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Aldar Kose - characters of Kazakh folklore


Aldar Kose is one of the great characters of Kazakh folklore - similar to the Uzbek Hodzha Nasreddin or his Flemish-German counterpart Tijl Uilenspiegel/Till Eulenspiegel. The anti-hero of numerous stories repeated through the centuries around yurt fires across the steppe, the scoundrel Aldar Kose always has a sharp nose when it comes to tricking rich but ignorant contemporaries, or engaging in adventures with demons, giants and monsters.

In a society where a long beard and the possession of large herds of livestock were a precondition for membership of the upper class, tales of the wandering, quick-witted "beardless deceiver"-the literal translation from Kazakh-served as a lightning conductor for the frustrations of the lower classes. The oral tradition of satirical tales about Aldar Kose has endured, with the sympathies-naturally-always lying with the waggish champion of the poor and repressed. Below is a typical tale of Aldar's cunning and mischievous humour:

One can only survive a cold winter like this in a fox fur coat! But Aldar Kose froze day after day in his short, threadbare coat, full of holes. One day, he was riding over the steppe, his hands and feet already completely stiff and his nose blue from the frost. If only he could find a warm yurt! The wind was howling and all but tore the rascal's ears off. And nowhere in the wide steppe was the smoke of an aid to be seen...

He whipped his mount, but that failed to make the old bag of bones run any faster. It merely shook its mane and trotted on.
"When the horse is bad, the road is long," the horseman said to himself and shook, his head. He would have to ride on for a long, long time, no sound of dogs barking, not a single yurt to be seen in the steppe. Who knew what could happen with such a frost.
All of a sudden, the horseman spotted another rider approaching from the opposite direction. The powerful trot of the horse made it easy for Aldar to guess: there comes a bey. Immediately, an idea struck the rascal. He flung his coat wide open, sat upright in the saddle and started to sing a cheerful tune. When the travellers met, they halted their horses and greeted one another according to etiquette. The bey in his fox fur coat was shivering with cold. Aldar Kose, however, had pulled back his cap and fanned himself with his hand, as though he were sitting under the mercilessly hot rays of the sun.

"Are you not cold?" the bey asked the scoundrel*
"Why, it may well be cold under your coat, but I am sweating under mine," Aldar Kose replied.
"How can you sweat under such a coat?" the bey asked in disbelief.
"So, do you not see it yourself?"
"Frankly speaking, what I see is that crows must have picked your coat to pieces. It has more holes than fur!"
"But the good thing about it is that it has so many holes. The wind blows in through one hole, and whoosh!-it blows out again through the other. And I remain warm."
"I have got to get that magic coat from him," thought the bey to himself.
"Oh how warm I would be if only I could put on the bey's fur coat," secretly rejoiced the scoundrel.
"Sell your coat to me!" said the bey in a commanding voice.
"Not for anything in the world, without my coat I would certainly freeze!"
"You will not freeze! Take my coat." proposed the bey. "It is also warm enough."

Aldar Kose turned away and pretended to be unwilling to listen. But with one eye he peered at the fox fur, while he squinted at the rich man's well-fed horse with the other.

"I shall give you my fur coat and money as well," the bey tempted him.
"Money I need naught. But if you give me the horse with the coat, I might think about it."

The bey was delighted and agreed. Immediately, he took off his fur coat and leapt from his horse. Aldar Kose put on the fox fur coat, jumped on the bey's swift horse, gave it the spurs and he was off faster than the wind.

Now Aldar Kose had a good ride, and in his warm fox fur he wandered from aul to aul on his smart-looking horse. And wherever he came, in each yurt he was asked: "Tell us, Aldar-where did you get that fine fur and that swift horse?"
"I obtained them in exchange for a magic fur, with 70 holes and 90 patches besides!"

And Aldar cheered up the people by telling his tale of how the bey had hurled himself upon his coat full of holes and had given him his fox fur coat instead. The people laughed their heads off and thanked the comical storyteller generously with kumis and fresh flat round bread. And always when the laughter had died down, Aldar Kose added: "Only he who has covered the road can tell whether it is long or short. And only he who eats can distinguish the sweet food from the bitter."