Bashkort Folk-Tales and Legends: Specifity of Genres, Historical Roots

In folklore of every people there are genres, which perpetuate the historical memory of predecessors in a peculiar way — these are folk-tales, legends and myths. Their organising aesthetic principle is authenticity, and imparting information, relevant for the people creating folklore. Being interrelated and interconnected, these genres are differentiated according to the type of information they convey about events and phenomena, the attitude to the reality. As to the degree of authenticity, priority is given to folk-tales – epic narratives of people and events of long past, which are called riwayat1 in Bashkort and also marked by terms tarikh – history, rarely khikayat (tale, story). The past is being analysed and interpreted in riwayat-tales under the influence of the epoch of their emergence and subsequent traditional existence in oral form as folk’s memory, preserved by several generations. Aiming at truthful representation of the past, story-tellers use such traditional methods of narration as pointing out that the story happened in time immemorial’, ‘in the days of yore’, ‘long-long ago’ or indicating a particular time (‘In the times of Genghis Khan’, ‘When Russians conquered the Kazan khanate’, ‘About five hundred years ago’...), place (‘On picturesque banks of the Sarmasan river’, ‘In the village of Salawat’...) and mentioning those historical personages whose names are well-known (Akai-batyr, Karahakal, Kinya, Kursai-batyr, Buranbai...). Along with it the particulars of the area and time of action are provided: ‘On the right bank of the Aghithel river, between Muinaktash and Athantash there is a huge rock, resembling a coffer... (‘Handyktash — the Coffer-rock’)’ or ‘approximately one verst* from Muinaktash, on the right bank of the Aghithel, one can see a rock. Its flat top is covered by yellow-red moss, that is why this rock is called yellow-headed (‘Harybashtash’)’2 , etc.
The majority of folk-tales have local character. The vernacular tales of the origin of various tribes and kins are mostly spread in places of their habitation, especially it concerns such kins as Aimak, Ara, Tubah. Folk tales about the renowned hero, poet and warrior Salawat Yulayev are popular in different regions but mostly at his birthplace, the Salawat region of the Republic of Bashkortostan.
Structurally the riwayat-tales are variegated. Some of them are short and perform only the informative function. Although prevalent among riwayat–tales are fabulates — the narrative tales with a developed plot.
Heroes of the folk-tales are people, who were taking part in important historical events (Salawat Yulayev, Kinya Arthlanov, Yemelyan Pugachev, Karahakal, Akai), those who left traces in history as they were known in particular regions by their deeds (for instance, refugees, leaders) and people distinguished by their dramatic fates (captured girls or the ones married off against their will, humiliated daughters-in-law), notorious for their disreputable behaviour, infamous deeds.
The peculiarities of unfolding the image, its artistic pathos, — heroic, dramatic, sentimental, satirical, — are conditioned by the character of the hero or heroine, folklore tradition of their portrayal, personal attitude, talent and skill of the story-teller.
Close to a folk-tale as it belongs to the same genre is a legend — an oral tale of remote past, the motive power for which is a supernatural fantastic plot. Quite often mystifying motifs and images are present, for instance, in legends about the origin of heavenly bodies, the Earth, animals, plants, the emergence of tribes and kins, clans, legends about saints have ancient mythological roots. The personages of legends — people, animals are subject to various transformations: a girl turns into a cuckoo, a man — into a bear, or marries evil spirits. Also found in Bashkort legends are images of demiurges, spirits — owners of fauna, personages of Moslem mythology, angels, and prophets, God Almighty.
Accordingly are construed spatial-temporal concepts: events and deeds of legends’ characters not infrequently take place in ancient times, in cosmic space, on vast expanses of water, in underwater worlds... There have been preserved plots, where the flashback device is introduced by phrases like: ‘It happened in time immemorial. There were neither stars nor Milky Way’ (‘Milky Way’), ‘In the days of yore the Earth was the size of a spoon and the sky — the size of a cup’ (‘Yetegan – the Great Bear’)...
Beginnings like ‘In time immemorial’, introduced by storytellers in order to draw the listeners’ attention to the fact that the related events happened long ago are also found in folk-tales. However, according to genre peculiarities, whether the information conveyed is plausible, or the plausibility of the information is in question, though it might be based on real facts, the opening words of the story do not always prove to have archaic character. Used as a ready-made traditional formula, such an opening normally is not furnished with additional details, enhancing the motif of antiquity. On the contrary, the idea that the events related in a folk-tale happened in comparatively old periods of time, which is typical of this genre, comes to the fore as the story unfolds.
It should be mentioned that the usage of a traditional formula at the beginning of the narration is not an indispensable component of the structure of folk-tales and legends. The greater part of plots begins right away with an account of events or characters’ actions. In this case, spatial-temporal parameters, expressed differently in various genres (in folk-tales in a concrete way, in legends — abstract), enable listeners to determine the historical period the ‘stories’ told by a story-teller belong to.
What concerns the character of narration in a legend, one should note its fabulativity, which presupposes continuity or the sequence of events and traditional plots; tendency to present the fantastic element in a realistic way (key). The latter is stipulated by the inherent genre orientation towards imparting plausible information.
