“Being an Uzbek, one of the popular themes in the lore of the area I am from is that the rich are greedy and silly and the poor often teach them a lesson. In that regard, one of the folk stories commonly told is that of Hoja Nasreddin Afandi. To be exact, many stories. This was lore but has been since written down and published a lot, of course, as most folklore. Hoja is a title given for making a hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Nasreddin is also known as Nasreddin Afandi, or just Afandi, depending on the story being told. Whenever, a story “favorably” depicts Nasreddin as a trickster and shrewd defender of the oppressed, he is either called by his first name Nasreddin or by both his first name and the title, Hoja Nasreddin. However, when the story has him as a butt of a joke, then he goes simply by Afandi. He is so popular in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, that Afandi became a name for a simpleton in Uzbek, Tajiki, and Farsi. It is not unusual to hear people call somebody “Afandi” for being silly and naive.”
“Hoja Nasreddin has inspired countless books and movies. Today, he continues to be an enduring character in the oral tradition of modern Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and so on. His exploits fascinate people for the same reasons all over the globe. He is the clever underdog, always managing to humiliate the bumbling authorities and fanatics, who are hell bent on capturing or killing him. What is particularly interesting is that Hoja Nasreddin is explicitly non-violent, and wins time and again on his wits alone. To the sheer delight of audiences, who are sometimes rolling with sidesplitting laughter. Nasreddin is immortalized in several monuments in Bukhara, Moscow, and elsewhere, and a person cannot ignore Nasreddin in their studies of the region.”
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Though the informant does not remember any specific stories involving Hoja Nasreddin, she considers him to be a significant part of her upbringing in Uzbekistan, and later in Russia. Nasreddin can be seen to represent the common man – for although he is very wise and sagacious, many of his efforts in the stories that the informant recalls involve him resisting the rich and oppressive through non-violent resistance, trickery, and perseverance. In other words, he is basically the equivalent of a Robin Hood character for the region. Both his character, and the stories he appears in are infinitely relatable, on a variety of levels, given that they are often humorous, but at the same time convey a lesson or moral message. Although Nasreddin is believed to be a historical figure, his true origin is unclear, given the fact that many countries in the area claim him for themselves. This manifests itself in a variety of spellings for his name – Hoja, Hodja, Kodja, Mullah, etc.. – are all the same character. His widespread legacy has made him transcend history and become a legendary figure, a proud part of the national canon of many countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
More information on Nasreddin can be found in the book:
Hengirmen, Mehmet. Nasreddin Hodja Stories. Ankara: Engin, 1995. Print.