Nasreddin Hodja (Hoca) is a 13th century Turkish personage who is believed to have lived in Aksehir in south-central Turkey. About 400 handwritten manuscripts that narrate anecdotes demonstrating his quick wit and wisdom have survived. Hodja was clearly a beloved character whose advise and opinion the townspeople solicited and respected. They also loved to test his wit by playing mischievous games on him or by asking him absurd questions. Hodja was often victim to the practical jokes of children and adults, who wanted to see how he would get himself out of trouble. But Nasreddin Hodja, to the delight of his fellow villagers, was never stumped to deliver a witty one-liner.
Hodja, so-called for his wisdom (in Turkish "hoca" means both teacher and religious leader, both of whom are supposed to be knowing men), was sometimes an imam, leading prayers and other religious ceremonies, and sometimes a kadi, resolving local disputes. But he was, first and foremost, a small farmer who had a few live stock and a small land to cultivate. He is hard-working and honest, however, he is not immune to little cheatings every now and then. He is often poor. He and his family live very modestly, and from time to time they even suffer from abject poverty where there is no food or fire to keep them warm. Nasreddin Hodja is willing to do any job to support his family. Tough times make him sarcastic, but he maintains his sense of humour and optimism.
In some stories Hodja acts utterly foolish. It is believed that he too, in his turn, wanted to play games on others. He liked to astonish his townspeople and deliver a good message in the form of idiocy. Sometimes for his own benefit, or to save face, he pretended to be stupid. At times, he was tempted to resort to beguiling for small favours or an extra meal. We see in the stories that when it comes to poverty, the villagers are all on the same boat, and it is a daily quest to trick one another into offering a meal or a treat.
Hodja is also known and cherished in other cultures. In Greece, Albania, many Arab countries, Iran, Serbia, Croatia, China, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Armenia and Afghanistan, Nasreddin Hodja continues to entertain the children and the adults.
Nasreddin Hodja, his life and times, and his character can be debated to no end. However, I believe that this little summary is enough to get us started with his tales. We can't tell anything more about Nasreddin Hodja than he tells us about himself in the stories attributed to him.
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