Similarity of functions and the absence of rigidly canonised genre forms serve as conditions for emergence of mixed types of epic narration — folk-tale-legends (riwayat-legendalar). In the process of long-time oral existence folk-tales, composed on the basis of real facts, were losing some of their original authentic features and were supplied by imaginary legendary motifs, thus conditioning the emergence of a mixed genre form. To this type belong several tales of historical-heroic plane with a fantastic element. For instance, a folk-tale-legend about Salawat Yulayev’s fight with ‘the Tsar Kyrmahakal’ (‘Salawat-batyr’).
However, the emergence of mixed forms is not always the consequence of evolutionary processes. There are plots where a legendary motif ‘Wolf’3 is inherently introduced into the narration as an artistic device, which plays an important part in disclosing the main idea (‘Yoracktau’– ‘The Heart mountain’). Along with the informative function the aesthetic principle is prominent in stories, combining elements of folk-tales and legends.
Folk-tales and legends are of not only informative but also aesthetic value. Their realistic significance is in their historicism and world outlook reflected in them.
The world outlook as reflected in Bashkort legends is represented by mythological plots where the traces of totemic, animistic and demonological beliefs of ancient people found then-expression.
The elements of totemic beliefs, the cult of animals and birds are most clearly revealed in ethno genetic, ethnonymic legends of mythological character.
The wonderful ancestors (forefathers) of Bashkort tribes, kins are: Wolf ( ‘The Wolves’ Descendants’), Bear (‘From the Bear’), Horse (‘Human Tarpan’), Swan (‘The Yurmaty Tribe’) and demonological creatures — the devil (‘The Shaitan’s Kin’), Shurale — a wood-goblin ( ‘Shurale’s Breed’). Especially popular among south-eastern Bashkorts are plots about a mythical wolf-totem. This motif, which can be traced back to Turkic and Mongol mythologies, is so definitely expressed in Bashkort genealogical legends that it served as the basis of the people’s ethnonym (‘The Wolves’ Descendants’, ‘About the Origin of the Bashkorts’). Noteworthy are certain plots of fairy-tales which have much in common with legends about a wolf — a wonderful ancestor: ‘The Wolf’s Son Syntimer-pekhlevan’, Bashkort and Tatar variants of the fairy-tale ‘White Wolf’. The latter plot is of interest because the beast — a werewolf, the fairy-tale protagonist’s aide performs the role of the master of the land and forest.
Legends reflecting the evolution of views in people’s mentality merit attention. The weakening of beliefs in the ‘possibility’ of marital relations between man and beast, in the ability of reincarnations caused the emergence of ‘rationalisation’ motifs (wolves accept a man who lost his way into their pack, some time later they find a woman for him. Eventually the kin ‘Bashkort’ descends of their marital union).
In close connection with legends of the wolf-ancestor are narratives of the wolf-leader, a wonderful protector. It is related in them of the advent of the Bashkorts’ ancestors led by their mythical leader to the Urals ‘from someplace in the South’, ‘from Turkey’, ‘from the area of the Turkish town of Karbalah (at present a town on Iraq’s territory)’, ‘from the Altai’, ‘from Arabia’, the sanctity of the beast-protector, the ancestor-benefactor, with whose help people found their tribal territory, a holy, beneficial place to live (kotlo uryn), is emphasised. The majority of such-like plots are centred round the attempts at explanation the ethnonym ‘Bashkort’.
Though these tales are fantastic, ancient ethno historical links of the Bashkorts with the peoples of the Altai, Central Asia and Kazakhstan found their reflection in them, although they are of somewhat vague character. The presence of certain Bashkort tribes in the Altai, Central Asian regions is proved by historical sources. According to historians, Central Asia, the Aral Sea area, were the places of the Bashkort tribes’ temporary habitation on their big way of migration4 .
The traces of medieval ethno cultural links of Bashkorts with Oguz-Kypsak ethnic masses are retained in the folk-tale ‘Where the Bashkorts Came from’, recorded in south-eastern Bashkortostan. This plot joins the group of legends about the ancestor-leader and protector. The difference is that the leader of the Bashkorts here is not a mythical animal but the legendary Korkot-Ata. Here are meant variants recorded by I.Djembysbayev, V.Velyaminov-Zernov5 .
The motif of a holy wolf is widely known not only in the Turkic-Mongol world but also in the folklore of non-Turkic peoples (legends of Remus and Romulus, who were nursed by a she-wolf; about the origin of Girpinsky kins who were led by a wolf in their migrations, etc. Academician V.A.Gordlevsky was apt to think that the tales of a holy wolf traditional for Turkic-Mongol peoples were brought to Europe by nomadic Turkic tribes6 .
Of great interest and profundity are the plots connected with the images of revered animals: deer, horse and bear.
