Patter and tongue-twisters have always been indispensable pronunciation teaching tools, besides being amusing components of children’s literature. The richness and compactness of consonants and dearth of vowels combine to produce veritable tongue-knotters, perhaps unparalleled in any other language. Three twisters are given as examples:
The great river Urukh banged the white stone on the face with fury, kicked it out of bed, and then went on its way.14
In 1956, Nikolai Bagh [Багъ Николай] published a book on methods of teaching Circassian, which included a collection of short rhyming poems of high calibre for each of the letters of the alphabet. The one for ‘А’ ran as follows:
Ажэм жьакIэр егъэсыс,Azhem zchach’er yeghesis, Billy-goat shakes his goatee,
Ар хуэщIыну хуейщ нэмыс,Ar xwasch’inu xweysch nemis, As is dictated by habit,
Ауэ мэлхэм гу зылъатэр,Awe melxem gw zilhater But the sheep consider
Ажэм и бжьэр зэрыджатэрщ.Azhem yi bzcher zerijatersch. Billy’s horn a rapier.
There has been a considerable body of published works on children’s literature. A collection of tales, Lhapschaghwe Son of Negey: Circassian Tales[НЭГЕЙ И КЪУЭ ЛЪАПЩАГЪУЭ: Адыгэ таурыхъхэр], written by literary masters specifically for children was published by Elbrus Press in Nalchik in 1981, the gems selected by ’Eziyd K’want’e (КIуантIэ Iэзид). Many of the works of the well-known writer Zawir Nalo [Нало Заур] were dedicated to children, including his collection of poems and patter Jegwzexeshe [ДЖЭГУЗЭХЭШЭ], published in Nalchik in 1972. A monthly magazine dedicated to children, Nur [Нур], first issued in January 1982, is published by the Union of the Writers of the Kabardino-Balkarian ASSR and the Regional Committee of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League of the Soviet Union. About 10,000 copies are printed by Elbrus Press. In Adigea a children’s magazine, Zchweghbin (Жъогъбын [Вагъуэбын]; Constellation), is published in Adigean.
The Russian literary giants of the 19th century, like Pushkin, Tolstoy and Lermontov, were profoundly influenced by the North Caucasus and its inhabitants. Their writing coincided with the protracted conflict that raged in the area. They portrayed the native North Caucasians as noble savages, which image did re-enforce the principal tenet of Russian colonial policy that these nations were in dire need of Russia’s ‘civilizing’ mission.15
Not only Russian writers were infected, but also Western writers were not immune from the romantic influences of the Caucasus. A large corpus of works appeared in the first half of the 19th century, spurred by the heroic feats of the North Caucasians. Some researchers even collected some legends and tales. Among these works, one may mention Circassian Tale by Saunders, Contes et légendes du Caucaseby Jules Mourier, and La Circassienne by Alex. Marie Anne de la Vaissier de Lavergne.
Curiously enough, the spirit of romanticism even infected the Circassians themselves. In the first half of the 19th century, a new breed of Circassian writers began to appear on the scene. Educated in Russian schools and steeped in Russian culture, they went on to produce literary gems in Russian that were almost on a par with the classic works of the Russian romantic writers of the time. The first writer of this genre was Sulht’an Qaz-Girey (1807-1863) who was born to a family belonging to the X’imisch clan. On April 1st 1836, he published ‘Hezhit’eghwey Village’ in the journal Sovremennik, alongside works by Gogol, Pushkin and Zhukov.
Adil-Girey Ch’ashe (1840-1872), alias Qalembiy (Kalambi), produced some novels based on realism, treating of some aspects of Circassian customs. In his novel The Abreks he selected blood-revenge and outlaw horsemen as his themes, which were seized upon by later writers in the Soviet period like Tembot Kerashev, Alim Keshokov, Khachim Teunov, and others.16 Tsarist literature
After the Russian conquest, many traditional cultural institutions fell into ruin, literature being a principal victim. The mass exodus meant that many of the literary traditions were either lost or suffered major setbacks. The immigrants took with them a significant portion of national lore. The literary tradition of whole tribes was displaced, to be gradually lost through assimilation. The rump of the nation left in the Caucasus was puny, and was able to produce only a pitiable number of literary figures.
