Hedgehog Eats Ploughwoman's Lunch

In an earlier post, we saw rather complicated relationships between hedgehogs and turtles (sometimes mediated by their crustacean mutual friends), as depicted in a few Bulgarian/Macedonian and Greek folk songs. The topic, however, is far from exhausted.

The following song, published in 1896 in Volume XIII, page 38, of the SbNU (the Folklore Collection), was collected in the Samokov area of western Bulgaria by D. Ikimov.

The subtitle “Хороводная” under the song's title means, basically, that you can dance to it.

Желва и ежъ Turtle and Hedgehog
Пошла желькьа на оранье, 
На оранье, на копанье;
Упрегнала два гушчера, 
Остен ѝ е льута змиiа.
Понела е башчи (?) ручoк: 
Пугачица и чорбица, 
Чурбицата од мушица.
На срешча ѝ ежо-кьежо,
Наежил се, накежил се,
Пресресна си суа желькьа,
Пригѫрна ia, цальива ia,
Цальива ia, уапа ia;
Изруча ѝ погачица,
Погачица и чорбица.
Разльути се суа желькьа,
Та си оiде на кадиа,
На кадиу говореше:
-- Е кадио, ефендио!
Iа сам дошла да се судим,
Да се судим с ежо-кьежо.
Iа си поiдох на оранье,
На оранье, на копанье,
Та понесох башчу (?) ручок:
Погачица и чорбица.
На срешча ми ежо-кьежо,
Наежил се, накьежил се,
Пригѫрна ме, цальива ме,
Цальива ме, уапа ме;
Изеде ми погачица,
Искуса ми чорбицата.
 А кадия говореше: 
-- Таком Бога, суа желько,
Ти си мома -- дома седи,
Оно -- момче, така чини.
 Разсѫрди се суа  желькьа,
На кадиу говореше:
-- Е кадио, ефендио!
Криво седи, право суди,
Iали стани, iа да судим.
A turtle went to do ploughing,
To do ploughing, to do digging;
She harnessed two lizards,
And used a venomous snake for a goad.
She's brought a lunch for her father (?):
Pita bread and a chorba stew,
A chorba stew made from flies.
She's run across a hedgehog,
He's bristled at her,
And blocked the prim (?) turtle's path.
He hugged her, kissed her,
Kissed her, bit her,
Ate her pita bread,
Her pita bread and chorba stew.
The prim turtle was angry,
She went to the qadi,
And said to the qadi:
-- "Oh Qadi Effendi!
I have come to sue,
To sue the hedgehog.
I went to do ploughing,
To do ploughing, to do digging,
I brought a lunch for my father (?):
Pita bread and chorba stew.
I met a hedgehog,
He bristled at me,
Hugged me, kissed me,
Kissed me, bit me;
He ate my pita bread,
And devoured my chorba stew".
And the qadi said:
"The Lord be with you, prim turtle!
You are a girl - stay home;
He's a boy, he'll be doing things like that."
The prim turtle was angry,
She said to the qadi:
"Oh Qadi Effendi!
If you aren't sitting straight, at least judge right,
Or get up, and I will judge!"

(In accordance with the usual convention of referring to material published in the SbNU, the location of this song is usually abbreviated to "СбНУ XIII, 38". It can also be found, with a somewhat modernized spelling, as Song No. 39 in the book "КНИГА НА НАРОДНАТА ЛИРИКА, От седенките и хората до семейните радости и неволи", eds. Божан Ангелов и Христо Вакарелски).


  • "суа" may be a dialectal variant of "суха" ("dry"), or at least some editions think so; for the lack of a better guess, I translate that as "prim".
  • A qadi was a judge in an Ottoman (Islamic) court, and Effendi (Sir) was a way to address learned officials like that. At the time the song was recorded, Bulgaria has been liberated from the Ottoman rule for less than 20 years (and Macedonia was still under the Ottomans), so no wonder the folk songs still had Ottoman era terms in them.
  • The Turtle in the song is pretty good at declining her nouns: "кадио, ефендио!" is the Vocative (which is still very much alive and well in Bulgarian and Macedonian), and "кадиу" has to be the Dative (which is on its way out).
  • "Криво седи, право суди" (literally, something like "sit not straight; judge right") is actually a Bulgarian (and Macedonian) proverb, which is still in active use (at least judging by the online media). It is listed in plenty of dictionaries as an examlpe, but none of them quite explains its meaning, which appears to be along the lines, "You ought to make a right judgment in a disinterested way, not affected by your personal position". I am sure at all that I am guessing its sense right (or the meaning of the Turtle's "extension" of it). The most usual Bulgarian form of this prover is "Криво да седим, право да съдим," but there are many variants.