The legends of deer, the leader, mentioned in the works of ancient authors (Priske, Jordan...), and also the ones known by a Turkic tribe Hun, are similar in their plots to the Bashkort legends about wolf, the leader (the unexpected appearance of a wonderful animal before the people who lost their way and its sudden disappearance after finding a land of plenty for their dwelling). In the Bashkort legends recorded in modern time (‘Aina and Gaina’, ‘The Gainins’, ‘The Tolbuys’) the traditional motif of finding the place for the kin’s dwelling with a deer’s help is revealed in a somewhat peculiar way within another collision of the plot: the future founder of the Gaina kin and his brother Aina are arriving at the banks of the Tol river near modern Perm on a white deer. The permanent dwelling area of the Gainins (Gaina and his descendants) becomes the territory where the deer trod on the scorching ground, and by the kick of its hooves it let the sun, which had been stolen and hidden by a demoniac creature (the witch, dragon), from under the ground.
A thorough textological analysis shows that the legends about the origin of the Gainins, in which ethno genetic and cosmogonic motifs are interwoven, bear traces of very ancient notions, so ancient that it is impossible to determine the ethnic environment of their origin. Along with widely known in the Turkic-Mongol world plots about an animal-leader in the above-mentioned Bashkort legends also have been discovered motifs similar to the legends of Marind-anims, Gilyak myths about mother Universe – half a deer, half a woman with suns on its horns. There is a certain resemblance to motifs about a blue deer (elk) and the sun from Slavonic, Finno-Ugrian, Samodian mythologies.
The motif of a witch stealing the sun brings to mind the epic songs, short tales of southern Slavs (Serbs, Bulgarians) about stealing of heavenly bodies7 . The Bashkort legends about a wonderful horse-forefather are new versions of the legends about a wolf (‘The Kin of Bash-Tai — the Head Yearling’), in part they represent a further development of the traditional motif (‘Villages Yamash and Yomash’8 ). Noteworthy are plots, where a horse represents a bearer of a peculiar horse’s breed which has allegedly emerged from the underwater world (‘Yilkysykkan kul’ — ‘The Lake where from Horses Came Out’); or a creator of natural objects (‘Karithel’). Of considerable informative value are legends about mythical winged horses — tolpars* (‘The Mountain Slope of Turat – the Bridegroom’s Stone’) and also of renowned runners, who won prizes at horse races (‘Alasabyr’). The investigation of historical sources, motifs, material objects, reflected in all kinds of plots, testifies to antiquity of the tradition of worshipping a horse (it is explained by a great role of the horse in man’s life).
The Bashkort legends representing the cult notions related to the bear image are basically (the first bear is a man miraculously turned into a bear; the master of the underground world) similar to legends of many peoples of the world, and some of them have even textual affinity.
Similar phenomena are observed not only in folklore but also in objects of material culture, ancient arts (the pictures of a bear in the caves of France, a bear’s bones laid out in a definite order in the caves of Germany, petrogliphs in Scandinavia, the Urals, Eastern Siberia); in beliefs, customs and rites (‘Holidays in Bear’s Honour’) with ritual dances; taboos on the word ‘bear’, its substitution by other names: taiyshtaban (bow-legged), babai (grandfather) by Bashkorts, ehe (grandfather), tyataagy (of taiga) by Yakuts, abaai (wife’s or husband’s elder brother, a relative) by Altai-Telengits, an old man, a grandfather, father (N.A.Alexeyev). The traces of totemism are more clearly expressed in beliefs of Eastern Altais and Tuvinians. They consider a bear to be a totem animal (L.P.Potapov).
The cult of birds is reflected in legends, which have ancient sources of their origin. According to Bashkort legends the birds possessing wonderful qualities were a duck, a crane, a swan, a rook, a golden eagle, a cuckoo. Besides the above-mentioned motifs of ethno genetic character when wonderful ancestors including a swan were mentioned, birds in legends play roles of 1) demiurges (a duck and a drake – creators of an island, a land; a crane – a creator of Milky Way – Kosh yuly); 2) zoomorphic masters – spirits of the locality (a duck and a drake. The motif of a zoomorphic spirit is a further evolution of ancient beliefs in a duck – demiurge); 3) wonderful protectors of people (a crane, a rook9 ); 4) soothsayers (a crane, a cuckoo. ‘The extraordinary’ character of the latter reveals itself in etiologic narratives, in which the first cuckoo is a woman separated from her beloved and converted into a bird by a word of magic).
The investigation of the semantics of holidays ‘The Rooks’ Feast’, ‘The Rooks’ Porridge’, ‘The Cuckoo’s Tea’, accompanied by a ritual feast, songs, dances, games, and ritual dances ‘A Cuckoo’, imitating sacrifices, testifies to heathen roots of motifs retained in legends.
In syncretic unity with totemic views animistic beliefs were evolving, the origin and development of which were stipulated by living conditions of ancient people, their mentality, and historical, cultural and religious factors.