Kazi Atazhukin was one of those who kept the torch aflame. He collected many legends, published excerpts from Sosriqwe’s and Bedinoqwe’s epic poetry and other tales. He also translated Lermontov’s Ashik-Kerab into Kabardian. Another literary figure of the period was Bechmirze Pasch’e (ПащIэ Бэчмырзэ; Pachev) (1854-1936), a poet of considerable talent, who still holds a special place as one of the prominent figures of national culture, and is accredited with founding modern Kabardian poetry. He was able to render oral traditions into literary language. He devised an alphabet for Kabardian and taught it to the common folk. In addition, he wrote lyrics for many songs. Pasch’e immortalized the Kabardian revolt of 1913 against Tsarist rule in the famous song ‘Dzeliqwe War’ («ДЗЭЛЫКЪУЭ ЗАУЭ»). Apart from being the founder of modern Kabardian poetry, Pasch’e was a very versatile songwriter, in the best tradition of the Circassian bards (джэгуакIуэ). He made use of the traditional heroic song genre to convey his ideas, as in ‘The Song of Wezi Murat’ («УЭЗЫ МУРАТ И УЭРЭД»; ‘Wezi Murat yi Wered’).17 Of him Shortanov wrote: ‘The works of this great poet are intimately connected with the fatherland. They throw light upon the yearnings, history, and current situation of his people. He is verily the poet of the masses.’ In recognition of these contributions, a bust of Pasch’e was erected at the City Park in Nalchik.
Bust of Pasch’e (on the right) at the City Park in Nalchik.
Among those who were born in the tsarist period, Amirx’an As-hed Hex’wpasch’e (ХьэхъупащIэ Асхьэд и къуэ Амырхъан), born in 1882, stands out as a master of comic poetry. He went on to become one of the most famous Circassian literary figures of the early Soviet years. He was also a talented songwriter.
The works of Ibrahim Tsey (1895-1936) span both the Tsarist and Soviet periods. He wrote two novels: Kochas, about a Circassian martyr in the Russian-Caucasian War, and «Узышхуэ» (Wizishxwe), ‘The Great Scourge,’ depicting the life of Circassian peasants, and some poems and real-life tales. He was also known as a writer of fables, including ‘The Wolf and the Lamb,’ ‘The Frog and the Ox,’ and ‘The Two Mice.’ Some of these fables were collected and published by Dumézil and Aytek Namitok. According to A. Ashemez, ‘Tsey, as regards richness of style, colourfulness, national consciousness, and the sheer gift of how to treat fables was unsurpassed.’ His works were characterized by variety in subject matter and employment of different genres.
By the end of this period, a class of accomplished literary writers had emerged, which published works in the native language. Circassian literature had survived and even began to thrive. However, a twist in Russia’s history was to fling it off-course for almost 70 years.
In the Soviet era, there was a shift of emphasis in literature from the traditional and folkloric themes to dissemination of Communist dogmas and concepts in ‘modern’ settings. However, literary genres and rules associated with the oral tradition were used extensively in the new drive, especially in the 1920s. Even to this day, no writer can really divorce his work from the rich traditional themes. However, the development of concepts and ideas had gone one step beyond.
Early works were characterized by a symbiosis between epic and mundane themes. Cosmic ideas of the Nart era, feats of heroism, the sagacity and moral rectitude of the olden times were juxtaposed against ordinary everyday themes. Ancient similes, symbols, and denotations spilled over into the new writings. For example, Alim Keshokov used Broken Horseshoe and Pear-skin as titles of two of his works of fiction to signify ‘misfortune’ and ‘success,’ respectively. People versed with the oral tradition would have immediately appreciated the meanings intended. Among the fiction writers of the 1930s whose works were greatly influenced by the oral tradition were Zhansex’w Nalo, Sosriqwe Qwezhey, Tembot Ch’erashe (Kerashev), and Muhemed Dischech’.18
The 1950s witnessed a revival of interest in traditional themes, after the turbulence of World War II. The two literary giants of the latter half of the 20th century, Yis-heq Meshbash and Alim Keshokov, are the protagonists of the inbreeding of the old with the new. Perhaps this could partly explain their greatness. The authorities effected a dramatic literary transformation, raising the educational level of the masses. This was a prelude to inculcating them with the new ideology. Many of the writers born just before or during the Soviet period were bilingual in their literary output, Russian being the second language. Some Circassian writers, including the poet and dramatist Nalo(ev) and Pschinoqwe, were persecuted during the 1936-38 purges, being accused of counter-revolutionary activities, including denigrating the collective farm system.
