Keeka rika, Epic Circassian War Songs, Heroic Chants,

Ballads for the Brave, and British Jingoism

 

[ I I ; I ]

 

by

Amjad Jaimoukha

 

 

Keeka rika, the blood-curdling Circassian battle-cry[1]

 

All this was bad enough: still it might have been borne, had it not been that I was favoured with a visit from the jackal, whose cry was so melancholy, shrill, and fearfully wild, that, when numbers howl in concert, which was, unfortunately for my slumbers, the case, it is sufficient to shake the nerves, even of the most stouthearted, who hears them for the first time.

 

It is singular that the war-cry of the Circassians is an exact imitation of the howl of this animal; and, when screamed at the same moment by thousands, is the most fearful, unnatural, and intimidating yell, ever uttered by a people in presence of an enemy. The Russian officers assured me, that so paralysing is its effect upon troops who hear it for the first time, that they are rendered incapable of defending themselves.

 

Nothing short of actual representation can convey any adequate idea of the impetuosity of a Circassian charge; to the very bravest European troops it must be absolutely terrific, being executed literally with the rapidity of lightning, accompanied with a frightful war-cry, resembling, as I before observed, the scream of a jackal: such also is the admirable training of horse and rider, that I daily witness feats of horsemanship, even by the meanest soldier, far superior in dramatic effect to any public equestrian exhibition I ever beheld in Europe, appearing almost impossible for the human body to execute. For instance, a Circassian warrior will spring front his saddle to the earth, plunge his dagger into the breast of the horse of his enemy, again vault into the saddle; then stand erect, strike his adversary, or hit a mark, almost at a hairs breadth, with his light gun: and all this while his horse is proceeding at full gallop. Edmund Spencer, Travels in Circassia, Krim Tartary, & C. Including a Steam Voyage down the Danube, from Vienna to Constantinople and round the Black Sea, in 1836, London: Henry Colburn, 1837 (2 vols). Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.circassianworld.com/Edmund_Spencer.html> (accessed 23 October 2008). [Also available on Google Books]

 

 

The dementing howl

 

It was assuredly a most exciting scene to behold these brave peasants, armed with every species of weaponbows, arrows, javelins, muskets, sabres, make the hills around reecho their frightful war-cry, eager for the fray.

 

This war-whoop of the Circassian warriors is indeed terrific, somewhat resembling the howl of a pack of jackals; so startling and earthly, that it is said to have caused insanity in some persons who heard it for the first time. We can easily imagine the panic it might spread among an army composed of the ignorant and superstitious peasants of Russia, surprised in some lonely glen or defile of the Caucasus by a band of these infuriated mountaineers, all yelling their war-cry, as they are accustomed to do when they commence an attack. Edmund Spencer, Turkey, Russia, Black Sea and Circassia, London: Routledge, 1854, pp 306-7. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.circassianculturalinstitute.org/pdf/Turkey%20Russia%20Black%20Sea%20Circassia%20by%20Edmund%20Spencer.pdf> (accessed 23 October 2008).

 

Berserkers raging amok

 

The reader may therefore picture to himself the resistless impetuosity of a headlong charge of these flying horsemen of the mountains, sweeping like an avalanche on some devoted body of their countrys foes beneath them,at the same moment making the heights around reecho with their fearful war-cry, discharging their carbines with terrible effect on coming to close quarters, while the stout staves of the Cossack lances that oppose their course are severed like reeds, by the vigorous and skilfully-directed blows of their admirably tempered blades. They will cut their way through an entire battalion, throw a whole column into disorder, and then as suddenly disappear through the yawning portals of some mountain gorge, or beneath the everlasting shadows of their primeval forestsbefore the smoke of their last volley, or the dust raised in their wild fray, has cleared offand before their panic-stricken foes, in spite of their most strenuous efforts, have been able to bring their artillery to bear on the fierce band of guerrillas, who, although coming upon them and disappearing with the rapidity of a clap of thunder, leave yet a memento of their prowess behind them in the scattered bodies of their enemies that everywhere cover the ground. Edmund Spencer, Turkey, Russia, Black Sea and Circassia, London: Routledge, 1854, pp 363-4. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.circassianculturalinstitute.org/pdf/Turkey%20Russia%20Black%20Sea%20Circassia%20by%20Edmund%20Spencer.pdf> (accessed 23 October 2008).