A different version of this song is given in the book "ЦУТ ЦУТИЛА ЧЕРЕШВИЦА. МАКЕДОНСКИ НАРОДНИ ПЕСНИ ОД МАРИОВО" (Macedonian folk songs from Mariovo) by БОЖО СТЕФАНОВСКИ (Božo Stefanovski), published by Bigoss in Skopje, 1995.

Кинисала мома желка The Girl Turtle goes out
Кинисала мома желка
во сабота на работа,
при орачо, при копачо.
Ми кренала зелен зелник,
зелен зелник коприварник.
На пат срете лоша среќа,
лоша среќа момче еже,
што потскокна па ја бакна,
што подрипна и ја штипна.
Ми тргнала на судија,
на судија, при кадија:
-Слушај ваму ти судија,
ти судија, ти кадија,
криво седи, право суди,
си кинисав на работа,
на работа во сабота,
при орачо при копачо,
што ме срете момче еже,
што потскокна та ме бакна,
што подрипна та ме штипна!
-Ај од тука, мома желко,
така прават ергените!
A girl turtle
Went to work on Saturday,
To do ploughing and digging.
She brought a green pie,
A green nettle pie.
On her way, she had an unfortunate meeting:
She met a boy hedgehog,
Who jumped and kissed her,
Who lept and pinched her.
She went to a judge,
To a qadi judge:
"Listen, Your Honor,
You Qadi Judge!
You may not sit straight, but judge right!
I went to work,
Went to work on Saturday,
To do ploughing and digging,
Where I met a boy hedgehog,
Who jumped and kissed me,
Who lept and pinched me."
"Go away, girl turtle!
This is what boys do!"

A somewhat different (bowdlerized?) version of the same song recently appeared in a 5th grade Macedonian language textbook:

Кинисала мома желка The Girl Turtle goes out
Кинисала мома желка
да ми оди на орање
да ми оди на орање
да ми носи сладок ручек.
Ја пресретна еже момче
тој ја бутна, ја подбутна
и истури сладок ручек
сладок ручек топеница.
Се налути желка мома
ми отиде кај судија.
Ој судијо, ти кадија
криво седи, право суди.
Јас си одев на орање
и си носев сладок ручек,
ме пресретна еже момче
тој ме бутна, ме побутна,
ми истури сладок ручек
топеница, маштеница.
Што и вели судијата,
што и вели кадијата:
Тој е момче се задева,
ти си мома, седи дома.
A girl turtle went out,
To go to do ploughing,
To go to do ploughing,
Carrying a tasty lunch with her.
A boy hedgehog blocked her way,
Pushed her, 
And grabbed the tasty lunch,
Tasty lunch of Topenitsa.
The girl turtle was angry
And went to the judge.
"Oh  Qadi Judge,
Whether you are sitting straight or not, make a right judgment!
I was walking to do ploughing,
Carrying a tasty lunch with me;
A boy hedghog blocked my way,
He pushed me,
And took my tasty lunch,
Of Topenitsa and yogurt."
What did the judge tell her,
What did the qadi tell her?
"He's a boy, he'll tease people.
You're a girl, stay home."


  • The name topenitsa (топеница) appears to be applied to various dishes in different places. The Macedonian Wikipedia explains that it's a flour product, a bit like pita chips; but Bulgarian recipes for topenitsa describe some kind of a yogurt, cottage cheese and hot pepper spread.