The writers who emerged in this period were obliged to toe the line and use their works to promulgate, among other things, Soviet historiography. The classic example of this ‘genre’ of writing was Shortan’s The Mountaineers(БГЫРЫСХЭР), in which the Russian-Caucasian War was reduced to a struggle between the evil princes and nobles, and their nefarious allies, the Turks, Tatars, British, on the one hand, and the masses who wanted to rid themselves of the oppressive yoke. And who were the deliverers of these ‘poor buggers’? Yes, you guessed it. It was the magnanimous and chivalrous Russians! This once seminal work, commissioned by special order from the Kremlin, could have been thrown on the rubbish heap of history, had it not been for the exquisite beauty of the language and mastery of the ‘misguided’ author, which have made the work a classic.19
Another yoke thrown round the necks of the new breed of non-Russian Soviet writers was the obligation to portray the state of bliss brought about by the revolution and pay tribute to the guiding hand of the Russian ‘Big Brother.’ The work that epitomizes this thrust of Communist propaganda is Asker Yevtikh’s work In Our Village, in which blissful life in a typical village in Adigea is depicted. The head of one of the kolkhozes boasts that, whereas many people in the United States do not find enough bread to eat, the workers in his concern never go short. Some Russian characters provide role models to the ‘half-civilized’ Adigeans. It was translated into Russian and published in the exclusive literary magazine ‘The New World’ in 1953. According to one critic, Yevtikh came to reflect the new face of post-War Adigea. However, the self-same reviewer is troubled by the lack of enemies to contend with, as Soviet ideology thrived on finding bugbears and bogeys to justify the existence of the state and institutionalize repression. In 1941 he wrote My Elder Brother.
An unlikely ‘literary hero’ of the era was the illiterate herdsman Tsighw Teuchezh—a gainsay only the Soviet System was capable of producing. Teuchezh, born in 1855 in the village of Ghwabeqwaye in present-day Adigea, was a skilful storyteller, in the best Caucasian tradition. In his mid-sixties at the establishment of Soviet power, he was used as a pawn in a propaganda game that had him squander his considerable talent on senseless falsification of national history. In 1937-38 he ‘wrote’ the epic poem ‘War of the Princes and Nobles’ («ПЩЫ-ОРКЪ ЗАУ»; Pshi-Werq Zaw), which depicted the tyranny of the feudal ruling classes and how the people struggled to rid themselves of their injustice.20 He dictated many a poem dedicated to ‘Stalin the Great,’ in accordance with Party instructions.
In all the examples presented, great talent was wasted on frivolous causes and futile pursuits. Misguided ideology works like venom in the innards of a people, and they suffer for it. It is a great credit to the skill and mastery of the writers of the time that their works are still read with avidity, despite overdoses of drivel.
One of the most prolific Circassian writers of the 20th century was Kuba Csaban whose work spanned two periods, early Soviet and diaspora. He taught Circassian language and literature in Maikop from 1919 to 1936, and later held a teaching position at the Lokhanersky Theatrical Institute in Moscow. Upon his return to Maikop, he indulged in studying and collecting Circassian folklore at the Adigean Research Institute, leading a team of specialists. He immigrated to Jordan after World War II, where he continued writing and doing research. He worked with the New Generation Club (НыбжьыщIэ Хасэ) in Amman. He effected a kind of a cultural renaissance among the Circassian youth, attracting a number of disciples who were exposed first-hand to the recent developments in national literature. His output included works of fiction, folkloric collections, poems, children’s pedagogical books, historical accounts, plays, two operettas, dictionaries and grammar books. Unfortunately, after his death, no one was able to take up the torch, and thus a golden opportunity was missed to propagate his heritage.
Ali As-hed Schojents’ik’w (1900-1941) wrote and published many collections of poems and works of fiction, like The Young Hero. His classic poem ‘Off the Threshold’ was the theme of F. A. Silyakhin’s short cantata Fortune is Nigh. A dictionary of his literary language was compiled by Liywan Zex’wex’w in acknowledgement of his linguistic mastery.21
Ali Schojents’ik’w’s early death at the age
of 41 was deemed a great loss to Circassian literature.
Alim Pschimaxwe Ch’ischoqwe (КIыщокъуэ Пщымахуэ и къуэ Алим; Keshokov) (1914-2001) who was born in Kabarda in eastern Circassia (now the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic) into a peasant family of average means, was one of the most influential Circassian literary figures of the second half of the 20th century. Born in the village of Schheliqwe (Щхьэлыкъуэ; aka Shalushka) in the Chegem (Шэджэм) Region at the foot of ’Waschhemaxwe (Iуащхьэмахуэ), or Mount Elbrus (5,643m), Ch’ischoqwe had a meteoric rise up the echelons of the Union of Soviet Writers, occupying the influential post of secretary for many years. He penned many works of prose and has more than 20 collections of poems and also won the prestigious Maxim Gorky Literary Prize and the Russian Federation State Prize. He was named People’s Poet of Kabardino-Balkaria for his services to Soviet and Kabardian literatures. Some of his poetical works were translated to English. His verse breathes the air of the sunlit valleys and stern summits of his native land and sings the rich inner world of a man of labour, his life, valour and love. The following snippets from different poems were culled from his work ‘Starlit Hours’, interpreted by various translators: