I’ve written here in the past about editions of the Kyrgyz epic Manas for the English-speaking world, but I’ve recently encountered a friendly presentation of an epic from the Karakalpaks of northwest Uzbekistan. In Edige: A Karakalpak Oral Epic (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2007) Karl Reichl has edited and translated an epic performed by Jumabay Bazarov (1927–2006), the last Karakalpak bard to inherit a purely oral tradition. The book comes with a CD-ROM on which you’ll find MP3s of Jumabay Bazarov reciting, as well as some video footage.
Edige was a historical personage. He lived during the time of Timurlane, at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries, and he’s considered the founding father of the Nogay Horde. However, there’s a significant admixture of mythology into the tale. The first episode after Jumabay Bazarov introduces the epic starts like this:
Äne usï däwirde, ädatlï jurttïñ, qalïñ Noġaydïn waqtïnda Qubïrïl degen awliyada jürgen Baba Tükli Shashlï Äziz degen bir bnde bolatuġïn edi. Beden(i)ne tük shïqqan.
Arqalï adam bolmasa, böten adamġa körinbeytuġïn hal(ï) edi. Söytip yürgen halïna, oqïp yürgen kitabïn qolïna ushlap qarasa:
Härki ümmet insana dünyaġa gelse, bashïna bir neka tüshmese, aunïñ namazï bolmas, der edi.
Usï xabadï esitip, hawlïġïp özinen-özi. Ämma, Altïnxan patshanïñ hawïz oydïrġan, hawïzïnïñ jaġasïn sïrlap altïn menen jalatqan, biraq täbarik ushïn jïl on eki ayïnda sol hawïzġa üsh kepter kelip shomïlatuġïn edi.
Baba Tükli Shashlï Äziz üsh kepterdiñ peri ekenligin biletuġïn edi. Buġan öziniñ bar uqïbïn salïp, kepterler jïl on eki ayïnda bir märtebe gelip shomïlïp otïrġan jerinde, lipasïn jasïrïp, armanïraq shïġïp buġïp otïrdï. Kepterler oynap, shomïliyp bolġan soñ, maydanġa shïġayïn dese, lipasï yoq:
Äy, adam-insaniyatï, lipamïzdï ber! dedi.
Yoq bermespen, dedi.
Bereyin lipañdï, birewiñdi hayallïqqa berseñ, dedi. Üshewi mäslähätke kirdi, üshewi mäslähättiñ ishinde ekewiniñ eri bar, basïnda nekasï bar, üshinshiniñ eri joq, basï bos, eñ kishkentay siñlis(i) edi. Lipasï ushïn qayïl boldï. Baba Tükli Shashlï Äziz de sonï bermekshi bolardïñ aldïnda:
Bizlerde tört shärt bar, dedi.
Now, in this period in the time when the tribe was enjoying justice, when the Nogay were numerous, there lived a man by the name of Baba Tükli Shashlï Äziz in a sacred place that was called Qubïrïl. His body was covered with hair.
This was invisible to an outsider, unless he was clairvoyant. Living in this way, Baba Tükli one day took a book in his hand to read and saw that there was written:
Any Muslim alive who does not marry says his prayers in vain..
When he became aware of this, he was seized by fear. However, there was an artifical pond which Altïnkhan had dug out, with borders embellished with enamel and gold: to this pond three doves used to come once every twelve months of the year to take a wholesome bath.
Baba Tükli Shashlï Äziz knew that the three doves were peris. He mustered up his courage, and once when the doves came within the twelve months of the year, he hid their clothes where they bathed and lay a bit further back in ambush. After the doves had amused themselves and taken their bath, as they were about to come out of the water, they had no clothes.
Äy, son of man, give us our clothes! they said.
No, I won’t give them, he said.
Give them! they said.
I won’t give them, he said.
I will give you your clothes if one of you will be my wife, he said. The three took counsel. It emerged that two of them had a husband, that they were married, but that the third one had no husband, was unmarried, the youngest of the sisters. In order to get their clothes they were in agreement. Before they left her to Baba Tükli Shashlï Äziz, they said:
We have four conditions.
These conditions to keep the peri as his wife are of the “don’t look at me while I’m doing activity X, Y or Z, otherwise calamity will befall” type. Naturally Baba Tükli Shashlï Äziz breaks the promise he makes not to look.