The traces of animistic beliefs come to the fore in cosmogonic legends. The plots about heavenly bodies and natural phenomena make the basis of such legends. They retained the features of very ancient mythological beliefs of their links with animals and earthly people. Thus, according to legends, spots on the moon are roes and a wolf constantly chasing them (according to other versions — a girl with a yoke); the constellation of the Great Bear are seven beautiful girls, who got scared on seeing the king of davs*, jumped to the top of the mountain and found themselves in heaven; or seven wolves (‘Two Wolves in Heaven’, ‘The Moon and Zohra’, ‘Seven Stars — Seven Girls’); the North Star is an iron rod, and two neighbouring to the Great Bear stars are two horses tied to the iron rod. But the wolves cannot catch the horses because at dawn the horses as well as the wolves must disappear. Similar beliefs are typical of many Turkic-Mongol peoples. G.N.Potanin noted that the bases for emergence of such myths in part are observations of the visible trajectories of planets and stars in the sky, as if trying to reach each other like a hunter10 . Along with it one can observe in this motifs peculiar reflections of views of cattle-breeding peoples including Bashkorts.
Typical of cosmogonic legends is anthropomorphic treatment of images of heavenly bodies. In some legends the Moon personifies a male gender, in other ones — a female one. The Sun has twofold character.
Of archaic character is a mythological legend about two Suns in the sky and a marksman Ural-batyr, who brings cosmic space to order (‘How the Moon and the Urals Came into Being’). Though there are later additions, the mythologem and some details of the plot bear resemblance to ancient Asian myths (legends of marksmen E, Khado, Oadzymy) and myths of North Indians (the tale of Coyote)11 .
The mentality of ancient man finds reflection in legends, explaining the origin of natural objects, the shapes of landscape.
During folklore expeditions there were recorded fragments of Bashkort cosmogonic legends that the Earth stands on a huge bull or a big pike (or just a fish) and movements of this bull cause earthquakes12 .
Other Turkic peoples have similar legends (Kazakhs, Kirghizes)13 . Mongols identified the Earth with a bull14 . The Udmurt legend ‘A Bull in the Ground’ where earthquakes are explained by movements of a mythical animal has much in common with the Bashkort legend15 . The traces of worshipping a pike (legends of Kokshag king — a pike with a crown) are recorded among the Mari people16 . The appearance of such legends was conditioned by ancient imaginative thinking connected with labour activities of people of the epoch of tribal order.
The origin of mountains (hills, rocks) in Bashkort legends is often connected with mythological plots about giants – alps (‘Musektau’, ‘A Two-topped Alpa-kom’).
The area of spreading the motif ‘Mountains arise from sand (clay), that poured out of shoes of a giant’ is broad: from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus and further on to the East. This motif is also known to folklore of peoples of the countries of Western Europe17 .
According to legends and beliefs rivers, lakes, mountains and stones are endowed by supernatural strength and also qualities typical of man: rivers ‘argue’, ‘are jealous’, ‘take offence’, ‘get angry’ (‘The Argument of Two Inyars’, ‘The Aghithel and the Yayik’, ‘The Aghithel and the Karithel’, ‘The Urals’ Bride-money’); lakes change their colour after unfair deeds of man (‘Butharghan’), ‘disproving’ bloody fights, ‘disdaining blood” they abandon their habitual place and locate in another one (‘Kanlykul’ — ‘A Blood-stained Lake’); stones roll down tops of mountains ‘to meet people’ (plots related to one of versions of the legend ‘Kilentash’ — ‘The Bride’s Stone’). Bashkort legends about arguments between neighbouring rivers have parallels in Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian and Kazakh legends about arguments and rivalry between rivers (‘The Vazuza and the Volga’, ‘The Volga and the Kama’, ‘The Dnieper and the Desna’, ‘The Dnieper and the Sozh’, ‘The Volga and the Western Dvina’, ‘The Don and the Shat’, ‘The Ili and the Karatal’). In all probability such legends represent poetic perception of peculiarities of a river-bed, current, surrounding mountainous or steppe landscape, the origin of local rivers, they have not only typological affinity but also complex genetic links which are of a comparatively later period. In some Bashkort legends of rivers, for instance in ‘The Ural’s Bride-money’ their ancient plot is complicated by social-domestic motifs of later periods.
Legends, where demonological notions found their reflection, merit attention. Ancient folk beliefs in existence of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic spirits of mountain and lake hosts formed the basis of the legend about spirits-masters in the guise of a drake and a duck which inhabited a mountain lake of ‘Yoghomash-hill and the legend about the mistress of a lake in the guise of a girl’ (‘The Lake of a Water-sprite’). It is related in them that the disappearance (death) of mythical hosts of a mountain or a lake entailed levelling of a mountain, drying up of a lake.
In some plots a water sprite is presented as a male creature, the owner of a herd of numerous underwater horses (‘The Lake Out of Which Horses Emerged’). Modern storytellers and listeners do not draw a hard demarcation line between notions of ‘the owner of waters’, ‘mother of waters’, ‘a river beauty, and a mermaid’.
Believing in existence of spirits-hosts of nature, Bashkorts tried not to cause their anger but contrary to it, secure their support and sympathy (sacrifices, decorating trees by multicoloured straps of cloth during festivities, performing rituals in the open, throwing beautiful stones, coins into water, etc.). In Bashkort folklore one can find rather rare plots with motifs of human sacrifices to spirits of the Earth in different periods of time (the legend set to the melody ‘Azamat’, containing the archaic motif in its ‘pure’ form, and the Bashkort, Tatar legends about building of Kazan where not a man but an animal is given as an offering).
