Dengbêj: the tradition of storytelling in Kurdistan

Dengbêj are traditional Kurdish storytellers reciting long epic songs, generally without musical accompaniment. Their epics contain a variety of Kurdish history, love stories, and the struggle of Kurds against suppression. Dengbêjs do not sing for entertainment only. They have also played a vital role in transferring oral Kurdish history to the new generations, especially against assimilation policies of the sovereign states ruling the Kurdish land. Not many Denbêjs, however, remained. Seyîtxanê Boyaxcî is one them and considered to be one the best dengbejs of our time.
Seyîtxan has lived a life which could be a film. He worked as a carrier, trashman and for the last 25 years as a shoeshine man which later became his name: Seyîtxanê Boyaxcî (Seyîtxan the shoeshine man). His name is Seydo ?im?ek in his Turkish identity card.
Seyîtxan was born in 1933 in Lexerî village of Ergani district of Diyarbakir. He lost his mother when he was 2 and his father when he was 4 years old. He was raised by his paternal uncle.
Seyîtxan has never been to school and worked as shepherd and farmhand. Then he moved to Diyarbakir where started shining the shoes. He says he started singing when he was 15.
Such a great talent had to work with a piece of velvet cloth and almond oil with which he was shining the shoes, sometimes under insulting glances of rich men and their spoiled children.
Later Seyîtxan was recruited as trash man by the mayor of time Mehdi Zana. Now he was an employee of the city hall and had a regular income, does not matter if it was from garbage. He also continues shining shoes in the evening, after the shift.
In 1980 the municipality offers Seyîtxan a fulltime job. However, he does not want to quit shining shoes which he thinks gave him a reputation. Eventually, he gets retired.
During this time he also became famous for his voice and very popular. Then he gets married and has 7 children. Destiny which took Seyîtxan’s parents from him takes his 7 children too. But Seyîtxan with obstinacy makes 7 other children.
Seyîtxan with his 65-year old wife, 7 children and 10 grandchildren complians about the new generation who do not pay attention on their own culture, Kurdish culture. He fo course, distinguishes the youth fighting in the mountains for their identity, culture. He calls them “light of my eyes”. He also talks about old Diyarbakir. Before the state forces destroyed the villages and hundred thousand of IDP’s settles in the city. He says he cannot recognise Diyarbakir.
Among all, he is happy and thankful that the current Mayor of Diyarbakir Osman Baydemir of the pro-Kurdish party converted a historical Diyarbakir house into a cultural centre where the denjbejs gather and sing all day.

Ismail Yildiz – ANF


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