz plays consist of four parts - the introduction with Hacivat's entrance moving to the rhythm of the tambourine; his singing a song and reciting a prayer; calling Karagöz to the stage for some entertainment and declaring that he is searching for a friend. Then Karagöz makes his entrance and the play and complication (entertainment) start. Of course, at some point in the play, there's always a fight.
There other characters such as the drunkard Tuzsuz Deli Bekir carrying a wine bottle; Uzun Efe with his long neck; Kanbur Tiryaki the hunchback opium addict with his pipe; Alti Karis Beberuhi the eccentric dwarf; the half-witted Denyo; the spendthrift Civan, and Nigar, who spends her time chasing after men.
There is one puppeteer, known as Karagözcü, assisted by an apprentice, who installs the curtain and presents the puppets in order of their appearance. The apprentice learns his craft from the master, and eventually sets up on his own. In the past, the apprentice was assisted by the sandikkar, responsible for the chest (or sandik) which held all the equipment.
The songs were sung by another member of the team, known as the yardak, and the tambourine was played by the dairezen. Before the advent of cinema and radio, Karagöz shadow plays were one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Turkey.
Today a limited number of artists continue the studies related to the art of Hacivat and Karagöz, and they are conducted by the Presidency of Turkey National Center of International Puppet and Shadow Play Union UNIMA and the Ministry of Culture.
Here is a video demonstrating the making of shadow puppets from skin.
All words and images are the intellectual property of Füsun Atalay© 2012
Location: Bursa, TURKEY
Füsun Atalay ~ Author of Will of my Own - ©2009
The original title of the post is "Out of the Shadows"
Below are the original readers' comments and my replies.
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