On the whole, the Bashkorts’ mentality, which embraced realistic notions along with mythological ones, was characterised by personification of objects and phenomena of nature, and if one takes a wider view on the material involved, including epos, — one can conclude that nature was revered.
The investigation of various aspects of mythological beliefs reflected in folk-tales and legends shows their close interrelation. A systematic research of legends based on mythology reveals the fact that they descend from that archaic period of time when monistic views on life were predominant.
Legends based on ancient beliefs disclose various kinds of similarity with myths and legends of other peoples. A number of motifs have a universal character. National identity is revealed in plots, objects of material culture. The universal archaic motifs and images testify to the fact that spiritual culture of the Bashkorts’ ancestors originated in remote past and was developing in line with universal culture.
Historical folk-tales and legends constitute a considerable layer of folklore. According to the types of plots they are subdivided into historical-genealogical (early historical folk-tales and legends) and historical proper.
Among historical-genealogical folk-tales about beginnings of settling on the ancestral lands there are plots construed on the pattern of ethno genetic legends with the mythological basis, but unlike them in such-like types of folk-tales lands of plenty were found not by a wonderful animal but by the cattle belonging to the inhabitants of a certain locality (‘The Origin of the Bashkorts’, a version recorded by A.G.Bessonov).
Traditional motifs come to the fore in the plots where people determine the tribe’s area (‘Mambat’).
Rather interesting historical information present folk tales relating of ethnical links of the Bashkorts with other peoples. Quite typical are plots referring to affinity of certain Bashkort tribal subdivisions with the Kazakhs (‘Hyntash’, ‘Mambat’).
Historical proper folk-tales of the Bashkorts reflect real events of social character in people’s interpretation: semantics, historical roots of these folk tales are revealed in two basic thematic groups — folk-tales about fights with external enemy and tales about the struggle for social freedom.
Deep historical roots have folk-tales about fights of the Bashkorts with the Huns. Obviously because of remoteness of events, tales of the Huns’ invasion the Urals are mostly devoid of plot, they impart information of toponymical character (‘The Mountain Where a Misfortune Happened’, ‘The Mountain Where Salt Was Spilt’18 ). The only exception is ‘The Stone of Athan’, which is perceived as a completed sample of folklore. It’s really hard to believe in authenticity of the event described in this folk-tale (moreover, the folk-tale has other variants), however it is unlikely that the Huns were mentioned by chance. There are historical facts mentioned in scientific literature that nomadic Hun tribes penetrated to the Urals in the II–IV centuries A. D.19
Historical memory of people preserved till our day the tales of tragic fate of many peoples including the Bashkorts in the epoch of the Mongol invasion. Folk-tales describe the Mongol invasion as ‘a black wrathful array’, the force that obliterates everything on its way, all which is held sacred. The folk-tales immortalised the names of the batyrs*, who went to defend their native lands, their compatriots, who perished in battle: Biksura, Akman, Tokman, Boshman-Kypsak...
However there is another type of plots (though they are not numerous) about representatives of the Bashkort nobility, who having got titles and charters from Genghis Khan, which certified their rights to own lands with the right to inheritance, supported the policy of the Golden Horde khans (‘Muitan’).
The plots describing events of the time of Tamerlan’s reign merit special attention. Noteworthy is the tale-reminiscence ‘The Last of the Hartai Kin’, in which one of the tragic events in the fate of Bashkort people during the severe fights of Tamerlan (Akhak-Timer) with the Golden Horde Khan Tuktamysh, is related on the example of the Hartai kin. This is a story of selfless heroism of the Hartais who were killed but never surrendered to the invaders. The informative value of this folk-tale is exceptional. It has its distinctive flavour as an artistic merit. As the tale came to us in a written form, the features characteristic of literary works prevail in its style. Along with it, in this tale salient peculiarities of non-fairy-like prose are revealed: aiming at plausibility (emphasis on concrete facts, place, time), making use of traditional motifs in delineation of characters.
After the disintegration of the Golden Horde the territory of Bashkortostan was divided between the Nogai, Kazan and Siberian khanates. It was the hardest period for the majority of Bashkort people, because severe oppression on the part of the conquerors, endless feuds and forays, which were part and parcel of khanates’ policy, tyranny of local feudals devastated national economy, undermined weak production forces. This tragic epoch in the life of Bashkort people found its reflection in folklore, folk tales, legends, including a folk tale recorded in the middle of the XIX century by V.S.Yumatov who came of the Bashkorts of the Meng tribe20 . The time of Nogai myrthas’* rule in all its complexity and diversity is described in it: not only various aspects of Nogai-Bashkort relations but also the relations between the Nogai myrthas themselves, strife, and blood-shedding battles. The folk tale preserved and brought to us the spirit of bygone times: ‘A blood-shedding battle started between the Kilambats (Nogai myrthas-brothers — F.N.); a great number of people perished. At last an earthquake broke out, the land was yelling, as the Bashkorts say...’
