Tuesday’s Turkish Tradition: Karagöz

Karagöz and Hacivat

Karagöz (“Black Eye”) is the name of the traditional Turkish shadow puppet theater. The legend of Karagöz is said to have begun in Bursa when two men working on construction of the Ulu Cami, in 1396, would perform impromptu comedy routines. They became very popular with the other workers, who would stop work to watch their antics. This slowed the progress of construction, and when the sultan heard of it, he condemned the two men, Karagöz and Hacivat, to death. So the legend goes. Whatever may have happened to the comedians, the shadow play based on their jokes, pranks, fights, intrigues, stupidities and camaraderie survives and prospers to this day across Turkey. Shadow puppets are flat figures cut from camel or donkey leather, oiled to make them translucent, then perforated and painted, and mounted perpendicularly at the end of sticks. A white sheet is hung as a screen, a strong light put behind it, and the puppets, pressed gently to the light-source side of the sheet, are animated by means of the sticks in the hands of a puppeteer. A talented puppeteer can make the figures walk and dance, jump and fight, nod and laugh. These shadow puppets still pop up all over Turkey and are a vital part of their culture! We pray that one day in Turkey, we can take these shadow puppets and use them to tell people about Christ and the truth of the Gospel.

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