 

 

War songs

 

The words (in English) and sheet music (arranged for the pianoforte) of a war song of the Circassians in the 19th century during their long war against the Russians was documented by Edmund Spencer (2005, pp 234-40; available on Google Books).

 

 

CIRCASSIAN WAR-SONG

 

Raise, oh raise, the banner high!

Arm! arm all, for Attéghéi!

Guard the valley, guard the dell,

Hearth and home, farewell, farewell!

 

We will dare the battle strife,

We will gladly peril life;

Death or libertys the cry!

Win the day or nobly die!

 

Who would fly when danger calls?

Freemens hearts are freedoms walls;

Heavn receives alone the brave

Angels guard the patriots grave!

 

Beats there here a traitors heart,

Duped by wily Moscov art,

Who his land for gold would give?

Let him die, or childless live!

 

Hark! oh hark! the cannons roar!

Foe meets foe, to part no more!

Quail, ye slaves, neath freemens glance!

Victorys ours! advance! advance!

 

 

Epic balladeers

 

Circassian bards composed many kinds of songs. Heroic and epic songs were sung in honour of champions who accomplished great feats. Every nation needs its ample share of heroes and conquerors, and this genre provided young warriors with ideals to aspire to. After each famous battle, a descriptive song was composed. The song of Andeimirqan (), the hero who championed the cause of the poor, a Circassian Robin Hood, stands out as a classic. His exploits inspired Sheibler to compose a cantata Andeimirqan in his honour in 1939. Heroic songs were based on wonderful poetry and beautiful tunes, and their structure was very close to song-poems and ballads.

Heroic songs were closely associated with songs of praise, usually composed to immortalize feats of war. Heirs, kinsmen or friends of great warriors who fell in battle commissioned bards to expound their heroism. When a minstrel finished composing a ballad, he sang it first in the presence of connoisseurs who acted as censors and editors. It was only when the panel of experts pronounced its judgement in favour that the song was promulgated. The following poem is an account of the heroism of Prince Yelgheroqwe Qanoqwe ( ), potentate of all the Beslanay (; a tribal offshoot of the Kabardians), in one of the myriad wars between the Circassians and their mortal enemies, the Crimean Tatars and Kalmyks:

 

An arrow bolted from the Heros bow,

Shimmering across the sky,

Presaging certain death to the Khan,

And his inimical black swarms.

His dutiful steed Yemish,[2]

Crushed the skulls of the Kalmyks

With his mighty hooves,

Laying myriad corpses all around.

The Tatar vanguard,

Witnessing such a carnage,

Took to its heels,

Consumed with fear.

 

After his demise, he was survived by

His one true friend: his Sabre.

 

Amjad Jaimoukha, The Circassians: A Handbook, London: RoutledgeCurzon (Taylor & Francis); New York: Palgrave and Routledge, 2001, p227.

 

 

Heroic songs & ballads

 

Six examples of heroic songs and ballads veritable masterpieces in the Circassian repertoire are presented. The first three were composed in the Middle Ages, the fourth in the second half of the 18th century, the fifth during the tsarist occupation of Circassia, and the last in the first half of the 20th century:

 

1.     Baxshiserey Zeikwem yi Wered; I [The Ballad of the Bakhchisaray Campaign]

 

This is an account of the (Christian) Kabardian armys campaign against the Muslim Crimean khans in the late 1520s (?) under the leadership of Prince Talhosten ( ). The Kabardians used their fleet of ships to transport the cavalry and the two-wheeled war chariots across the sea to the Crimean Peninsula. The Kabardians attacked Bakhchisaray, the capital of the Crimean Khanate, located in the middle of the Peninsula, and were victorious, bringing back great spoil, including 100 chariots packed full with cloth (a precious commodity at the time). Andeimirqan, the subject of the next ballad, was in the elite force of the Kabardians. At the time, the Kabardians were at the zenith of their power and held sway against the Crimean Tatars.