As reported by a Macedonian blogger, this folk song recently appeared in a 5th grade Macedonian language textbook. Besides "philological" questions (about the meaning of certain rare words) students were asked whether they think the judge's decision was right, and how they would try the case. This all (together with some other texts in the same book) made the blogger suspicious of sexist ("misogynist") inclinations of the textbook authors. I guess the Samokov version of the song, which ends with the Turtle's retort to the Judge's "Boys will be boys" pronouncement would have been less objectionable to that modern readers' sensibilities.

P.S. Here's an audio recording of one version of this song performed by the duet of Jonče Hristovski and Trpe Čerepovski (Јонче Христовски, Трпе Череповски) on Youtube.


Tell the world about our swamp

Inspired by reading some folk poetry, I was doing a web search researching the distribution of two words for "turtle", želka (желка) and kostenurka (костенурка) in Macedonian and Bulgarian. (The former word is the old Common Slavic - related to Greek χελώνα, and English ''chelonian'' too - and is the standard Macedonian word, present also in Bulgarian dialects; the latter is the modern standard Bulgarian, and I was curious to find out if it ever appears in Macedonian too).

So Google search found this page for me, which was supposed to be the Macedonian version of a page about the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise, a conservation group in Perth, Western Australia. The fact of the existence of such a page was curious enough (there are some Macedonian speakers in Australia, and one could imagine one of them working on the Urban Bushland Council of Western Australia and wanting to translate a web page) - but looking at the actual text of the page made it clear no one actually speaking Macedonian would write something like that. The title, for example, was translated as "Пријатели на Западна мочуриштето Костенурка на", which just isn't a phrase with any sensible grammar in it; a normal was to translate the name of the group would, I assume, be something like "Пријатели на западна блатна желка". The rest of the page was not much better.

It did not take much time to realize that this was machine translation - and, incidentally, exactly the translation that Google Translate would provide for the English page in question. It turned out the Urban Bushland Council went very much full-bore with their translation enterprise: they translated their entire website into 50+ languages, from Afrikaans to Yiddish! The quality of the translation, needless to say, varied. While it's easy to make fun of the quality of the automatic translation (besides the grammar and syntax problems, and occasionally failures to translate some words at all, the translation engine obviously was not aware that "Swan" is a proper name (Swan River)), the fact is that most translated pages - at least into half a dozen major languages I've taken a look at - were more or less (say, 80%) comprehensible.

I am still curious about the motivation beyond the organization's decision to provide these "translations", as opposed to, say, simply putting a "translate" button to every page, which would take the user to some kind of Google Translate plug-in... I suppose they made it easier for people to find their site when searching the web in foreign languages, but to which extent would that even be a concern for an organization with a regional scope in a region that's 90%+ English-speaking?


Another "Lobsters' Wedding"

Today we continue with the Bulgarian Folk Songs (which, as we know, are mostly Macedonian, in today's terms). Song 27, "Lobsters' Wedding" (where, in fact, it is a pair of tortoises who are marrying), recorded by the Miladinov Brothers in the Struga area, is followed by song No. 28, labeled Ednakvo ("the same"). So presumably its title for No. 28 is also "Свадба от ракоите" ("Lobsters' Wedding"), and it is also from Struga. The events in it, however, are quite different:

Свадба отъ ракови-те Свадба от ракоите Lobsters' Wedding
Рако’и-те свадба чинѣтъ,
А желки-те панагюрвѣтъ,
Ежо’и-те сеиръ чинѣтъ.
Ми сѣ спущи едно еже,
Ми целива една желка.

Ѣ догледа желюрок-отъ,
Тà сѣ спущи по еже-то:
„море еже пущарѫце,
Чіа жена си целивалъ.”

Рак-отъ му сѣ отго’орвитъ:
„Море еже пущарѫце!
Міе на бракъ те канифме,
Да ми ядишъ, да ми піешъ,
Големъ аинкъ да ми чинишъ,
Не да бацишъ чужа жена!”

Кутро еже с’ отго’орвитъ:
„Море раче осмокраче,
Море дѫлгомустакинче,
Море люто кавгадживче,
Ко ке ядишъ, ко ке піешъ,
Лели ке сѣ опіанишъ,
Тà ’се ке си забора’ишъ
Коӗ ѥ свое, коӗ ѥ чужо.”
Ракоите свадба чинет,
А желките панаѓурвет,
Ежоите сеир чинет,
Ми се спушти едно еже,
Ми целива една желка.

