Circassian Literature by Amjad Jaimoukha

ORATORY had been a well-developed art in Circassia since time immemorial. Foster-boys were instructed in rhetoric from an early age, and many graduates went on to become past masters in this art. The word Adigebze [адыгэбзэ], Circassian language, acquired a specialized sense of a nice and serious speech. Toasts have maintained their role as important components of oral literature, besides their religious significance. These literary genres went through adverse circumstances starting from the end of the 18th century, but started to recover by the end of the 19th. Western travellers and scholars have provided conflicting accounts as to the level of development of Circassian literature. According to the German scholar, F. Bodenstedt, who visited the Caucasus in the first half of the 19th century, for the Circassian, ‘Poetry is both a repository of national wisdom and sagacity, a guide to noble action, and the ultimate arbiter ... It is the moralizer and the preventer of evil deeds.’1 Paul B. Henze wrote, ‘Circassians had a rich tradition of oral poetry. Oratory was a highly developed art. Leaders gained as much renown for their speech-making ability as for their skill in battle’ (P. Henze, 1992, p71).2 On the other hand, W. E. Curtis, who toured the Caucasus early in the 20th century, claimed that the Circassians had no literature, but ‘their poets have written many charming lines and there are two or three local histories of merit’ (1911, p255).3 His account of the Circassians was patronizing, to say the least, and dismissed literary traditions that stretched back for hundreds of years. 

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