Karagoz & Hacivat

Who are Karagoz & Hacivat?

Although not conclusively proven, the legend of Karagoz and Hacivat may be based on two real individuals who lived during the time of the second Ottoman sultan, Orhan Ghazi (1324-1362 AD). The most enduring and widely accepted story starts in the city of Bursa, the first Ottoman capital. Karagoz (which means "Black Eyes") and Hacivat ("Civat the Pilgrim") were hired as laborers to assist in constructing a mosque. Karagoz and Hacivat kept the work crew laughing so much that the mosque was not being built. As a result, they were executed. Almost all versions of the story agree that upon hearing of their deaths, Orhan Ghazi was filled with remorse. In order to console him, one of his retainers, Sheikh Kusteri, created translucent likenesses of Karagoz and Hacivat in order to continue their comic exchanges.

Karagoz represents the common but honest man in the street. He is a little gruff and hard of hearing, but has a big heart.  Hacivat is somewhat more educated and occasionally puts on airs. He has many schemes to try and make money, which often involve his best friend Karagoz. 

Stories include:

1. The Public Scribe

2.The Tailor Shop

3. The Poetry Contest

4. The Fishing Trip

...and more!

The two friends have been joined in shadow theater over the centuries by many other characters representing every aspect of Ottoman life. There are travelers, brigands, soldiers, dancers, ladies of quality (and not so great quality...), bards, musicians, government officials, mermaids and magical djinns, just to name a few. 

 About forty traditional Karagoz shows have survived into the 21st century with many more added and written within the last hundred years as Karagoz and Hacivat became more of an entertainment for children.  Today, Karagoz and Hacivat are retaking their rightful place as the cultural treasure that they are and have always been, for both children and adults alike.

Where did traditional Karagoz shadow puppet theater come from?

The legend of Karagoz and Hacivat dates to the fourteenth century, but the first written proof of shadow puppet theater in Anatolia is found in the sixteenth century in the writings of Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi and in the Tarih-i Misr (The Egyptian Chronicles) written by Muhammed ibn Ahmet ibn Iyas. One story relates that Sultan Selim I who incorporated Egypt into the Ottoman Empire in 1517 AD saw an Egyptian shadow show on Roda island in the Nile River and was so impressed he brought a puppeteer back to Constantinople so he could share the entertainment with his son; a young man of twenty one who would in time become Sultan Suleiymann the Magnificent.  

There are a number of hypothesis as to how shadow theater began in medieval Anatolia, and how it is related to other shadow puppet traditions around the world, including Java and India.  Please check back to this page from time to time, as I will be adding further information on this beautiful and fascinating art form, and the origins of Karagoz and Hacivat.  Meantime, please check out the link on my Information page to the full length film, "Hacivat and Karagoz: Who Killed the Shadows."  Filmed in Turkey in 2006, it is a great introduction to the legend of Karagoz and Hacivat.


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Karagoz & Hacivat

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Instructions for Making a Shadow Puppet  Under Construction

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Web site created by Kat Bennett, La Sirene Publications.

Photograph of puppet stage taken by Kat Bennett 2011. All rights reserved.

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Last updated 6/6/2014