Је дoгледа жељурокот,
Та се спушти по ежето
„Море еже пуштар’це,
Чиа жена си целивал.”

Ракот му се одгоо’рвит:
„Море еже пуштар’це!
Мие на брак те канифме,
Да ми јадиш, да ми пиеш,
Голем аинк да ми чиниш,
Не да бациш чужа жена!”

Кутро еже с’ отгоорвит:
„Море раче асмокраче,
Море д’гомустакинче,
Море љуто кавгаџивче,
Ко ке јадиш, ко ке пиеш,
Лели ке се опианиш,
Та се ке си забораиш
Кое је свое, кое је чужо.”
Lobsters are celebrating a wedding,
Tortoises are feasting,
And hedgehogs are partying.
Here one hedgehog
Comes and kisses a [she-]tortoise.

The He-Tortoises sees it 
And turns to the hedgehog:
"Mr. Hedgehog - Letting your hands wander?
Whose wife are you kissing!?"

And the Lobster tells him:
"Mr. Hedgehog - Letting your hands wander?
We've invited you to the wedding,
To eat and drink with us,
To have a party with us,
And not to kiss others' wives!"

The poor Hedgehog is responding:
"My dear old Eight-Legged Lobster,  
Dear my Lobster Long-Antenna'ed,
You are such a crabby fellow!
As one is feasting and drinking,
It is so easy to get drunk 
And to forget altogether
What is yours and what is not!"

The first column is from the 1861 edition, the second is from the 1864 Macedonian edition (with the spelling modeled on the modern Macedonian orthography, the third is my attempt at a translation).

Another version of the song is Song No. 1236 in Kuzman Shapkarev's 1891 collection, where it is listed among the "funny wedding songs" (смешни свадбени песни):

Here there are no lobsters at the wedding, just hedgehogs and turtles; and the confrontation between the He-Turtle and the Hedgehog takes a deadly turn:

Ежовите и жельките The hedgehogs and the turtles
Ежовите сватби чинат, тарнана!
А жельките панагюрват, ой бобо!
Еже жельче надмигвеше,
го до гледа желькарчето,
та ми ойде у кадия,
ми донесе два музура.
Се налюти еже, меже,
та извади два кубура,
ми отепа два музура.
The hedgehogs are celebrating a wedding - Tar-na-na!
And the turtles are partying, - Oy-bo-bo!
A hedgehog winked to a [she-]turtle;
The he-turtle noticed that,
And went to a qadi,
[And] fetched two bailiffs.
The hedgehog became angry,
Pulled out two holsters,
And killed the two bailiffs.


  • The exclamations Tar-na-na! and Oy-bo-bo! are to be repeated after each line.
  • A qadi is a judge in a Muslim (Shari'a) court, and a muzur музур (which I rendered as "bailiff") is, according to Guerov's dictionary, an officer of such a court.
  • A kubur, two of which the hedgehog uses, is said by Guerov to be a "holster" (same as in Russian) or "quiver" (which, thinking of it, is a more appropriate piece of equipment for a hedgehog). I am not sure why the hedgehog uses a holster (or a quiver) rather than a gun or his own needles as a deadly weapon, but so the song says, if I understand it correctly.

Interestingly, the notion of a (male) hedgehog becoming interested in a (female) tortoise was not unique to Macedonian folk poetry. It also appears in a Greek folk song recorded by Panayiotis Aravantinos at around the same time in the Ioannina area, in Epirus, some 100 miles to the south of Struga. In Lucy Garnett's English translation it is rendered as follows:

And a giant of a hedgehog
At a tortoise eyes was making.
And the tortoise was quite shamefaced,
And within her hole she hid her.

