Wooden Ot­toman janis­saries: Tu­nisian brothers up­hold tra­di­tion of pup­pet mak­ing

Tu­nisian brothers Adel and Is­mail el-Ashi make wooden pup­pets de­pict­ing Ot­toman janis­saries, a skill passed down from their fa­ther, in their small work­shop

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Culture & Arts - TU­NIS / AA

TWO TU­NISIAN brothers keep alive the tra­di­tion of mak­ing wooden pup­pets de­pict­ing Ot­toman janis­saries, elite in­fantry units in the Ot­toman army, in their work­shop in the Tu­nisian cap­i­tal Tu­nis. This pup­pet, which Tu­nisians call “Is­mail Pasha,” is con­sid­ered one of the most fa­mous char­ac­ters in tra­di­tional com­edy plays in the history of the coun­try.

Visi­tors to the small work­shop of Adel and Is­mail el-Ashi, which com­prises of two small rooms in the base­ment of their house in the La Goulette (known in Ara­bic as Halq al-Wadi) neigh­bor­hood, are greeted by wooden pup­pets of all sizes de­pict­ing Ot­toman janis­saries. Perched in ev­ery cor­ner of the shop are the wooden janis­sary pup­pets with han­dle­bar mus­taches, cop­per shields and shiny swords, dressed in clothes and çarıks (hand­made san­dals).

The el-Ashi brothers told Anadolu Agency (AA) that these pup­pets date all the way back to the Con­quest of Tu­nis in 1574, which saved the coun­try from Span­ish oc­cu­pa­tion.

The mas­ter pup­peteers said they strive to keep alive the legacy of their fa­ther, who taught the brothers the craft and passed away in 2018.

Adel el-Ashi said their fa­ther started mak­ing janis­sary pup­pets 50 years ago in his work­shop in Bab Je­did, an an­cient quar­ter in Tu­nis, adding: “My fa­ther used to per­form im­pro­vised com­edy plays that sat­i­rized the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try us­ing pup­pets, in­clud­ing the Is­mail Pasha pup­pets. Is­mail Pasha be­came a sought-af­ter char­ac­ter in these plays in the coun­try, with peo­ple quickly de­vel­op­ing in­ter­est in the pup­pets.”

Adel el-Ashi said that a friend of his aunt helped his fa­ther make clothes for the pup­pets, which is how his par­ents met, con­tin­u­ing, “my aunt’s friend, namely my mother, con­tin­ues to sew the clothes of the pup­pets.” He em­pha­sized that the pup­pets are all hand­made and the busi­ness is a fam­ily af­fair at this point.

Is­mail el-Ashi re­it­er­ated that the craft runs in the fam­ily, adding: “We will pass it on to our chil­dren. My fa­ther was very de­voted to this craft. So, no won­der he named me Is­mail. I am proud of this job.”

The pup­pet mas­ter brothers stressed that while other pup­pet mak­ers in Tu­nisia over time opted to use ma­chines in or­der to pro­duce more pup­pets and gain more rev­enue, the el-Ashis in­sist on work­ing by hand.

Adel el-Ashi stated that when the pup­pets are made by hand you can bet­ter re­veal the lines on the faces and necks of the fig­ures and add more in­tri­cate de­tails to the in­lays and carv­ings. Once the wood­work is com­plete, the face is painted orange and the “Is­tan­bul fez” red, be­fore the cop­per shields are cut ac­cord­ing to the height of the pup­pet and dec­o­rated.

Adel deals with the wood­work­ing and the face and neck of the pup­pet, while Is­mail is in charge of the cop­per work and their mother sews the clothes. “My fa­ther handed over a dif­fer­ent skill to each of us,” Adel el-Ashi said.

Is­mail el-Ashi re­marked that they con­tinue their craft de­spite de­clin­ing in­ter­est in pup­petry due to the rise of tech­nol­ogy, adding that in ad­di­tion to pup­pets, they also do other wood­work such as hand­made trin­kets ac­cord­ing to cus­tomer de­mand.

The Tu­nisian brothers are proud of their hand-crafted work­man­ship of wood and cop­per, in a process that can take hours, even days. The two have al­ready be­gun train­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of fam­ily mem­bers in or­der to keep the tra­di­tion alive.

Adel el-Ashi looks at a janis­sary pup­pet he made in their work­shop in the cap­i­tal Tu­nis, Tu­nisia, Oct. 10, 2020.

Janis­sary pup­pets in the prepa­ra­tion stage at the brothers’ work­shop, Oct. 10, 2020.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Turkey

© PressReader. All rights reserved.