Association for Feminist Anthropology
Retrospective - Oral Presentation Session
The annual Nasreddin Hoca festival, Turkey’s oldest secular, tourism-oriented festival, was launched in 1959 by Akşehir’s elites to commemorate Hoca, whose tomb consecrates this city. Until recently the festival’s opening involved the figure of Hoca, embodied by an actor, being called from his tomb by the Governor, Mayor and the town’s residents. He would be led out of the tomb sitting in typical reversed position on his donkey, flinging sweets and peanuts to a delighted crowd. This paper examines the way in which this festival and the portrayal of Nasreddin Hoca is undergoing changes as part of a politics of national and global place-making. My paper is based on several field visits to the city, the first of which was with Beverly Stoelje in 2009, drawing on observations, interviews, and visual records, touching on the gendered interpretations of the festival. Sibel Yardımcı notes of urban festivals in Turkey that earlier festivals had a more “educational role” in upholding the values of a westward-looking nation state. In Akşehir, the recent trend also has its didactic focus shifting towards more Islamic spiritualism but also towards competitive heritage-based place-making. The Nasreddin Hoca repertoire is a source of humor, satire, and wisdom, yet part of claiming him as national heritage involves separating the bawdy from the spiritual. Perhaps in that spirit, Hoca is no longer led out of the tomb out of ‘respect for the dead’ and commemoration is weighted more than festivity, with ongoing claims of ownership, copyright, and heritage.