Turkish Shadow Puppet Theatre: Karagöz and Hacivat
I would like to talk about the traditional Turkish shadow puppet theatre, which is more commonly known with the name of its leading characters: Karagöz and Hacivat today. Karagöz had been inscribed on the UNESCO representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2009.
Turks known to had enjoyed a long-standing puppet tradition that goes back to Central Asia. The shadow theatre is known to be borrowed from Egypt in the 16th century. Therefore the movements, postures, and costumes of the Ottoman puppet theatre were passed to the newly introduced shadow theatre. The significance of this shadow theatre for Turkish cultural heritage is its embodiment of various forms of traditional elements art that includes poetry, oral tradition, music, miniature painting and folk customs.
The two dimensional shadow puppets are called ”tasvirs” made of camel or ox skin, colored with translucent vegetable dyes and held on rods in front of a light source to cast their shadows onto the cotton screen.
The play is composed of four main parts: mukaddime is the first part where the main figures Karagöz and Hacivat with considerably opposite characters end up with a fight. The second part muhavere is followed by a fast squabble and word play between the main figures. In the third part named fasıl where the supporting characters are incorporated into the play, the main topic unfolds. In the final part entitled bitiş the squabble between the main characters repeats itself.
The supporting characters comprise of a bully of the neighbourhood (Tuzsuz), a rich casanova character (Çelebi), a cracky dworf (Beberuhi), an opium addict (Tiryaki) and either young man-eater or old yapper women characters (Zenne). Moreover, Albanian, Jew, Circassian, Kurdish and Lazca are the other supporting characters that represent the numerous nationalities and religions that composed the Ottoman Empire.
I do not remember when or where I first met with the characters Karagöz and Hacivat however the first time I became familiar with it was the theatre performance that we had realized as a class in the middle school. This was not a shadow theatre though; we were the ones who animated the characters by imitating the costumes, the movements from profile together with the music and the poetic squabbles.
This shows how this traditional shadow puppet theatre has gained a significant place in the collective culture and spread to other branches of art. A movie was shot in 2006 entitled “Why were Karagöz and Hacivat killed?”. This dram-comedy concentrates on a tragedy of humor and humorist (Karagöz and Hacivat) who criticized and made fun of the risky topics that would annoy some parties.
Furthermore, fizzy drink company made an advertisement for the period of Ramadan (a religious holiday where the play was once played widely in public squares, coffeehouses and gardens) that represents the characters Karagöz and Hacivat as a mean of gathering people together. (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw7qSJPTP5A with English subtitles)
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Karagöz – Turkey