THE TRADITIONAL STORY-TELLING
An important aspect of the activities of the chitalishta /Traditional culture centers/ is their efforts to preserve and protect the intangible culture heritage of the Rodopi Mountain. The new European framework that shapes the culture policies of the chitalishta requires a new understanding of the Bulgarian culture to be defined, so it to be placed appropriately next to other representatives of the cultural spectrum originating from the Balkan Peninsula, the European Community and the global civilization.
That process obliges one to be familiar with the priority specifics not only of the region, but also those of national and international importance.
The establishment of stable cultural bonds with the EU countries is already a priority for the chitalishta.
Within the verbal folklore prose there are two major branches – fairytales and mythology. Three types of fairytales are typical for the Region of Smolyan- fairytales that deal with magic and the magical elements of/in life, such dedicated to the everyday life and fairytales about animals. All three types are fairytales being told to/by children. The jokes, the myths and legends are typical part of the entertainment of the adult population. The fairytales dedicated to animals branch into tales about wild animals and tales about domestic animals.
The fairytales collected and preserved by the chitalishta in the Region of Smolyan aren’t so many in terms of numbers and are also known in other parts of the country in various variations. The magical fairytales of the local storytelling tradition focus mainly on overcoming of different life obstacles, good winning over evil, finding solutions of problems using magical powers/means. They represent quite just the mindset and beliefs of the population.
Superstitions in tales
The style and structure of the tales that contain and deal with superstitions are not as precise as those of the fairytales; still their structure includes several obligatory elements, namely:
- Who is the protagonist?
- Description of the case;
- The outcome of the situation.
The central character of many fairytales is a girl that has to live with a malicious stepmother, and there are magical elements involved in story. There are numerous humor stories featuring the characters of Bulgarian peasant Wily Peter (“Hitar Petar”) and the Turkish Muezzin Nastradin Hodzha.
The figure of the wood nymph (“samodiva”) is also present in the fairytales. Samodivat is a nymph or a young woman that has put spell on a young man, who could be saved by his beloved only by placing a spray of basil (or other magical herb) into his shirt. Such stories are based on old myths. The fantasy of the people has created supernatural mythical creatures that represent the natural forces and elements. Those creatures are poetic metaphors used by the people to express their emotions and dreams, desires and cravings. The tales are also seen as a concealed rebellion against the patriarchal morals, against the traditional way of living, a cover-up of the human secret longings and hungers. The plot of that kind of stories often focuses on a man that has fallen in love with a wood nymph and his escape from the home and the domestic burdens; it symbolizes the desire to be loved and to live freely into the magical and beautiful nature.
Myths and Legends
The myths and legends are important part of the Bulgarian prose folklore. According to the expert Tsvetana Romanska, the myths are mostly linked to the national history, and the legends are based on beliefs and superstitions. Both types of tales are often mixed and are difficult to differentiate them. The plot of many of the myths is about the forceful conversion of the local Bulgarian population to Islam and the straggle against it. It is a reflection of the historic reality that is well known in the different folklore regions of Bulgaria along with the songs dedicated to heroes and the historic epics.
One of the much-loved legends in the Rodopi Mountain is the legend about Orpheus.
Orpheus is not just a mythological character known from the folklore legends; he is also a historic person and a political figure. According to numerous studies, it has been Orpheus to stand as a religious reformer who founded the synthesis of the stars and the Earth. Orpheus serves as the Muse and intermediary between the worlds of reality and imagination. The basic idea is the unification of opposites into a new order seen as a dynamic creative process. Orpheus was considered a demi-god with the power to charm and pacify the wild denizens of the forest (beast, bird and bush) with his song and musicianship, on the lyre of Hermes given to him by Apollo. He is a symbol of a harmonising element within Nature. As a poet-musician he is also an inspirer of artists, an intermediary between the ‘spirit world’ and ordinary reality.
The Orpheus is a son of King Oiagrus and Kalliope, the ‘Muse of the beautiful voice’, herself a ‘daughter of Apollo’, like all Muses. Oiagros was the king of Thrace, his father Charops had been a disciple of Dionysos, whose cult dominated the region. The largest Temple to Dionysos yet found is recently discovered in the Easter Rodopi Mountain in Bulgaria, a large circular building open to the sky.
Orpheus falls in love with Euryice, but she is bitten by a viper and dies. A grief stricken Orpheus recruits Hermes to guide him on his descent into the underworld in order to bring his dead lover back to the Earth. In Hades he entrances the denizens of the Underworld into a state of passivity and wins the right to return with Eurydice, as long as she follows him and he doesn’t look back. At the last minute he does look back and he loses her forever.
The role of the chitalishte in the preserving and promoting of the folklore stories and fairytales is central and decisive. It provides possibilities for children (and adults) to be engaged into tailored educational programs that offer introduction to Bulgarian and international literature, and also usage of modern communication media and tools (internet, radio, television).
Head of Regional Expert Consultancy Centre “Chitalishta” – Region of Smolyan