ASIK VEYSEL – The Tradition

Posted: 15 November 2011 in ASIK VEYSEL
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AŞIK VEYSEL (1894 – 1973)

 The Tradition

Tradition and Âşık Veysel


Like in every community, the oldest pieces of art of Turks also are based an magical ceremonies. The way of thinking of primitive communities are also magical.

The reason why there does not exist perfect sources on the history of Turkish literature is not only that they have spread over a relatively large area and they were continuously moving from one place to another, but also that written literature started to emerge late in history. Even the fact that we do learn the oldest information regarding Turkish literature and history from Chinese sources, clearly manifest this point. “The most ancient Turkish poets are the sahir-şairls who were named as Shaman by the Tungus, bo or Bugué by Mongolians and Buryats, Ouiun by Yakuts, Kam by Altaic Turks, Tadibei by Samoyeds, Tietoejoe, the attendant, by Finnoas, Baksı-Bakşı by Kyrgyzs, Ozan by Oguzs. These men who possessed many skills such as magic, dancing, music or curing, had an important status and prestige within the society. The level of importance attributed to those men in different times and places, varied depending on their clothes, music instruments they used and the content of the work they conducted, however it was always their duty to present evil works such as wickedness, diseases and deaths caused by  evil spirits, to cure diseases, to send the souls of the deceased to the skies and to keep their memory alive. Of course, there were several rituals for this variety of tasks. Although some of those rituals were forgetten or altered in some way, some of them still survive in Kyrgyz, Altaic and Kazakh traditions. Shaman or baksı gets totally immersed in ecstatic contemplation, reads some poems and plays those poems with his own music instruments. These lyrics accompanied by a melody and considered to have a magical content, constitute the oldest from of Turkish poetry.”

There is no doubt that one of the music instruments used in those rituals is drum, and that the other is the kopuz which is a lute-like instrument. Based on the information provided by Gardizi, a historian of the Xlth century, Abdülkadir İnan  states that the ancient Yenisey Kyrgyz tribes played saz, a stringed instrument in shaman rituals. Abdülkadir İnan further states “The Kyrgyz Kazakh baksıs today use kopuz. In ancient Oguz tribes, the ozans who continued with the traditions of shamanism after Islam, considered kopuz sacred. Dede Korkut emerges with his kopuz in each tale, and plays it while naming, praying (applauding). The hero of the Oguz beats after being strengthened by the sound of kopuz.”

There exist many evidences demonstrating that the instrument played by our ozans were used in those rituals. We see some examples of sacred behaviors related to kopuz in Dede Korkut stories. The tale named as “Uçun Koca Oğlu Segrek Boyu”, reads as “He said –You, the unbeliever! I did not play it since I respected the kopuz of Dedem Korkut. If you did not have kopuz in your hands, I would break you into two pieces, I swear. He took the kopuz away from his hands.”

Like in all primitive communities, these personalities known with names such as ozan or kam or baksı, undertook various duties besides their skills such as giving advices, casting spells,  curing people, etc. In this respect, they are very effective on the community.

After the division of labor became more common, the personal characteristics of these respected members who used to run many affairs simultaneously, changed as well, and thus professions such as religious men to deal with religious rituals, doctors to deal with the wellbeing of the people, etc. developed.       

Prof. Dr. Umay Günay saying “In our opinion, it is not possible for the Ozan-Baksı tradition which is considered to be quitted to emerge all of a sudden five centuries later in an Islamic from.” explains the situation as follows: “Unfortunately, the examples of the transition period of this literature could not be detected until recently. It is quite logical that Turks having spent great efforts and struggled a lot to a acquire a new motherland after the advent of Islam worked so heartedly to adopt and expand this new religion in this period, created art works in a style which is now known as the Tekke Literature (religious literature) and respected this style more when compared with other styles. However, one should keep in mind that the first art works on this subject were created not through the verse styles and elements adapted from the Arabian-Persion literature in later years, but rather within the framework of national verse styles and elements. Meanwhile, the Ozan-Baksı tradition was effective in the tekke style at a certain level, it also struggled not to disappear and fit its rules and models to new conditions by using the flexibility that always existed in its structure. The ozans and poetry performance tradition that exist in the stories of Dede Korkut which are accepted to have emerged in Xıth – XIIth centuries when they were cited, and also the tradition that the main characters of the tales recited folk poems with their lutes, namely their saz, to express their ideas and feelings on the events they come across from time to time, are not peculiarities that differ from the Minstrel (Âşık) Literature we have followed from the XVIth century. The personalities such as the magicians, curers, religious men, etc. were abandoned after Islam. Minstrels undertook the duty to train people and perform art.

The artist described as Âşık, the minstrel, is defined as the creator of a tale which is a mixture of poetry, prose and verse. Boratav says “…Âşık is an artist who on one hand, continues the ancient myth (épopé) tradition, and enstrusted with reciting ‘love poems’ (lyric poems) on the other, as is cited in his name. His creativity lies in extemporization: he does not write down the poem, but he rather performs it. In him, the poem is accompanied by music; that is, it is not only recited, but also performed and sung. Âşık distinguished between narrating and reciting by expressions as saying by words and saying by strings. In this manner, they highlight the fact that the music instrument, namely saz is the unique element integrated  with his poem.” and adds “that is to say, the poems of minstrels originated and developed in the oral tradition. These poems can not be considered apart from music, they involve a “mixed” art of narrating encompassing “spectacular – dramatic” elements.

