Turkish Folklore

In Turkey, folklore studies began at the beginning of the 20th century. Ziya Gökalp mentioned folklore ("halkiyat") in the magazine "Towards the People" in 1913. Later Riza Tevfik Bölükbasi and Mehmet Fuat Köprülü wrote articles on the subject in various magazines. A Folklore Association was set up in 1927 and the "People's Houses" (1932) both carried out important survey work in this field. Today these activities are continued in various university faculties.

Main guidelines in Turkish Folklore

Turning points in peoples' lives

This encompasses the preservation of traditional ceremonies connected with birth, childhood, circumcision, marriage and death. These are traditions that have their origins in Shamanism and Islamic beliefs.

Folkloric Knowledge

Folk medicine and veterinary medicine, religious traditions, the calendar, practical weather forecasting and law all exhibit rich folkloric characteristics stemming from traditional Turkish society. These subjects, each of which today is a branch of science, are themes for folkloric research, as they have preserved their traditional forms outside the cities.

Children's and Adult Games

Turkish folklore has a rich treasure of games for children and adults. These can be played in the garden at home, during chats and while visiting people. At times these games require special equipment. Games of "Hide and Seek", games based on religion and sorcery and games for the mind based on imitation come into this category.


Official religious and seasonal holidays and the beliefs and customs associated with them are also an important reason for festivities.


Traditional clothing forms a part of Turkish traditional culture. In the past the Turks would weave their own clothing and make dyes from natural plant ingredients, in a way that reflected their feelings in the designs they created. Each region had its own characteristics in the way of clothing, headwear, scarves and socks, which have all, through the centuries, attracted interest and admiration.

Turkish Folk Dances

Folk dances have different characteristics based on region and location and are generally engaged in during weddings, journeys to the mountains in the summer, when sending sons off to military service and during religious and national holidays such as Ramadan period. The best known folk dances are:

  • Horon: This Black Sea dance is performed by men only, dressed in black with silver trimmings. The dancers link arms and quiver to the vibrations of the kemence, a primitive type of violin. See more info on Horon dance.
  • Kasik Oyunu: The Spoon Dance is performed from Konya to Silifke and consists of gaily dressed male and female dancers clicking out the dance rhythm with a pair of wooden spoons in each hand.
  • Kilic Kalkan: The Sword and Shield Dance of Bursa represents the Ottoman conquest of the city. It is performed by men only, dressed in early Ottoman battle dress, who dance to the sound of clashing swords and shields without music.
  • Zeybek: In this Aegean dance, colorfully dressed male dancers, called "Efe", symbolize courage and heroism. See more info on Zeybek dance.

Turkish Folk Music

The lively Turkish folk music, which originated on the steppes of Asia, is in complete contrast to the refined Turkish classical music of the Ottoman court. Until recently, folk music was not written down, and the traditions have been kept alive by the "Asiklar", or Turkish troubadours. Distinct from Turkish folk music is Ottoman military music, now performed by the "Mehter takimi" (Janissary Band), which originated in Central Asia, and is played with kettle drums, clarinets, cymbals and bells. The mystical music of the Whirling Dervishes is dominated by the haunting sound of the reed pipe or "ney", and can be heard in Konya during the Mevlana Festival in December.

Performing Arts

There are varieties of traditional Turkish performing arts:

  • Village Plays: Plays are put on in accordance with rural traditions on special days, weddings and holidays in small villages across Anatolia.
  • Meddah: A kind of one-act dramatic play where the narrator also imitates the various characters in the play.
  • Karagoz & Hacivat: Traditional shadow theater, where the shadow puppets of human and animal figures, cut out of leather and colored, are thrown onto a white curtain using a light source behind it. See more info on Karagoz.
  • Orta Oyun: In style and theme resembles Karagöz & Hacivat, but is performed by real actors in the roles of "Kavuklu" and "Pisekar".
  • Asuk - Masuk: A kind of Orta Oyun played by two men; bodies painted with a male and other female face, heads fully covered with a clothing, playing lively with music and dancing with choreography. Asuk symbolize the "guy" who is in love with Masuk, and Masuk is the "girl" who is loved by Asuk.
  • Tuluat Theater: A mixture of Orta Oyun and western theater, often known as improvisational theater, where actors "improvise" their role and words during the play.

Turkish Folk Literature

Composed of "Tekke" and "Asik", works of literary worth, often anonymous and passed down from generation to generation. These include epics, legends, folk poems, ballads, elegies, folk songs, riddles, folk tales anecdotes, proverbs, expressions and rhymes. Many Turkish literature writers have contributed to this folk art as well.

Turkish Folk Heroes

  • Nasrettin Hoca: A 13th century humorist and sage from Aksehir. His witticisms are known throughout Anatolia and often appear in conversation. See more info on Nasreddin Hodja.
  • Karagöz: A jester, said to have lived in Bursa in the 14th century and now immortalized as a shadow puppet. Karagöz is a rough man of the people who uses his ribald wit to get the better of his pompous friend, Hacivat. The puppets are made from gaily painted, translucent animal skins and are projected onto a white screen. See more info on Karagoz.
  • Yunus Emre: The 13th century philosopher poet, one of Turkey's national treasures, promoted basic themes of universal love, friendship, brotherliness and divine Justice. His simple and pure writing is relevant and thought- provoking to this day. See more info Yunus Emre.
  • Köroglu: A 15th century folk poet, Köroglu was a role model for his contemporaries and a hero of his time. His adventures have been recounted for centuries and perhaps now with more interest than ever. Köroglu was one of the first people to pioneer the ideal of unconditional help for the poor and down trodden. He was also spoke out against government control and harassment.