Who Owns the Shadows?

Too bad that we have never learned to separate “heritage” from “patriotism.”  Too bad that UNESCO member-states need to stick flags on every expression of cultural creativity.  No heritage is ever an inseparable part of any particular national culture– and none is ever completely unmixed.

From the Beirut Daily Star July 17, 2010

Greece claims Turkey’s intangible ‘Karagz’ as its own ‘Karagiozis’

ATHENS: Greece will press its claim to a shadow puppet theater that UNESCO has deemed to be part of Turkey’s cultural heritage, the Foreign Ministry in Athens said on Wednesday.

The puppet theater features Karagz (“black-eyed” in Turkish), a hunchbacked trickster who tries to make a living by hoodwinking Turkish officials and generally avoids all manner of honest work.

The setting is loosely placed during the Ottoman rule of Greece, from the mid-15th to the early 19th century. The Greek version of the puppet theater features Karagiozis (Greek for Karagz).

Infused with a cast of Ottoman-era social clichés – including a Turkish enforcer, a Zante dandy, a Jew and a rough-hewn Greek shepherd – it was a popular form of folk entertainment in Greece until a few decades ago.

“The UNESCO convention on intangible cultural heritage enables neighboring countries to also access the same commodity,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras told a news briefing. “Greece has tabled a statement that the same practice exists in our country and a discussion … regarding this issue will take place in Nairobi in October.”

He added that the Karagiozis shadow theater is an “inseparable” part of Greek culture.

UNESCO last year placed Karagz on its list of intangible cultural elements, associating it with Turkey where the character was originally born.

In Greece, however, the character remains a powerful icon of resistance to authority even though Karagiozis performances are now only practiced by a few enthusiasts. Karagiozis is also a common byword for “fool” in Greek.

The origins of Turkish Karagz theater and its hide-crafted puppets are lost to history, though it is assumed that it was introduced to Turkey from Egypt.

Shadow theater is believed to have first surfaced in India over 2,000 years ago.

AFP, with The Daily Star

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One thought on “Who Owns the Shadows?

  1. Pingback: But I Thought Cultural Plagiarism was Actually Good for the World… « Searching for Authenticity

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