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Tajikistan Children's Literature - Abstract and Outline
Persianate Childrens Literature in Tajikistan
Abd El-Sadek, Department of Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Edinburgh
The rich tradition of childrens literature in Tajikistan has, to date, not been given sufficient attention. Combined with the influence of Soviet ideology it forms a unique body of literature. This important branch of childrens literature has not even been included in the Encyclopedia Iranica, despite the fact that in Soviet Tajikistan a lively tradition of imaginative readings created exclusively for children existed for almost 70 years.
The present paper forms part of the research for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh on Persianate Childrens Literature, a wider study of the social influences which have shaped Farsi and Tajiki childrens literature. The goal of the research is to discover how social and historical conditions have affected the underlying poetics of childrens literature in Tajikistan.
The researcher spent two months in Tajikistan in 2003, with the support of the Tweedie Foundation and the Carnegie Trust, investigating the effects of classical literature on modern Tajiki Childrens Literature and reached the conclusion that in Tajikistan, as in Iran, traditional materials in the form of classical works and folklore play a major part in influencing the content of todays childrens literature. A second research project was carried out during the same time frame, entitled Childrens Literature in Tajikistan: Social Perspectives, which dealt with political and social issues and their effect upon literature for children over the last twenty years or so. Research was undertaken in a number of locations: high schools, publishers offices, the homes and offices of students, librarians, writers and researchers, the Institute of Language and Literature and other departments of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan, at the Writers Union of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Research Center of Tajiki & Farsi Languages, the Iranian Cultural Center of Dushanbe, the State University of the Republic of Tajikistan, libraries such as the Ferdosi State Library, and others. Authors, translators, researchers, magazine and newspaper editors, project managers, internet and computer training group members, high school teachers and university professors, were interviewed and materials were collected from a variety of sources.
A great number of stories from Tajik folklore are identifiable in modern childrens stories and they have been adapted in a number of ways, according to the style of delivery, i.e. verbally, in puppet theatre, in poems, cartoons, picture books, magazines, booklets etc. A wide selection of examples was collected during the course of the research which illustrates this.
Children of all ages are able to memorize and recite poetry and tell tales in different forms, many of these originating in classical literature and folklore. The findings show that oral literature is still strong in Tajikistan, where printed books are very scarce due to the chaos of the civil war and the ensuing economic hardships. The literacy rate is high in Tajikistan, despite the lack of books. Many children live in villages where there is no electricity supply and so, do not watch television. As the transmission method of stories in the past was oral, this has led to a continuation in the style and content of stories told for children today.
Tajikistan history and mythology was taught during the Soviet era, when traditional stories were encouraged, and animal and fairy stories were always popular. The Shahnameh has, likewise, always enjoyed popularity and is found in everyones house, according to Dr. Dodojoni Obidov, one of the most senior researchers of the Folklore Department of the Rudaki Institute of Language and Literature, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan. The Shahnameh has existed in both Cyrillic and Farsi form in Soviet times and up to the present, when it continues to exert a great influence on literature and writers. The work of Javad Rasouli, a writer, translator and doctoral researcher of the Folklore Department of the Rudaki Institute of Language and Literature, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, points to a number of effects seen in modern works which owe a debt to classical literature. He sees three areas as being of specific influence: Parents, Educational Literature & School Course Materials, and Cartoon Animation & Puppet Theatre. Works such as Kalilah & Dimnah, Saadis Golestan, and Marzbannameh, among others, have been affected by the folklore of greater Iran, (Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan) and in turn, appear in childrens folktales.
2) Social Issues
In addition, with reference to points outlined in the proposal, the study made the following findings:
a) What are the main influences on the processes of selection which provide the popular books of today? What kind of images of children and childhood do present-day children receive in stories?
Selection is not a major issue in Tajikistan as in Iran. The main struggle is to find money to get books for children published at all. Continuity has been lost due to the civil war and the country is in a bad economic state. The images of a prospering, thriving country ready to provide a wonderful future for its children which abounded during the Soviet era have been lost, and an unclear picture with only vague hopes for an improved future have replaced them. In general, the images of children and childhood have not changed a lot, except to reflect nationalistic sentiment and culture in greater measure than before. The Soviet era is seen by many as a past Golden Era and images of the past are received in great number.
b) How do the writers of childrens literature perceive the issues?
The main recurring issue which arises in discussion with authors of childrens books is that of finding funds for publishing. The childrens publishers themselves have no money for new projects and they have been greatly helped by a publishing grant awarded by the President of Tajikistan to produce almost thirty books in 2003. Paper quality is bad, color illustrations are too expensive to include, and there are few illustrators working in the field of children's books. Most of the writers are concerned with quality and dissatisfied with the small black and white paperback leaflets they have to produce to get their stories read. This has resulted in a large number of stories written sitting unread on their authors desks for lack of a publisher.
c) Finally, how has the history of Tajikistan and its oral traditions contributed to the present situation and attitude towards childrens literature?
The oral traditions of Tajikistan have strengthened the present position of childrens literature, and in turn they have been strengthened by the present situation. As children have no books, they tell each other stories or listen to their elders telling stories. Children also write down their own stories sometimes, and in this way encourage each other to read and write.
Authors embark on reading tours of the mountain villages in order to reach their audience, giving readings at junior schools and high schools where there is not even an electricity supply. The media of TV has been put to good use by writers, poets, and singers alike and the national TV station, TBC, has cultural programs which support artists and their work. Performance-based events have been held recently, such as the Oshioni Baland Festival on May 10th, 2003, in Dushanbe, featuring the poetry, stories and songs of the youth group.
The project would benefit from two follow-up stages where
(a) a website could be produced to make the information on Tajik writers and
their work available to a wider audience and
(b) a book would be published in English, a compilation with excerpts of the work of these writers, with the original texts and English translations. This would have a twofold purpose, that of providing a teaching text for Tajiki language, and that of giving Tajik childrens writers an international voice in the English-speaking world.
Publication of Research
The findings of two research projects, Analysis of the Influence of Folklore and Classical Texts on Childrens literature in Tajikistan and Childrens Literature in Tajikistan: Social Perspectives were presented by the researcher in a talk on 1st September at the Childrens Book Council of Iran, Tehran, and the present paper on the subject of Tajiki Childrens Literature is a condensed version of the above.
The researcher has commenced work on designing a website to introduce the works of childrens writers and magazines in Tajikistan, to be found at the following address: www.geocities.com/adabiyantajikistan/
This site is a long-term project and will include translations from Tajiki into English and Farsi. Anyone with contributions of materials, or anyone with an interest in collaborating is very welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to research findings, a section including materials produced for the ASPS Conference can be found at the above website.
Second Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, Yerevan, Armenia, 2-5 April 2004
Program of the Second Biennial Conference of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, Yerevan, Armenia, 2-5 April 2004
Tajikistan Children's literature- Conference Paper