Kazakhstan’s Rich History of Folk Tales and Their Heroes

By Kamila Zhumabayeva

retro typewriter and text once upon a timeLiterature and the arts are separated into epos, lyric poetry and dramatic pieces, which are subdivided into genres. The classification is also generally accepted for folklore.

Folklore scientist, academician and Lev Gumilev Eurasian National University (ENU) Professor Seit Kaskabasov defined folklore as prose. According to world folklore studies, folklore prose is divided into fairy tale and non-fairy tale. Prosaic types of non-fairy tale Kazakh folklore have myths as one of its oldest genres.

“Myth is a fantasy or a lie. It has a hidden truth beneath it and its every word is coded and comes as a metaphor that people have been fighting to find out until today,” said Doctor of Philology Sciences and ENU Professor Zhanat Aimuhambet. “From folklore, an aspect of myth is viewed as stories about the creation of the world, gods, nature, animals, insects and so forth that were told for the first time.”

Myth is very present in Kazakh fairy tales. Many ancient plots and motives in folk tales and epos may have appeared as fairy tales or true stories.

Kaskabasov reached certain conclusions in his 1992 book, “Kazakh Non-Fairy Tale Prose.” Relics of ancient Kazakh myths represent stories about people turning into rocks, stars and stones, narratives about peculiarities or the features and habits of animals and birds and marvellous characters bestowing on people and teaching them different crafts.

True Kazakh stories talk about a person meeting mythical beings (heroes of those tales) with names such as albasty, kuldirgish, (someone who makes everyone laugh) ubbe, zhalgyz kozdi dau, (one-eyed giant being) or zheztyrnak, according to his research.

The spread and approval of Islam in Kazakh eastern mythology resulted in Muslim characters like shaitan, zhyn, peri and diyu.

One of the peculiar features of Kazakh true story existence is the ability to freely put itself into fairy tale composition.

“One must know a folk tale before learning the soul of people, because a folk tale embodies folksy aesthetics, expectations and thoughts,” Kaskabasov told “EdgeKz.”

Like all nations, Kazakhstan has many types of folk tales. Domestic, satirical, fairy tales and folk tales about animals are considered the classic divide of folk tales in the country and throughout the world.

Folk tales that originated from primeval myths are ancient by their very nature. They appeared a little later and have real historic backbone, where dreams about a perfect hero, wife or other character are always present. Therefore, one can say a folk or a fairy tale is an incarnation of a folksy dream in its storytelling, noted the professor.

“Supposedly, a poor shepherd whom everybody mocks and laughs at nearly becomes a ruler in the end of a fairy tale. This doesn’t happen in reality but fairy tales are made like that, because people want to see their hero this way. A folk tale is there to express a call of a nation and created in order to make one’s life easier,” he added.

There are also many tales about the existence of different worlds. In Kazakh folk tales, the space is diverse and located in a subterranean, terrestrial and celestial world that is deemed a shamanic world.

“For example, a hero can descend to a subterranean world and battle monsters and likewise in a terrestrial world, while under the sun or celestial world he attains happiness and a beautiful bride who lives there. The most ancient concepts of a person about the existence of many worlds are reflected here,” said Kaskabasov.

The soul of a folk tale hero is never within him or her, but in a different space.

Seit Kaskabasov.Photo-millli-firka.org

Lev Gumilev Eurasian National University (ENU) Professor Seit Kaskabasov

“For example, the soul of a Kazakh folk tale hero can be in the form of the needle inside some object that is inside the box or the egg, either of which is inside the stomach of some wild dear or womb of a duck. Unlike the space in the three worlds, this space is located inside some being or an object,” said the folklorist.

Kazakh fairy tale epos reflect life, its mode, customs and rituals in a very versatile way. The motives of the works include the unlimited power of fathers or wise old men-advisers or the exile of wives and others.

The ideal was historically conditioned. When people in ancient times faced problems with struggling weather, a hero who overcame the evil forces of nature was an ideology.

The character perfectly performed his mission – to free the land from every possible mythological monster, beast or other villainous character. The hero lived in a tale for the days and was an “anshy mergen” (shooting hunter) who faced and defeated monsters.

Starting with mythology, the way human ideology changes is reflected in fairy and folk tales. In a tribal society, a protector becomes an ideal whose fairy tale character is a hero warrior who protects his tribe from foreign invaders.
“Like this, the ideology was gradually altered from when it was exterminating mythical monsters on land to a later tribal society era protecting a formed tribe from real enemies,” said Kaskabasov.

A fairy tale also reflects a people’s perception about ugly, unchangeable injustice. These representations were instilled into the enemies, who are horrid, grotty and endowed with loathsome traits and vices.

Outer ugliness, however, is also inherent in a fairy tale hero, such as tazshi in Tazshi Bala who counterpoises the hero’s spiritual beauty. The antidotes of the hero’s enemies are his kind mates, historic characters who are just like the heroes of the folk tale.

Heroic epos with real historic acts appeared in a later era, from the 13th-18th centuries.

Islamisation and conditions for existing had considerable exposure to the poetics and content of Kazakh fairy tales, wrote Kaskabasov in his 1972 book, “Kazakh Fairy Tale.” Individual fairy tales are imbued with the idea of obedience to Allah and glorify Muslim prophets and patrons.

Yet for the most part, Kazakh fairy tales are not religious. The nomadic lifestyle contributed to their wide dissemination and existence. Kazakhs of different clans and tribes lived great distances from each other, meeting in spring and autumn during migrations to summer pasture and exchanging news, songs and folk tales, his research concluded. In that way, tales were passed among them.

“Folklore does not die, but modifies and transforms. Kazakhs are starting to have a different type of folklore these days – everyday anecdotes, urban folklore, new proverbs, riddles and other genres that accompany a person everywhere at all times,” said the professor.

Traditional folklore is not only a monument to culture, but also a source of modern values and the integral part they play in contemporary life. Folklore is present inside every person and society and is manifested in different forms, situations and expressions.

Seit Kaskabasov.Photo-adyrna.kz

Professor Kaskabasov

“Many people believe in superstitions, many don’t… But when boarding a plane, people say that an atheist boarded then. Everyone hopes for something inwardly; this how folklore thinking is expressed,” said Kaskabasov.

Some element of reality is present in any folk tale, a lesson most schoolchildren are taught in their literature classes. In kindergarten, folktales teach children to stay close to good and away from evil. The opposite qualities and characters are present in many Kazakh and Russian bedtime fairy tales and folk tales for more mature audiences.

Storytellers contend people relate tales in a beautiful, colourful and entertaining way, allowing a person to impart emotion like joy or fear. Much depends on a storyteller’s mastery, talent and knowledge of the field, resulting in a folk or fairy tale that is entertaining with several plots.

“The aesthetic impact of folklore on a listener is very strong. Folklore will not leave you emotionless; you will cry when it is sad and laugh when it is funny,” said ENU philological sciences candidate Bolat Korganbekov. “Folklore clearly portrays what is good and what is bad, which is especially suitable for children, as it has a strong educational impact. It helps to develop thinking, sensing and the aesthetic perception of children and reading and retelling folk and fairy tales develops their language.”

He believes folklore helps to create rich imagination, thinking and spiritual states. Most importantly, he stressed children who read Kazakh folk tales and understand their moral will grow up to be patriotic.

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