As far as Âşık Veysel is concerned within this tradition, we see that the concept of wine drinking is not preferred by Âşık Veysel, and that the relationship between the master and the apprentice appeared to be a way of leading by Âşık Veysel as explained in detail in the life story section. We see that the picture is not embedded in the tradition. The traditional master-apprentice relationship manifests itself in both learning the tradition and how to play the saz from the master, and wandering around together for some period. This is not exactly the case with Âşık Veysel. For instance, Âşık Veysel does not drink wine. He is a minstrel without wine. He did not experience the privilege to drink a glass of wine offered by a master that is told by some contemporary minstrels. Also, Âşık Veysel does not narrate tales which is  considered as the essential characteristics of the minstrel literature. He also is not very much interested in the concepts of the tradition such as repatees, riddles or solving riddles. He sometimes uses repartees but these are not the typical examples of the tradition.

Although Âşık Veysel refers to the names of some poets (ozans) who have an important place in our folk poetry (In my race of Karacaoğlan, Dertli, Yunus / In my habit of Mansur), this is not a common way of referral as in the traditional folk poetry. In one of his poems, he says:

I drank a glass of drink in your hand
I fell into many troubles

Although these lines are associated with the tradition of wine drinking, they do not have such function in real terms. Adnan Binyazar goes a little bit further, and says “Veysel also drank a glass of drink” and thus should be regarded as the generation of God Lover poets. However, this view should be deemed as extremely exaggerated.

Kurt Reinhard in his study titled “The Melody Types Used By The Âşık of Sivas” refers to the Âşık melodies of the Middle Anatolian region considered as the examples of the Âşık Veysel school other than the folk songs and melodies as: “Âşık melodies are related with the number of the lines in a lyric. The repeated words are expressed clearly. Certain motifs are frequently repeated in the melodies, and a certain section of the saz is used in the folk songs. The folk songs reach an end suddenly or rather softly depending mainly on the desire of the performer of the instrument. Although the sol sound is the main tone, there prevail some examples in which la and mi sounds are used as the main sound tones.

Âşık melodies are divided into two groups as the ones with a strong influence of the speech style and the ones with a strong influence of the melody. In examples which mainly adopt the speech style, the melody slows down and keeps pace with the rhythm of the speech. The melody is almost always overshadowed by the lyrics. Since the essentially important point in this style is to make the words clear, the melody is sometimes sacrificed. In other types where the melodies overshadow the words, one syllable is sung with more than one note. In such types where the melodies are enriched, the lyrics are relatively incomprehensible.

In this case, we reach two conclusions: First, Âşık Veysel is not an âşık in the sense we generally understand in classical terms; secondly the tradition was broken by Âşık Veysel.

Ahmet Kutsi Tecer makes an interesting comparison and evaluation on this point. “While Veysel Şatıroğlu reanimates in Âşık Veysel, Âşık Veysel disappears in Veysel Şatıroğlu. The difference in between the representatives of Tanzimat (Reform) and him lies in a sound difference due to the fact that he originated from the tradition. His strings are fixed according to us. But the strings of Tanzimat are rather imitatively fixed, like we call the former “tuning” and the latter “harmony”. Veysel, in one sense, recited his contemporaries. For instance, Şatıroğlu recited Ceyhun as much as Ceyhun Kansu  did Veysel. There are some points that attract Veysel and his contemporaries. Like Ceyhun Kansu being different from Faruk Nafız Çamlıbel, Şatıroğlu can be distinguished from his contemporaries in this manner. The way that distinguishes him with the others is that he originated from the folk poetry tradition, not from the Tanzimat tradition. Veysel Şatıroğlu experienced the folk poetry tradition in Âşık Veysel, and has reached “today” from that point.

In my opinion, the most significant characteristic feature of Âşık Veysel appears before us at this point: He broke up the tradition. The fragility and the dominant didactic manner is purified in this way.

However one can not say that he can be isolated from the tradition completely. As Enver Gökçe says “Instrument-song accompaniment, tendency to idealism that has an important place in the aesthetics of the classical eastern literature and solitude that penetrates deep in this tendency are not only the common features of the works of our public poets, but also are dominant factors in the art of Âşık Veysel. In short, Âşık Veysel is a minstrel of saz with his compassion and sensitivity towards nature, his mystic sides that exist in him although he does not have a dominant character of a religious class and his understanding of existence and of universe.

Âşık Veysel is both tradition and renovation. We will see evidences on that when we get into more detail later. He does not do this himself automatically, but rather  a conscious urges him to this point. For instance, although he was grown up in the Alaouite culture and his father was a fundamental member of tekke, the dervish lodge, he does not utter the name duvaz imam like all other Alaouite poets, he does not mention the name of shah or twelve imams even in one poem. However, this is the culture Âşık Veysel originates from, the villages he toured most of the time are mainly Alaouite villages. But on the contrary, this is not the case with Ali İzzet Okan who is another contemporary of Veysel. He has so much determination that he changed the line of Pir Sultan “Let’s go to Shah” as “Let’s go to the beloved one”. This shows either that the ones around Âşık Veysel conditioned him from the very beginning on this matter as well or that he himself chose such principle as his philosophy of life. No matter how, it is evident that Veysel is a strict person in this sense. Another point is that he evaded himself from being a pastoral poet. Although he used natural motifs and symbols very commonly, he goes beyond the village. As Erdoğan Alkan says, there exists another social environment that leads his life, his destiny: Şarkışla, the town.

 The Tradition

published by the Ministry of Culture
ISBN 975-17-2311-6
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