(Quoted from: "Nursery Rhyme No. VI", based on Aravandinos' song No. 195, in Greek folk-songs from the Turkish provinces of Greece, 'Η δουλη 'Ελλασ: Albania, Thessaly (not yet wholly free), and Macedonia: literal and metrical translations by Lucy M. J. Garnett, classified, revised, and edited with an historical introduction on the survival of Paganism, by John S. Stuart Glennie, 1885, p. 173)

I know no Greek, but the original text of these four lines apparently runs as follows (I may have screwed up with the Greek diacritics):

κι' ὁ σκαντσόχοιροσ ὁ γίγασ
κάνει μάτι τῆς χελώνας,
κ' ἡ χελώνα καμαρόνει
καὶ 'ς τὴν τρύπα της τρυπόνει.
on page 137 of Aravantinos' book. As far as I can guess by looking at the Greek text, its meter appears to be the same as that of Lucy Garrett's English translation (as promised by the title of the latter), which seems to be the same of the Macedonian song from Struga recorded by the Miladinovs. I wonder if the Greeks in Epirus and Macedonia and the (Slavic) Macedonians in the same regions were actually singing their songs on the same tune! I wish I could attempt a metric translation like Garrett's...

(Incidentally, the Macedonian word for turtle, желка, which is based on the Common Slavic form, is apparently related to Greek χελώνα; at least Vasmer thinks so. It apparently is not shared (in that meaning) with other branches of the Indo-European family)


Lobsters' Wedding

The Bulgarian Folk Songs is a volume of folk songs (mostly Macedonian, in today's terms) collected by the Miladinov brothers and published in Zagreb in 1861. (Facsimile) There are several hundreds of songs and tales in that volume, and some of them look a bit like something from Edward Lear - or at least you imagine that Edward Lear could have drawn lovely illustrations for them. (Incidentally, Edward Lear did travel across Macedonia in 1848, just a few years before Miladinovs' work there!)

Here's song No. 27, recorded in the Struga area. Included are the original 1861 spelling, the modern Macedonian spelling from a 1964 edition, and my poor attempt at a translation.

Macedonian turtles / Македонски желки

Свадба отъ ракови-те Свадба от ракоите Wedding at the Lobsters
Рако’и-те свадба чинѣтъ,
А жельки-те панагюрвѣтъ.
Сѣ посвѫрши желюрок-отъ,
Си посвѫрши кутра желька,
Кутра желька за невеста.
И си стана желюрок-отъ,
Дойде ко’а, дойде време,
Да сѣ берѣтъ ’си свато’и.
Си пособра куси врапси,
Куси врапси за свато’и;
Си пособра уташина,
Уташина кумашина;
И си зеде за старосватъ
За старосватъ сколовранецъ,
Побратими бильбильчина,
Киниса’е по невеста,
Отидо’а во дворо’и.
Ми играетъ, ми скокаетъ,
Ми ядеетъ, ми піѥтъ.
И подстана желюрок-отъ,
Сѣ подскачи на скала-та,
И ѣ̀  виде кутрà желькà
Промената, наружена,
Ѣ целива бѣло гѫрло.
Сѣ зедо’а, отидо’а,
Со желка-та с’ кердоса’е.
Ракоите свадба чинет,
А жељките панаѓурвет.
Се посврши жељурокот,
Си посврши кутра жељка,
Кутра жељка за невеста.
И си стана жељурокот,
Дојде коа, дојде време,
Да се берет си сватои.
Си пособра куси врапси,
Куси врапси за сватои;
Си пособра уташина,
Уташина кумашина;
И си зеде за старосват
За старосват сколовранец,
Побратими биљбиљчина,
Кинисае по невеста,
Отидоа во дворои.
Ми играет, ми скокает,
Ми јадеет, ми пијеет.
И подстана жељурокот,
Се подскачи на скалата,
И је виде кутра жељка
Променета, наружена,
Је целива бело грло.
Се зедоа, отидоа,
Со жељката с' кердосае.
The Lobsters are in charge of a wedding,
While Tortoises are celebrating.
The He-Tortoise is marrying,
He is taking a poor She-Tortoise 
As his bride.
For the He-Tortoise
The time has come
To invite wedding guests
To invite small sparrows
To be his wedding guests.
An owl is invited
To be a witness;
And a starling is invited,
As the second witness;
Nightingales are his best men.
He goes to the bride's,
And enters her courtyard.
He is dancing, he is leaping,
He is eating, he is drinking.
Now the He-Tortoise rises,
And runs up the stairs,
And he sees the poor She-Tortoise,
Who's all dressed up,
And he kisses her white neck.
He takes her with him,
And they go to be married.