 

The words of the song (in Kabardian) are found in Ziramikw Qardenghwsch, 1979, p31. The words and sheet music are available in Ziramikw Qardenghwsch, 1969 (1970), pp 215-18.

 

Two recordings of this epic ballad by different bards, namely Amirxan Hexwpasche and Ziramikw Qardenghwsch, are available in my collection. The version sung by Qardenghwsch shall be available on the CD accompanying Amjad Jaimoukhas book Circassian Culture and Folklore: Hospitality Traditions, Cuisine, Festivals & Music (Kabardian, Cherkess, Adigean, Shapsugh & Diaspora), London and New York: Bennett and Bloom, 2009.

 

2.     Andeimirqan yi Wered; [The Song of Andeimirqan]

 

Andeimirqan (b. circa 1509), the equivalent of Robin Hood in the Circassian ethos, was a contemporary of the 16th-century potentate Prince Beislhen (Beslan) (son of Zhanxwet), nicknamed Ptsaptse (The Obese), who is credited with modifying the structure of the peerage system and updating the Xabze. Andeimirqan was the progeny of a mésalliance; his father was a prince, his mother was of unknown stock. According to one legend, he was found by Andeimir while on a hunting expedition. When his hound barked at the trunk of a tree, he wondered what the matter was, only to find a twig-basket perched on a forked branch. He brought it down and found a tiny baby covered in the basket. Andeimir, who was childless, was joyful at the find, and he brought up the child as his own.

Andeimirqan grew up to be an intrepid horseman. The news of his exploits went far and wide. He was in the entourage of Prince Beislhen, and one day while the potentate was on a hunting expedition carted in a carriage, as the Prince was too large to fit on a horse the Prince took aim at a wild boar, but missed the mark, and the boar fled into the forest. As the boar was driven out of the forest, the Prince took another aim, but missed again. However, Andeimirqans arrow pierced the boar and stuck him to the Princes carriage. By some accounts, it was there and then that Beislhen resolved to get rid of Andeimirqan. He instigated Qaniybolet, one of Andeimirqans closest friends and younger brother of Prince Temriuk Idarov, to betray him. One day, Qaniybolet asked Andeimirqan to go out with him on a hunting expedition. A contingent of Beislhens troops lay in ambush, and they put the hero to the sword. Some analysts maintain that the murder was a result of the internecine war for supremacy over Kabarda, as Andeimirqan, despite the obscurity of his mothers lineage, could have claimed the mantle of sovereignty for his warrior character and bravery. It is thought that Andeimirqan was killed before 1552. He was Christian. At the time, the Circassians venerated Dawischjerjiy (St. George) and Yele (Prophet, or St. Elijah), in addition to their pagan gods. It was Beislhen Ptsaptses son Prince Qaniqwe who left Kabarda (in the second half of the 16th century) to establish the Beislheney (Beslanay) nation-tribe.

 

A full account of Andeimirqan, his exploits and murder can be found in Z. Qardenghwsch, 1969 (1970), pp 223-336. The words of the song (in Kabardian) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch, 1979, pp 32-4.

 

There are many surviving songs that have been composed on the heroism of Andeimirqan. Three recordings of such epic ballad by different bards, namely Vladimir Bereghwn and Ziramikw Qardenghwsch, are available in my collection. Two versions sung by Bereghwn, namely Andeimirqan yi Wered; [The Song of Andeimirqan], and Andeimirqan; [Andeimirqan], shall be available on the CD accompanying Amjad Jaimoukhas book Circassian Culture and Folklore: Hospitality Traditions, Cuisine, Festivals & Music (Kabardian, Cherkess, Adigean, Shapsugh & Diaspora), London and New York: Bennett and Bloom, 2009.

