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Posts Tagged ‘folklore’

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Photo: Narek Harutyunyan
Armenian shadow puppetry uses light and shadow to bring folklore to life. Going back to the 1300s, the art is being revived in a more child-oriented form today.

Throughout the centuries, people have used puppets to express ideas that would be hard to express directly. The oldest version of shadow puppetry in Armenia addressed religious and reproductive topics. In its revived form, shadow puppetry passes Armenian folklore to a new generation.

Allison Keyes reports at Smithsonian, “Behind a screen, puppets mounted on long, slim sticks dance and sway, twirling, backlit so that only their dark shadows appear, while puppeteers called Karagyoz players sing, provide sound effects and create voices for the characters. An interpreter translates, telling in English the Armenian stories like a libretto for an opera, so the audience will understand.

“The Armenian Shadow Puppet Theater, known as Karagyoz, was especially popular in the 18th century. But it has roots dating back to the 14th century, with shared sources in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

“ ‘They are oldest in Egypt and the countries of Maghrib, Greece and the Ottoman Empire,’ explains Levon Abrahamian, an anthropologist and a curator of the 2018 Armenia program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. ‘Armenians were doing this in the Ottoman Empire because part of Armenia, Western Armenia, is now in Turkey.’

“Now, a new version of the Armenian Shadow Puppet Theater, called Ayrogi, is touring Armenia, staging modern performances reviving the traditions of the past. Ayrogi performed at this year’s Folklife Festival. … Some of the players travel by horseback, stopping to perform horse shows, songs, folk dances and shadow puppet shows.

“[Director Armen Kirakosyan says], ‘In Armenian theater, the puppets were colored in black, so it is a principle of shadow. The light comes from behind them in such a way that you have only shadows.’ Black and white, he says, has a far greater impact on the imagination, and the characters develop a much more menacing or hilarious presence in the minds of the viewers. …

“The stories Ayrogi tells now are for a general audience, and many are adapted for children. Modern shadow puppetry, Abrahamian says, is based on traditional folktales such as ”The Cat of Martiros.’ Martiros is a popular Armenian name meaning ‘martyr,’ and the theater company performs a series of tales about him.

“One story begins with a man who is content and free of troubles, says Kirakosyan in Armenian as Abrahamian translates. He laughs because the man’s life is about to get complicated.

“ ‘The man is complaining about this mouse, saying it is eating his shoes. . . People came and said, “We will help you,” giving him a cat. The cat solved the problem but created other problems, meowing, and the man says he can’t sleep. So the people say, “it is hungry, thirsty—give him milk!” But where would he get the milk? So they give him a cow to solve the problem. He had to have a field to have something for the cow to eat some grass. Lots of problems come, so they give him a wife! Now he has a lot of children, and when he is dying, he calls his eldest son, and tells him, “You can do anything you want, but never let a cat come to your house!” ‘ ”

More here.

Photo: Narek Harutyunyan
Armen Kirakosyan, director of the Ayrudzi horseback riding club and Ayrogi puppet theater, poses with shadow puppets.

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Doubtless you know about fairy circles, also called fairy rings. According to Wikipedia, they’re a “naturally occurring ring or arc of mushrooms. The rings may grow to over 10 metres (33 ft) in diameter, and they become stable over time as the fungus grows and seeks food underground.

“They are found mainly in forested areas, but also appear in grasslands or rangelands. Fairy rings are detectable by sporocarps in rings or arcs, as well as by a necrotic zone (dead grass), or a ring of dark green grass. If these manifestations are visible a fairy fungus mycelium is likely to be present in the ring or arc underneath.

“Fairy rings also occupy a prominent place in European folklore as the location of gateways into elfin kingdoms.”

But in Africa, there is a different kind of fairy circle that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with mushrooms.

Did you catch the article by Sindya Bhanoo in the NY Times?

“The grasslands of Namibia — and to a lesser extent its neighbors Angola and South Africa — are speckled with millions of mysterious bare spots called ‘fairy circles,’ their origins unknown.

“Now, a study based on several years of satellite images describes the circles’ life span as they appear, transform over decades, and then eventually disappear.

“Writing in the journal PLoS One, Walter R. Tschinkel, the study’s author and a biologist at Florida State University, reports that the circles can last 24 to 75 years.

“The circles, which range from about 6 to 30 feet in diameter, begin as bare spots on an otherwise continuous grass carpet; after a few years, taller grass starts to grow around the circle’s perimeter.”

The reader is left with the question, Are these circles gateways to elfin kingdoms? What kind of elves are in Namibia?

I don’t understand why scientists don’t investigate matters like that.

Update July 13, 2012: Asakiyume has been tracking down stories about African fairy circles. Read this.

Update March 30, 2013: NY Times has fingered a particular species of sand termites, Psammotermes alloceru. Read this.

Photograph: Walter R. Tschinkel

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