Liliana Daskalova Perkowski, Doroteja Dobreva, Jordanka Koceva & Evgenija Miceva, Typeverzeichnis der bulgarischen Volksmärchen. Bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Klaus Roth. Folklore Fellows’ Communications No. 257. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia (Academia Scientiarum Fennica), 1995. 425 pp.
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According to Klaus Roth, the author of the German version of the Bulgarian type index of folktales published by the Folklore Fellows in 1995, Bulgaria is interesting in two folkloristic respects. On the one hand the folktales of that region represent a cross-cultural blend of folklore, Bulgaria being at the crossroads of Occidental and Oriental tradition. On the other hand the influence of Moslem folklore on Bulgarian ways of creating stories is immense because of the nearly five hundred years of Turkish domination. Therefore, a type index of the Bulgarian narrative folk tradition might show the reader where to look for the borderline of European folklore.
This publication is one in the huge series of indices started by Antti Aarne and refined by Stith Thompson. In their preface to the original Bulgarian version the editors, Liliana Daskalova Perkowski, Doroteja Dobreva, Jordanka Koceva and Evgenija Miceva, describe how they tried to adhere to that very same system. To the classical folklorist this volume therefore seems familiar. He knows what to expect and how to use it. He can see how the tradition is constituted, what motifs are to be found, what plots to trace, in what regions the tales have been told and in what original sources to look them up again.
A type index is like a map, i.e. a quick way to get an overview of the tradition of a special region, be it a national state or a culturally limited area. In many respects a type index is to the folklorist what a bibliography or a data base is to the student of other sciences. The folklorist needs the type index as an entrance to tradition, whereas a bibliography or a data base are doorways to scientific publications. Without a preceding bibliographical browse a planned research project might easily repeat what is already known. Without a type index a folklorist textual study could easily be groping. But like bibliographies or data bases, type indices do not present knowledge as the result of a thorough research process, they just open up for it to start. The well-considered and critical knowledge which might be the outcome of an initiated and nuanced study should, however, be based on information gained from encyclopaedic reference books like this one. We have, for sure, passed the time when the motif index was the goal of folklore research.
Taking into consideration all kinds of source critical points of view, like aspects of the recording of folklore texts, the representativity of the listed tales, aspects of their value, their validity, their quantity and so forth, it is possible to see that Bulgarian folktales on, for instance, the devil, have characteristics of their own. This, however, is not possible without a comparative method. By taking the Bulgarian index and comparing it with the indices of neighbouring traditions, it might be possible to see what motifs and types are specifically Bulgarian, what motifs are more widespread in the Balkans, what is generally European, and, finally, what is folklore from non-European regions. This geographic angle was one of the original considerations of the first inventors of motif and type indices. The diffusion of tradition was at that time, at the beginning of the 20th century, one of the central goals for these folklorists. The diffusion of tradition is no longer a central issue in today’s folkloristics. Therefore it is correct to ask oneself to what end type indices should be published in the 1990s.
By comparing type indices it is possible to find parallels, similarities, resemblances, dissimilarities and idiosyncracies in folklore. But not even this is a good scientific result. Obviously folklore collected among neighbouring peoples will have considerable similarities, but also dissimilarities because while folklore connects, it also creates borders between groups with a cultural identity of their own. The comparison has to be made for some specific purpose. Why is it interesting, for instance, to state that the story of the devil trying to cause a quarrel between friends is well documented in Scandinavia, among the Germans, in Bulgaria and in Indian folklore? Today the answer is not that it is possible to trace the diffusion and distribution of one motif just in order to construct a “birth date” and a place of origin. Neither would it be a value in itself to state that this motif is more eastern than western. Such questions and answers were convenient at a time when national politics was the spring of folkloristics.
Today folkloristics does in many respects centre on the informant and the interaction between him and the folklore scholar. Folklorists the world over are trying to find the world views, the value systems and the normative plans for human life of their informants. Folkloristics today concentrates on quality rather than quantity, on deep studies rather than worldwide comparative investigations. Some critical voices have been heard as to the scientific value of such details. Somehow the comparison of folklore from different cultures should open our eyes in the multicultural European society. Comparative studies should not be made in order to find differences between cultures but to find parallels and similarities. Instead of looking at the devil stories to see what is characteristic of Bulgarian folklore we should ask what stories are similar over a vast area. The next question must be why they are similar. Maybe they are similar because they are expressions of equal cultural ideas, qualities, and values. Maybe the ways of thinking on human conditions are not so different after all. In this way folklore could be studied, treated and utilised as a means of cross-cultural understanding beyond political and other more or less concrete borderlines.
The type index helps us to find these similarities, at least on the surface level. The study of the meaning of the texts, however, requires a thorough knowledge of the history of the region in question, of the cultural contexts that always influence a folklore text, of the connotations and deep meanings of the central concepts, and preferably also some knowledge about the informants and the way the texts were recorded. Thus, there is no saying that the Bulgarian devil is the same as the Scandinavian one, since several religions and systems of thought have influenced the figure in the two traditions. The type index helps the folklorist to trace material but must be supplemented by several other sources of information. In this way they stop being mere catalogues of more or less casually collected folklore and start to live in a most inspiring way. A motif index is thus like an esoteric text: to the well-educated folklorist it is a treasure chest, to the layman it is just a heap of rusty nails.
Åbo Akademi University
FF Network No. 15
(April 1998): 18-19