 

3.     Senjeley yi Wered; [The Song of Prince Sanjalay]

 

The military exploits of the medieval feudal Prince Sanjalay against the (remnants of the) Tatars and their leader Soteresh are forever preserved in song. Sanjalay was Prince Teimriqwe Yidars (Temriuk Idarov; father of Maria, wife of Ivan the Terrible) younger brothers grandson. Prince Sanjalays father was Qanqilish son of Zhileghwet. In Russian sources he is referred to as Sunchaley Yanglichev ( ). His first trip to Moscow took place in 1605. He was appointed leader of the Tarki fortress and military camp near present-day Makhachkala, capital of Daghestan. Many of his progeny also distinguished themselves as military leaders.

 

Two recordings of this epic ballad by different bards, namely Vladimir Bereghwn and Ziramikw Qardenghwsch, are available in my collection. Both shall be available on the CD accompanying Amjad Jaimoukhas book Circassian Culture and Folklore: Hospitality Traditions, Cuisine, Festivals & Music (Kabardian, Cherkess, Adigean, Shapsugh & Diaspora), London and New York: Bennett and Bloom, 2009.

 

4.     Hetxim yi Qwe Chasem yi Wered; I [The Song of Hetxs Dear Son]

 

The events of this heroic tale, which is also heard among the Shapsugh, took place most probably in the second half of the 18th century. The son of Hetx stood up to the tyranny of the vehement prince of the Daw clan. The princes sexual exploitation of his female slaves solicited a retaliatory response from our protagonist in the shape of forming an intimate relationship with the princes wife. With the prince beside himself with anger, and on hearing that the son of Hetx was on a hunting expedition in the forest with a group of men, he collected his followers and went after him. The two parties met and fought. The son of Hetx slew the prince, and in turn the princes attendants killed the son of Hetx.

 

The words of the song (in Kabardian) are found in Z. Qardenghwsch, 1979, pp 56-8. The words and sheet music are available in Z. Qardenghwsch, 1969, pp 48-50.

 

Recordings of two versions of the chant by Vladimir Bereghwn and Zubeir Yewaz are available in my collection. Both shall be available on the CD accompanying Amjad Jaimoukhas book Circassian Culture and Folklore: Hospitality Traditions, Cuisine, Festivals & Music (Kabardian, Cherkess, Adigean, Shapsugh & Diaspora), London and New York: Bennett and Bloom, 2009.

 

5.     Wezi Murat yi Wered; [The Song of Wezi Murat]

 

Written by Bechmirze Pasche, this is a song against despotism. Murat Wezi was an intrepid abrek (abrej), protector of the poor, in the period of Tsarist occupation of Circassia. He managed to escape many times from the clutches of the Tsarist invaders, despite perfidious tip-offs. One account tells of his emigration to Turkey, where he lived until his death. Another version has him exiled to Siberia, from where he never comes back.

 

Recordings of two versions of the chant by Zhiraslhen Ghwchel and the Kabardian traditional music group Bzchamiy are available online and in my collection. Both shall also be available on the CD accompanying Amjad Jaimoukhas book Circassian Culture and Folklore: Hospitality Traditions, Cuisine, Festivals & Music (Kabardian, Cherkess, Adigean, Shapsugh & Diaspora), London and New York: Bennett and Bloom, 2009.

 

The lyrics of the song are presented here:

 

(Kabardian)

( I )

 

I I II ().

( ) ().

( ) I (),

( ) ().

I ( ) ().

I ( ) ().

( ) I ().

( ) ().

I ( ) II (),

( ) I ().

 

 6.     Cheirtiy Yismeil yi Wered; [The Song of Devilish Yismeil]

 

This is a song on one of the instigators of the 1927-8 uprising in the town of Zeiyiqwe on the Bakhsan River in Kabarda. being an anti-communist anthem, it remained an underground song for decades. Songs lauding the exploits of the abreks (; abrej), some going back hundreds of years, could be categorized into a sub-genre.

The 1927-1928 Bakhsan Revolt against the arbitrary and ruinous policies of the time was brutally put down by the Soviet authorities. Of the 118 people who were prosecuted, eleven were executed and the rest were given prison sentences ranging from three to ten years. Ridiculous trumped-up charges included belonging to the princely class (five cases) and to the nobility (ten cases). Only eight persons were eventually rehabilitated. The official line is that the families of the rest did not submit the necessary papers to exonerate their kin. For details of the uprising (in Circassian) refer to H. Mambet (1992).