In XVI–XVIII centuries Bashkort-Kazakh relations were complicated. On the one hand, spiritual affinity between two kindred nations, strengthening of friendly ties revealed themselves and were reflected in similar motifs of Bashkort and Kazakh folklore. On the other hand, constant feudal raids (barymta) of Kazakhs and Bashkorts resulted in unfriendly relations between them. It also found reflection in their folklore. In folklore of south-western Bashkorts there are many folk-tales about raids of Kazakhs and Bashkorts on each other, of calamities they brought about, in these tales blood-shedding intertribal strife is condemned. In the folk- tale ‘Bayas-batyr’ the hero, having overpowered the Kazakh batyr Alathtaima in a fight, says: ‘Hey, Alathtaima! It is one thing to tend cattle and to tend the country is a thousand times greater thing. Don’t come here anymore.’
A tale of Yeransah-sasan and his wise wife Bandabikah (‘Bandabikah and Yeransah-sasan’) is marked by humanistic pathos. Folk-tales about raids of Kalmyks and Kazan khans’ oppression (‘Takagashka-batyr’, ‘Ombat-batyr’, etc.) have historical facts as their basis.
People’s wisdom is reflected in folk-tales about Bashkortostan joining Russia. It is viewed as a positive decision after which feudal raids stopped (‘Takagashka-batyr’).
To traditional historical folk-tales about the struggle with foreign enemy belong oral tales about Patriotic War of 1812. A patriotic emotion, which Bashkort people were seized by, found its expression in folk tales of this kind. Folk-tales relate of battles with Napoleon, of victorious entry of the Russian army and Bashkort soldiers in Paris and their returning to their Motherland in 1815 (‘The Second Army’, ‘Kahym-Turah’, ‘Bashkorts at War with the French’).
Especially popular are the stories of the fearless war-leader Kahym-Turah — Kasim Myrthashev, who was born in the village of Ayusy of Starletamak region. Most of tales about him exist in the form of songs-folk-tales, the prosaic part of which is more subject to variability than the poetic one. Integral for the major part of versions is the motif of glorifying the heroic leader, his exceptional valour, and deep sorrow in the hearts of soldiers after his tragic death. The motif of death is not present only in the legendary version recorded in the village of Ishkino of the Uchaly region.
Folk-tales about other batyrs*, including a woman-warrior, whose names were kept in people’s memory (‘Yanhary-batyr’, ‘Abdrakhman Akyegetov’, ‘Bashkort Djantyra’s Tale’ (‘Yanturah’s story’)) though not devoid of fictional element, are basically realistic. Literary sources testify to this21 .
Folk-tales about the Patriotic war of 1812 are permeated with heroic pathos, which is justified by a considerable role the Bashkorts played in the war of 1812, when 28 Bashkort Cavalry-Cossack regiments were formed. Besides, two Teptar and two Mishar regiments were formed in Bashkortostan and sent to the front. Twelve thousand Bashkort horsemen were in military service on Eastern frontiers; by August 15, 1812 in Bashkortostan 500,000 roubles were collected for the army. Bashkort horsemen were fighting under Danzig, Weimar, Ganau, Shatobrian and Paris. The French called Bashkorts ‘Northern amours’ for their marksman shift22 .
A considerable layer of historical folk-tales constitutes plots about the struggle for national and social liberation. The majority of such plots concern events of XVIII–XIX centuries, they reflect a long, hard way of the struggle of the Bashkort people for national and social liberation. Plundering of Bashkort lands, endless lawsuits of local people with factory-owners are the main issues of folk-tales. Plot-making motif of the majority of folk-tales is a world-known motif of ‘selling land the size of a bull’s hide’. Notwithstanding ingenuity of factory-owners, the folk tales reconstitute a veritable picture of ruthless plunder of Bashkort lands, they disclose its character and scale. Swindling, fraud, bribery, violence were typical of land-dealers’ activities, and the motif of ‘selling land the size of a bull’s hide’ is based on historical facts (‘How a Boyar* Bought Land’, ‘Utagan’, etc.). In such kind of folk tales a complicated psychological situation — a disastrous state of the cheated Bashkorts, their embarrassment and helplessness — is portrayed.
Among traditional plots about plundering the Bashkort lands of special interest is a folk- tale about the death of a greedy merchant who made an attempt to run around a great area of land from dawn till sunset in order to take possession of it (‘Selling of Land’). As is known, this plot got a brilliant interpretation in L.N.Tolstoy’s short story ‘How Much Land Does Man Need’, which was written under the impression of his visit to Bashkorts in the 70s of the XIX century.
There are many folk-tales relating of the Bashkorts’ struggle against plundering their lands by factory-owners and landlords, against the colonial policy of tsarism. Of great value among such tales are folk tales of Bashkort uprisings of XVII and XVIII centuries. Because of remoteness of events many plots lost their authenticity and were filled by legendary motifs (for instance, the folk-tale – legend about one of the leaders of the Bashkort uprising of 1735–1740 Akai-batyr), some of them are of contradictory character (folk tales of Karahakal). Notwithstanding all this, they are quite an obvious manifestation of people’s attitude to major historical events, a peculiar understanding of these events.