  • The title, Svadba ot rako[v]ite can be literally translated as the "Lobsters' Wedding". (Actually, rak refers to a great variety of crustaceans, and in Struga has to mean some kind of freshwater crayfish; in Yoto Yotov's French translation, the creatures are "crabs"). However, in this version, the crustaceans don't appear anywhere beyond line 1, and it is turtles who are marrying... so maybe lobsters are just officiating at the wedding, and "Wedding at the Lobsters'" may be a better title? (The same volume has another song with the same title, No. 28; the text, beyond the first two lines, is almost entirely different, and in that song it is not quite clear whether it is the crustaceans or the chelonians who are marrying)
  • The Macedonian word for "turtle", zhelka (желка, or in the song's dialect, zheljka жељка) is apparently the preserved old common Slavic word with this meaning; in Russian, Bulgarian, and Serbian it has been replaced with different words, cherepaha (черепаха), kostenurka (костенурка) and kornjača корњача, respectively, which apparently refer to the creatures appearance (they are derived from the words for "skull" and "bones").
  • Nouns in Slavic languages have grammatical gender, and zhelka ("turtle") is grammatically feminine (as are the words for "turtle" in other Slavic languages). Remarkably, Macedonian also has a word to specifically refer to a male turtle, should the speaker feel the need to: zhel(j)urok (желурок / жељурок)! This of course is somewhat unusual, since for most species for which distinct words for the male and female individuals exist, the "unmarked" (generic) noun is used for the male (e.g. lav лав "lion", volk волк "wolf"), and the special marked form exists for the female of the species (e.g. lavica лавица "lioness", volčica волчица "she-wolf"); for those species where the generic noun is grammatically feminine (e.g. ververica верверица, "squirrel"), no derived masculine form usually exists. So the turtles, in Macedonian, are fairly exceptional in this respect.
  • The song has a great variety of terms to refer to various participants of the wedding ceremony (сват, кумашина, старосват, побратим), and my attempt to render them into English is rather arbitrary.

Next: Another Lobsters' Wedding, where events are becoming more dramatic.



I encountered an interesting word in Krste Misirkov's famous little book, "Za Makedonskite Rabotite" (1903). One of Misirkov's main ideas at the time was that Macedonians would be better off as loyal subjects of His Imperial Majesty the [Ottoman] Sultan than in a united Macedonia (made into an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire) than as citizens of several Christian countries that would divide Macedonia in case of a victorious anti-Turkish rebellion or war (which, of course, happened in 1912-13). Among the good things which, in his view, Turks could do to become better masters of their Macedonian subjects would be "entering the name 'Macedonian' into the nofuzes and other official documents of people of Slavic origin from Macedonia" (внесуаiн'е во нофузите и друзите официiални документи на лица от словенцки произлез од Македониiа името „македонец"). So apparently nofuz (нофуз) was some kind of identity document that Ottoman subjects had to use; but what exactly was it, and what's the origin of the word?

A Google Books search shows a few other uses of the term in the Bulgarian/Macedonian literature of the period describing the Ottoman Macedonia of the day. Vasil Kunchov explains (Macedonia, 1900, page 135):

At the birth of every child, a certificate called "nofuz" is issued by the government, via the ecclesiastiscal authorities. In it, the child's sex, name, birth date, birth place, and the names of the parents are recorded. The nofuz certificate is needed by every Turkish subject, because without it one cannot travel within the country or receive a passport to travel outside of it; without it, ecclesiastical authorities must not issue a marriage license. This being the case, everywhere in Turkey there are plenty of men and women without nofuz certificates.
... Нофузното свидетелство е нужно на всеки турски подданикъ, ...

And here's a good article in English on those IDs: Ottoman Identity Card, by Chris Gratien, with a few photographs of what those documents looked like. It turns out that in Turkish they were called nüfus tezkeresi, where nüfus by itself means, apparently, "population". It seems that in the Slavic language of the day the colloquial name for the document became shortened simply to nofuz.