THE TURKMENS' SONGS
AND THEIR POET, MAKKTUMKULI

F. Bakulin



Lieutenant Burns, Blaramberg, Blockville and finally Vambery speak of the Turkmen songs and singers, and of the enjoyment which the nomads get from the works of their national poets. The fact that the Turkmen's life is an idle one as far as domestic matters are concerned means that the job of bakhshi (singer) is a very profitable one, since he can always be sure of a substantial number of listeners. That is not even to mention the ceremonial occasions such as weddings, singers are in general honoured in the villages, and if someone invites a singer to his home he tries to show him the best hospitality and to reward him generously for his labours, so that the singer should not be dissatisfied and give him a bad name among his fellow-nomads.
    Everyone who wishes to listen gathers together, and the tent fills with listeners. Many stand at the entrance or outside the tent, the bakhshi Sits in the middle and the singing often goes on for a whole night. Sometimes the singer invites a colleague to help him, and they share the singing: one of them will have barely finished a verse when, as the voice breaks off, the other continues that which was interrupted. The singing itself is very uniform and doleful, and only here and there are there guttural or sibilant sounds to be heard. The tempo becomes quicker and livelier when the sense of the song does, for example, when the tale is one of feats performed by serdars (leaders) who have fallen in battle. The singing is accompanied by a two-stringed instrument, a sort of guitar known as the dutar, on which silken
threads twisted together and then waxed serve as strings. The instrument is held by the left hand, with the right plucking it from time to time.
    I once had an opportunity to hear this singing and see the rapture which is engendered in the audience. It was an encampment of the Atabay Turkmen, who roam as nomads heyond the river Gurgen, Two singers, both of them blind, stood facing one another surrounded by a large audience and sang to the accompaniment of the dutar, to the general approval of the assembled Turkmen.  Initially quiet, the singing gradually increased in speed and was interrupted now and then by expressive exclamations from the singers. The singer would either improvise ()~ else sing a work by one of the beloved national poets: Aman-Molla, Kor-Ogly, Makhtumkuli, and others.
    Makhtumkuli is especially revered by the Turkmen in general, irrespective of tribal differences. Information concerning the life of this national poet is quite limited. It is known that he was of the Gokleng tribe, was of
great erudition, and according to his own words, was blessed with a vision - in a dream he saw Omar, from whom he received the gift of poetic invention. The story of this vision is the opening piece in manuscript collections of Makhtumkuli works, and there is scarcely a Turkmen who does not know this song by heart.
    Of Gokleng origin, Makhtumkuli constantly dreamt of an end to the age-old enmity between his tribe and another Turkmen tribe, the Yomud, and of forming a close-knit union against the common foe, Persia. The Turkmen are in no doubt that Makhtumkuli was a holy man; everything that he wrote or said will come true sooner or later, say the Turkmen. Thus, the Turkmen explained their last uprising against the Persians in 1867 and the appearance of a certain Afghan, Sultan Mahmed Khan, who became leader of the rebels, by a prediction made by Makhtumkuli, as they did the initial successes of this out-and-out adventurer; but the last part of the prediction - which said that Astra bad would be captured and the whole of Persia subjugated by the Turkmen - was not destined to come true.
    Makhtumkuli's memory is revered by both the Yomud and the Gokleng. In their eyes the poet is holy, and they learn individual stanzas as rules to guide them in life. They will often bring a particular line of poetry into a conversation as words of wisdom.
    A written anthology of Makhtumkuli's works is a great rarity among the Turkmen, and however voluminous it might be, the Turkmen will always assert that it is not complete, for it is impossible to write down everything that the poet uttered. Since the Turkmen know almost all of Makhtumkuli's verses by heart, they have no need to compile an anthology, all the more so since most of the nomads are illiterate. A written anthology of Makhtumkuli's works is a mixture of different poems set out without any order or sequence.
    I have taken two songs from this anthology, rendered in word-for-word translation. The first one - which points to the possibility of the mutually hostile Yomud and Gokleng uniting in a single. amicable, and indissoluble union and likens the throng of warriors from the two united tribes to a falcon before which lions, wolves and foxes will tremble and flee, the dead will rise up from their graves, and so on - promises brilliant results from such a concerted onslaught against Persia, and threatens Isfahan with destnaction and Khorasan with being turned into dust.
    The following song is, rather, a collection of quite fragmentary exhortations which are sometimes unconnected with one another. They are exhortations to young horsemen ("yigits") who wish to excel on the field of battle.
 