Noteworthy is the cycle of folk-tales of the Bashkort uprising of 1755 against Bragin, who came to South-eastern Bashkiria (the modern Baimak region) from Petersburg as chief of a geological party. In artistic form folk-tales portrayed to us Bragin’s atrocities on Bashkirian land (‘Surash’, ‘Bragin’s Stone’). Disclosing the historical background of folk-tales about Bragin, L.G.Barag noted: ‘The historical background of these folk-tales-legends, combining real facts with artistic imagination, influenced by traditional Bashkir folklore, lies above all in the fact that they give an artistic portrayal of typical events in the life of Bashkir mining and metallurgical factory life of the XVIII century’23 .
The combination of fact and fiction is observed in folk tales about attempts at forceful christianisation of Moslems (‘Christening’, ‘How Bashkorts Refused to Be Converted into Christianity’).
Historically authentic as to their basic motifs are folk-tales about Peasant War of 1773–1775. They tell of unbearable feudal and national oppression; indomitable craving of people for freedom, their determination to protect their Motherland from plunder are expressed in them. Rather illustrative in this respect is the legend ‘Salawat-batyr’. The traditional motif of ‘selling a plot of land the size of a bull’s hide’ makes the basis of the plot of this legend. Of great semantic and emotive significance is the following fragment of the legend where Salawat’s meeting with akhakals* is described:
‘It’s unbearable’, akhakals said, ‘we must protect our land... You are our hope, Salawat!’
‘A yeget’s* fate is in his Motherland’s hands, Motherland’s fate is in a yeget’s hands. My fate is my people’s fate’, having uttered these words Salawat mounted his horse and raised his threatening sword... That was a magic sword, which the akhakals had given him’...
Contrary to the attempts of the tsarist government to present the Peasant War of 1773–1775 as ‘an uprising of villains’, and its participants as ‘villains’, ‘criminals’, ‘robbers’, folklore emphasises liberating character of this war, and its participants and leaders are treated as noble fighters for justice, protectors of people and the oppressed.
Folk-tales of the Peasant War are not devoid of creative fantasy. It is revealed to a great extent in portrayal of heroic deeds of Salawat who was endowed by traits of an epic hero.
Perpetuation of Salawat’s name is a consequence of his exceptional role in liberation movement. Even adversaries of Peasant movement general-major P.S.Potyomkin, general-in-chief P.I.Panin in their reports to Yekaterina II were obliged to admit that Salawat Yulayev was ‘the chief leader of the past uprising’ calling him ‘glorious Salawat’.
Folk-tales and legends of the Peasant War are an important source of understanding the history of the Bashkort people.
Runaway robbers are portrayed as noble social avengers. The common motif for the majority of folk-tales about fugitives is robbing of the rich and supporting the poor. As the theme of a noble fugitive is widely represented in songs-folk-tales, the most popular plots are offered in the book, devoted to songs-folk-tales. In the present selection there is only one text about the fugitive Kamal, who was pursued by the authorities for his participation in the Peasant War of 1773–1775.
Folk-tales relating of events connected with old time way of life and customs of the Bashkorts are informative. Characters of people in such folk-tales are revealed in dramatic circumstances conditioned by feudal-patriarchal relations. The starting-point for the plot is the situation when a girl is married off against her will to a man (an old rich one in most cases) whom she does not love. Though the sphere of family life in such folk-tales limits the dramatic conflict, their social character and the protest against social injustice are quite evident.
Legends-folk-tales ‘Konhylyu’, ‘Yorack-Tau’ — ‘Heart-Mountain’, which glorify eternal love and are also directed against social ills and injustice, are permeated with humanistic and dramatic pathos.
In the legend ‘Konhylyu’ the bai*-father marries his only daughter off to an old rich mullah and makes her part from her beloved. Treachery and ruthlessness of the mullah cause a chain of tragic events. Nature is not indifferent to them: the mountain moves from the place where the gruesome atrocity was committed. However, the dramatic plot does not cause the feeling of hopelessness. Several months after the death of the heroine and her beloved man the mountain split, and two swans flew out of it, they made nests on a bank of the Ai river and bred their chicks. This end asserts the eternity of love in a poetic way.
Folk-tales ‘Auathbikah’, ‘Makhuba’ relate of courageous women, who fight for their happiness with zeal and inspiration. Actions and deeds of the heroine of the folk tale ‘Uthaman Apai’ to some extent are akin to characters of bogatyr* maids, portrayed in folklore of many people, including Bashkorts.
Thus, folk-tales, legends and other elements of folklore are akin to people’s life, their history, beliefs, and mentality. Various stages of historical evolution of people and their social self-consciousness are reflected in them in a peculiar way.
