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A Singer's Error

At line 677 of his Captivity of Alagic[*] Alija (Parry no. 6618), the guslar Mujo Kukuruzovic[*] makes what seems to be an error. Instead of sending the hero Alija to a spring near Jezero, as we would expect, he has him set out for Kara Bogdan, the stronghold of General Pero. This turn of events does not bode well for the song that Kukuruzovic[*] is at this point only one-third of the way through, for the subsequent action of the tale depends crucially on what happens at Jezero. For the moment it is enough to say that such an error, were it left uncorrected, would lead to a sequence involving the enemy-turned-blood brother Pero in a rather complex battle, rescue, and winning of a maiden. A meeting at the spring, on the other hand, would set in motion a plot moving eventually toward Halil's rescue of his sister, Aikuna. On the face of it, there is no reason for Mujo's misdirection, and he seems headed for a flawed performance.

We know from two sources that the singer recognized his error. The first source is the text itself, which Kukuruzovic[*] adjusts after the fact to alter his direction. Since as an oral singer composing his song extemporaneously he cannot go back and erase the mistake, he corrects his text in the traditional way by simply changing the journey's destination with an added series of formulaic phrases.[1] In other words, he follows Alagic[*] Alija's announced intention to seek General Pero in Kara Bogdan (the error) with a cluster of lines customarily devoted to travel, only now specified for the correct location:

Kudgod ide i goni dorata,
Kada spade u Jaboku pustu,
U Jaboku do Jezera hladna—
Tuka ima bunar voda 'ladna.
        (6618 .691-94)


Wherever he went and drove the bay horse,
Then he came to empty Jaboka,
Into Jaboka and up to cold Jezero—
Here was a spring of cold water.

At this juncture Kukuruzovic[*] has found his way back to the story line, and he has done so in a traditional manner.[2]

In addition to this observable in-progress adjustment, the singer made evident his knowledge of the error in a conversation with Parry and Lord's native assistant, Nikola Vujnovic[*] . The context for their discussion is filled out by text no. 1868, a second and this time dictated version of The Captivity, of Alagic[*] Alija recorded the day before.

N : When we wrote down this song [no. 1868], you told me that when Alija killed his wife, he went off seeking some ban and general. M : Uh-huh. N : And that they attacked the Lika. M : Uh-huh. N : But this morning you sang that he killed his wife and then met some harambasha [no. 6618 ]. M : That's right— Päun harambasha. N : And that he directed Alija to seize Halil's sister and afterwards Halil set her free. M : Uh-huh. N : There's a difference here, Mujo, I'd say, and I'd say it's an important difference. M : Then it's possible that I skipped over [Onda moze bit' da sam ja preletijo ]. N : What's that? M : It's possible that I skipped over. N : I'd say, by God, that there's some sort of important difference. M : Yes, it's possible; I began to set it straight [popravit '] immediately, so it's possible. N : Then which is the true story? Tell me. M : I consider [no. 6618 ] the true one. N : The one this morning? M : The one this morning, because, you know, I've heard it done that way more times.[3]

Evidently there looms in this pair of texts an error much more extensive than we originally supposed: no. 1868 stands as an uncorrected mistake of some 1,603 lines, and there are only 2,152 lines in the entire poem. What amounts to nearly the final three-quarters of the epic, then, the singer later terms kriv , ("false, crooked"). In the case of no. 1868, Kukuruzovic[*] did not, for whatever reason, return to his intended story line at all; rather, he continued on to the end of an avowedly "untrue" tale. To recapitulate, we can identify two problems in narrative organization: (1) in no. 6618 the guslar has committed an error of place and character which he is able to correct, while (2) in no. 1868 he has committed the same error but does nothing to correct it. This situation begs a number of questions. For example, why does Kukuruzovic[*] depart from the "proper" story line? In particular, why does he do so at exactly the same point in both performances? Is there any reason why he strays to the General


Pero tale both times, and what can be said about its structure and content in relation to the story involving Päun harambasha?

The guslar offers an insight into some of these questions further on in his conversation with Nikola:

N : Do you sing other songs, for example, with the same kind of variation as this song? The question really comes to this—do you know these other songs better, or do you know them only as well as this one? M : Well, brother, whatever songs I learned from singers, those I know, do you understand? But the songs about Ograscic[*] Alija and Alagic[*] Alija are enough alike, one to the next, that the verses [stihovi ] carry over. N : Yes, yes. M : So it was in this way that I skipped over, so to speak, and leaned in another direction. And then I saw that I was mistaken, but I didn't stop to tell you.

Apparently the singer perceives some kind of congruency between the song under consideration and the tale of Ograscic[*] Alija, a similarity he describes in terms of "verses."[4] At this stage it is difficult to say exactly what he means by this observation, but he clearly understands the congruency as the precondition for his "skipping over" from one song to the other. Fortunately, the Milman Parry Collection includes two versions of a narrative by Kukuruzovic[*] which may be titled The Captivity of Ograscic[*] Alija , one of them sung (no. 6617 ) and the other dictated (no. 1287a). A comparison of story lines will yield additional information about the guslar 's error and will document the multiformity of story patterns that fosters both the evolution of story cycles and the production of mixed texts. But first we need to develop a simple and straightforward way of looking at narrative pattern, a "common denominator" that will rationalize individual details to generic outlines. With this methodology and the information it makes available in hand, I will return to Mujo's "skipping over" later in the chapter.

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