I

If the Yomut and the Gokien unite one with another;
Their army will be such that neither its beginning nor its end can be seen,
Whoever suffers attack from them will have their teeth knocked from their mouths,
The route and resting-places of this army will he unknown.
The falcon which sees the crow in flight catches it.
The mountains and rocks will be seized with fear of this falcon,
The dead will rise and unite with the living,
The lions, foxes and wolves will flee.
The army will consist of 3,000 nukers (1) with lances,
And 4,000 with spades to tear down fortresses.
Let the Tekke and Salor (2) set offfrom the steppes,
The Chomudi and the Kazakh (3) will be insignficant among their number.
If once all the Sun ni  peoples have joined together, they arrive,
They will tear down your fortresses and sweep away your orchards,
Your city of isfahan (5) will not hold Out when the war-cry ''Hayda!" is heard,
Three or four villages may be destroyed at once yet no one will notice,
Makhtumkuli says: this is the meydan of Ali, (6)
See what Omar and Osman have done,
Heaven and earth will be filled with the snorting of horses,
And of Kborasan only dust will remain.
 

II

Morning has come, and the riders prepare to depart.
A wise head is still of use (?)(Ed: this question-mark is Bakulin 's) even if it is severed.
As soon as a Muslim turns and runs from the two infidels (7) be must be stoned.
Only one whose heart contains compassion is truly brave.
The brave man's heart must be open, and he is an intelligent man, too.
In the open field be as timorous as the crow;
Virtue that is apposite is what is needed:
The brave man must go into battle like a lion, and behave as cunningly as the fox with the enemy.
When facing the enemy let him stand as firm as a mountain, and let him whip his horse into a gallop from afar.
Let whatever the young horseman thinks of be fulfilled without fail sooner or later.
Cunning, when apposite, is brave~ and he who uses it in a timely fash ion is a brave man.
A horseman needs a horse which can gallop away, and overtake anything when it is whipped up.
He must throw himseif into the thick of the foe as into the sea depths.
And not halt before anything during the battle.
He must be twenty five or thirty years old.
Let him go evetywbere, like the eagle once it spreads its wings.
Only a person without honour denies himseif and his own son.(?) (Ed: this question-mark is Bakulin's).
The horseman drives off his enemies as the wolf drives off a herd of sheep.
A brave man needs a brave comrade.
Makhtumkuli says that brave horsemen must bear the marks of sabre-cuts,
The rider must burl himseif at his enemies like a wild boar and seize them like a bear.

Notes

(1) Nuker: a servant.
(2) The most ancient of the Turkmen tribes, renowned for their bravery.
(3) Insignificant trihes.
(4) The Turltmen are followers of the Sunni teaching, which is hostile to tlae Shi'a teaching professed by the Persians.
(5) The principal city of Isfahan province and the former capital of Persia in the time of the Safavid dynasty.
(6) Meydan: in general, a square. This line and the subsequent ones are to be explained by the fact that the Persians, as
Sh'ites, do not recognize the caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar and Osman as legitimate, considering Muhammad's son-in-law
Ali to be his heir and successor. The first three caliphs, who robbed Ali of power, are greatly despised by the Persians; their names are always accompanied by curses and abuse. It is sufficient for someone to call out "Accursed by the three" during the mystery plays, the taaziye, for the populace to know who is being spoken of, and to respond "A curse on them" in unison. Whereas all that is evil and disgusting is ascribed to the robbers of the Caliphate, every virtue and the best of qualities and attributes are ascribed to Ali. Makhtumkuli addresses the Persians, as it were, and invites them to look at what Omar and Osman - whom they curse but the Sunnis honour - have done.
(7) The word "infidel" means the Persians.

("Izvestiya Kavkazskogo Otdela Russ kogo Geograficheskogo Ohs hchestva"
{" News of the Caucasian Department of the Russian Geographical Society"],
Volume 1, Tiflis, 1872-1873, pp 105-109.

Translated by John MacLeod