Emerged in remote past as explanatory narratives, folk-tales and legends have undergone a long way of evolution, in the process of which archaic motifs were replenished by later layers, that is why it is very important to reveal in every piece of folklore art the ratio of invariable and variable elements in order to determine the historical basis of the motif and then highlight the lay-out of typical elements whether they make a single line pattern or a mosaic, thus disclosing the underlying system.
Historical, social and genre folk-tales-legends not devoid of creative fancy reflect in an artistic way the typical phenomena of real life and as a consequence the degree of authenticity in them is specific, typified. The research data testify to great informative value of such kind of folk-tales. The information of ethno historical, ethno cultural links of the Bashkorts preserved in folklore is really invaluable.
Translated by L.M.Takumbetova


Akhakal — lit. with a white beard, the elder of a tribe, an elderly respectable person
Bai — a rich man
Batyr — a legendary hero of Bashkort people, a man of great strength and valour
Bogatyr — a hero in Russian folklore, a strong man
Boyar — Rus. dignitary, a rich landowner
Dav (div) — a monster, demonological creature
Yeget — a skilful horseman
Myrtha — a high aristocratic rank of Tatar, Bashkort peoples
Tolpar — a winged horse
Verst — old use Rus. measure of length = 3,500 feet, 1,067 km.


1 The word of Arabic origin meaning ‘story’, ‘version’.
2 Examples here and further on are borrowed from the selections: Bashkort Folk Arts: folk-tales and legends. Ufa, 1987.
3 Bashkort Folk Arts, v. 3: Bogatyr Fairy-tales. Ufa: Bashkirian publ. house, 1988, pp. 159–268–272; Tatar folk tales. Kazan: Tatar publ. house, 1986, pp. 161–175. (here and further on the literary sources are published in Russian.)
4 Kuzeyev R. G. The origin of the Bashkort people: ethnic composition, the history of settling. M.: Nauka, 1974, pp. 132–133.
5 About these variants see Zhirmunsky V.V. Turkic heroic epos. L., 1974. 549 p.
6 Gordlevsky V. A. What is ‘a barefooted wolf?’ // Selections. M.: IVL, 1961. V. 2. 497 p.
7 Tolstoy N. I. The mythological in Slavonic poetry: «... the Moon in the pot, stars in a bowl» // Zhivaya starina, 1996, ¹ 2. – pp. 40–41.
8 Bashkort Folk Arts. v.2: Folk-tales and legends / Compiled by F. A. Nadrshina. Ufa, 1987, p. 143.
9 This motif is well preserved in songs-legends: ‘A Crane’s Song’, ‘A Fledgling Rook’. In: Bashkort khalyk yirthary, yir-riwayattare // Bashkirskiye narodniye pesni, pesni-predaniya – Bashkort Folk Songs, Songs-legends/ Comp. by Fanuza Nadrshina. Ufa, 1997, pp. 7–8, 27–29, 32–35.
10 Potanin G.N. Sketches of north-eastern Mongolia. Spb. 1881. Vol. IV, p. 135.
11 Yuan K.E. Myths of Ancient China. M., 1987, pp. 404–409; Yevsyukov V. V. Myths of the Universe. Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1988, pp. 20–22.
12 Field recordings of the compiler of these selections were made in Baimak and Abzelil regions of the Republic of Bashkortostan (1984, 1986).
13 Potanin G. N. Kazakh-Kirghiz and Altai folk tales, legends and fairy-tales // Living past, 1916, Vol. II–IV, p. 114.
14 Shakhnovich M. I. Primeval mythology and philosophy. L.: Nauka, 1971, p. 160.
15 Vereschagin G. The Votyaks of the Sarapul region of the Vyatka province. Spb., 1889, p. 135.
16 Aktsorin V. A. Historical-genetic links of Finno-Ugric tribes according to mythological data // Issues of Mari folklore and art. Yoshkar-ola, 1980. Vol. 2, p. 23.
17 Laugaste E., Normann E. Estonian folk tales about Kallevipoeg. Tallin, 1959, p. 606; Barag L. G. ‘Asilki’ of Belorussian fairy-tales and folk tales // Russian folklore, 1963. V. 8, pp. 29–40.
18 Scientific archive of Ufa Scientific centre of RAS, v. 3, op. 47, ¹ 3, p. 420.
19 Essays on history of the Bashkir ASSR. Ufa, 1956, v. I, p. 1, pp. 29–30.
20 Orenburgskiye gubernskiye vedomosty (Orenburg gubernia news), 1848, ¹ 7.
21 Zefirov V. Bashkort Djantyra’s Tale // Orenburgskiye gubernskiye vedomosti, 1848, ¹47; Umetbayev M. Pamyatki (‘Yadkar’). Ufa: Bashknigoizdat, 1984, p. 180 (in Bashkir)
22 Usmanov A. N. Free-willed joining of Bashkiria to Russia. Ufa: Bashknigoizdat, 1982, pp. 288, 289.
23 Folk fairy-tales, legends, folk-tales and stories recorded in Bashkiria in Russian language in 1960–1966 / Compiler and editor L.G.Barag. Ufa, 1969, p. 24.


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