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2 Bir Varmış, Bir Yokmuş Folklore and Binary Oppositions in the Factional Origin Myths A key indicator of the bilateral character of the Faqari and Qasimi factions is the origin myths associated with them, all of which stress the mutual enmity of two individuals or parties. The most insistent on this point is the origin myth presented, with numerous variations, in the Damurdashi group of chronicles. These chronicles list diametrically opposed pairs in order to stress, by analogy, the enmity of the Faqaris and Qasimis—or at least of their associated bedouin blocs, Sa˜d and Haram. Not coincidentally, most of these pairs can be identified as antagonistic characters in Arab popular lore. This finding underlines the bilateralism of the Faqaris’ and Qasimis’ struggle. Beyond this, however, it suggests that popular tales, particularly epic adventures, were used as vehicles by which to introduce factional differences to new members of Egypt’s military and administrative population , and to inculcate factional loyalty among them. This chapter examines these binary oppositions and explores the manner in which allusions to popular epics could be used as a means of acculturation. Binary oppositions are arguably implicit in Middle Eastern folktales from the opening lines. The typical Turkish tale begins, Bir varmıß, bir yokmuß: “There was and there was not.” The same basic formula exists in Arabic, Kån må-kån, although one also encounters the variant kån yå må-kån, which can translate to “Oh, how very long ago it was.” Both the Turkish and the Arabic phrases probably derive from the Persian equivalent, Yeki b¶d, yeki nå-b¶d.1 The formula has an amulet-like quality, as if it would ward off evil by refusing to insist on the absolute truth of the story.2 At the same time, this formula establishes a 45 46 A Tale of Two Factions polarity, a pairing of opposites, and creates the potential for a series of polar opposites throughout the narrative—not unlike the famous opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness , it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. . . .” The chronicles of Ottoman Egypt do not begin with Bir varmıß, bir yokmuß, Kån må-kån, or Yeki b¶d, yeki nå-b¶d. Conventionally, they start with the bismillah, an invocation of God, who has created all things and made it possible for the chronicler to record the deeds of the Ottoman dynasty, or the governors of Egypt, or Egypt’s beys and aghas. In a chronicle, the bismillah, rather than the more folk-magical amulet-formula, gives the author entrée into the story he has decided, or been commissioned, to tell. For he is, make no mistake, telling a story. And following the bismillah, he must provide the justification for his story. The Damurdashi group of chronicles, composed during the first half of the eighteenth century, constitute the most folkloric3 of the currently available corpus of chronicles, in Arabic or Turkish, of Ottoman Egypt. Ahmed Kâhya ˜Azeban al-Damurdashi, ostensibly the author of the latest and most inclusive of these chronicles, gives a suitably folkloric reason for its existence: “Some of the brothers (ikhwån) had asked me about events in Cairo among the sancak beys (sanåjiq) and the aghas and the officers (ikhtiyåriyya) of the seven regiments since the deposition of Sultan Mehmed [IV, r. 1648–1687].”4 The author, whether Ahmed the deputy commander (kâhya) of the ˜Azeban regiment or merely an associate, proceeds to tell them, beginning in 1100 A.H./1688 C.E. (His terminus a quo conveniently combines a new reign with the beginning of a new Islamic century.) “In those days,” he explains, “the administration (dawla) of Egypt was divided into two factions (farqatayn).” Here, his narrative obligingly assumes the binary opposition that he is describing : “Sa˜d and Haram, Tubba˜i and Kulaybi, Husayni and Yazidi, Akri [?] and Qaysi.” He lets loose, as it were, a string of bir varmıß, bir yokmußes, paired in such a way as immediately to evoke, to those familiar with regional folklore, two irremediably opposed poles. Each of these pairs of opposites following Sa˜d and Haram would have been well-known to his listeners from basic Islamic tradition and from Arab, and perhaps Turkish, folktales; his evocation of...


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