 

The lyrics of the song in Circassian are presented here:

 

(Kabardian)

 

I, I I?

I

I I

I

,

I

I , I

I I I

I I I,

I I () I

I

I

I I.

 

 Other notable heroic and war songs include: Qereqeschqetaw Zawem yi Wered; [The Song of the Qereqeschqetaw Battle], Qwlhqwzhin Zawem yi Wered; [The Ballad of the Qwlhqwzhin Battle], Qars Zawem yi Wered; [The Song of the Battle of Kars].

 

Battles in which the Circassians were defeated were also immortalized: Adige Paschtihxem ya Ghibze; [The Elegy of the Circassian Sultans], Qeberdey Zheschteiwem yi Wered; (The Song of the Kabardian Night Assault), Yapon Zawem yi Wered; (The Song of the Japanese War).

 

 

Vocal manifestations of British sympathy with the Circassian cause

 

CIRCASSIAN WAR-SONG

by Archer Thompson Gurney[3]

 

SONS of Circassia, for battle prepare!
The flags of the despot are flaunting the air:
The Czar and his Russians our souls would enslave;
Up then, and on them, the young and the brave!


These mountains were made for the valiant and free:
To the home of the eagle no vulture may soar;
Let our war-shouts be heard like wild blasts oer the sea,
Let our falchions be bathed in the enemys gore!
Ay! infancy, manhood, and age shall unite
To baffle the spells of the blood-wading Czar;
His locusts our fields and our harvests may blight,
But their hosts shall be quenchd in the red flames of war.


Sons of
Circassia, for battle prepare!
The flags of the despot are flaunting the air:
The Czar and his Russians our souls would enslave;
Up then, and on them, the young and the brave!


Ye children of beauty, our spirits delight,
Ye maids of our mountains, oh, join in our cry!
Bid those lovers who woo ye rush far from your sight,
Till beneath their red falchions the enemies die!
Then, hail them with smiles, and with whispers of bliss,
Let the valiant, the conqueror sink in your arms!
And remember, the cry of Circassia is this,
First the foes gleaming sword, then the maids heavenly charms!


Sons of
Circassia, for battle prepare!
The flags of the despot are flaunting the air:
The Czar and his Russians our souls would enslave:
Up then, and on them, the young and the brave!

 

Archer Thompson Gurney, Poems. Spring, London: T. Bosworth, 1853, p45.

 

 

BRITISH WAR-SONG

 

Macdermotts War Song (1877)[4]

Written and composed by G. W. Hunt (1839-1904); sung by Gilbert Hastings MacDermott; inspired by the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

 

The Dogs of War are loose and the rugged Russian Bear,
Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawld out of his lair;
It seems a thrashing now and then, will never help to tame
That brute, and so hes out upon the same old game.
The Lion did his best to find him some excuse
To crawl back to his den again, all efforts were no use;
He hungerd for his victim, hes pleased when blood is shed,
But let us hope his crimes may all recoil on his own head.

 

CHORUS:
We dont want to fight but by jingo if we do,
Weve got the ships, weve got the men, and got the money too!
Weve fought the Bear before and while were Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.

 

The misdeeds of the Turks have been spouted thro all lands,
But how about the Russians, can they show spotless hands?
They slaughtered well at Khiva, in Siberia icy cold,
How many subjects done to death will never perhaps be told,
They butchered the Circassians, man, woman, yes and child,
With cruelties their Generals their murderous hours beguiled
,
And poor unhappy Poland their cruel yoke must bear,
Whilst prayers for Freedom and Revenge go up into the air.

 

(CHORUS)

 

May he who gan the quarrel soon have to bite the dust,
The Turk should be thrice armed for he hath his quarrel just,
Tis sad that countless thousands should die thro cruel war,
But let us hope most fervently ere long it will be oer;
Let them be warned, Old England is brave Old England still,
Weve proved our might, weve claimed our right, and ever, ever will,
Should we have to draw the sword our way to victory well forge,
With the battle cry of Britons, Old England and Saint George!

 

(CHORUS)

  

Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.victorianweb.org/mt/musichall/macdermott1.html> (accessed 23 October 2008).

 

  

References & bibliography

Bereghwn (Baragunov), V. H. and Hewpe, Zh., Narodnaya instrumentalnaya muzika adigov (cherkesov) [National Instrumental Music of the Circassians], Nalchik: El-Fa, 2005. [600 pieces]

Bereghwn (Baragunov), V. H. and Qardenghwsch (Kardangushev), Z. P. (compilers), Adige Weredxemre Pshinalhexemre, Yape Txilh. Narodnie pesni i instrumentalnie naigrishi adigov, tom 1 [Circassian Songs and Instrumental Folk-Tunes, Vol. 1], Moscow: All-Union Book Publishing House Soviet Composer, 1980. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.circassianlibrary.org/library.php?lang=en&mn=4&sbmn=1> (accessed 23 October 2008). [Edited by E. V. Gippius. This, and the other volumes in the series, are seminal works on Circassian musical lore. Some of the collected songs and chants are very ancient indeed]

Adige Weredxemre Pshinalhexemre, Yetwane Txilh. Narodnie pesni i instrumentalnie naigrishi adigov, tom 2 [Circassian Songs and Instrumental Folk-Tunes, Vol. 2], Moscow: All-Union Book Publishing House Soviet Composer, 1981.

Adige Weredxemre Pshinalhexemre, Yeschane Txilh. Narodnie pesni i instrumentalnie naigrishi adigov, tom 3 [Circassian Songs and Instrumental Folk-Tunes, Vol. 3, Parts 1 and 2], Moscow: All-Union Book Publishing House Soviet Composer, 1986, 1990.

Gurney, Archer Thompson, Poems. Spring, London: T. Bosworth, 1853, p45. [Available on Google Books]

Hunt, G. W., Macdermotts War Song, London: Hopwood & Crew, 1877.

Mambet (Mambetov), H., Wexwm yi Pezhiper: 1928 Ghem Baxsen Scheikwechar [The Truth about the Affair: The 1928 Events in Bakhsan], in Waschhemaxwe, Nalchik, no. 5, 1992, pp 71-8.

Qardenghwsch (Kardangushev), Z. (compiler), Adige Weredizchxer [Ancient Circassian Songs], Nalchik: Elbrus Book Press, 1969. [34 songs; words in Kabardian; sheet music of each song; commentary at end of book]

Adige Weredizchxer [Ancient Circassian Songs], Nalchik: Elbrus Book Press, 1979. [61 songs; words in Kabardian; no sheet music; stories of the songs at end of the book]

Spencer, Edmund, Travels in Circassia, Krim Tartary, & C. Including a Steam Voyage down the Danube, from Vienna to Constantinople and round the Black Sea, in 1836, London: Henry Colburn, 1837 (2 vols). Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.circassianworld.com/Edmund_Spencer.html> (accessed 23 October 2008). [Also available on Google Books]

Turkey, Ruussia, Black Sea and Circassia, London: Routledge, 1854, pp 306-7. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.circassianculturalinstitute.org/pdf/Turkey%20Russia%20Black%20Sea%20Circassia%20by%20Edmund%20Spencer.pdf> (accessed 23 October 2008).

The Propheet of the Caucasus, Elibron Classics, Adamant Media Corporation, 2005. [Available for preview on Google Books]



[1] I have tried to interpret the reference of foreign travellers to the Circassian war-cry Keeka rika (about which I read many, many years ago, but forgot the source in the mist of time). The best that I could come up with so far are I- (= cry; din, hubbub), or a derivation thereof, and III (= what results from shouting). Any help in this regard would be highly appreciated.

[2] Yemish==Literally: Indefatigable.

[3] Reverend Archer Thompson Gurney (1820-1887) was an English poet and hymn-writer.

[4] Gilbert Hastings MacDermott (1845-1901), the son of Irish working-class parents, became one of the biggest stars of the music halls, and was billed as the Great Macdermott. His enthusiastic singing of this song resulted in the word jingoism being added to the English language.