unexpected traveler





Путник / putnik namernik
Traveler, unexpected traveler

***** Location: Serbia
***** Season: Summer
***** Category: Humanity


bypassing traveler, traveler passes by

This topic hints at the "Big Soul of the People".

A Big Soul of the People
is still alive in the Balkans: from this tradition, similarly as in Japanese tradition, many terms came which are not only terminology of discursive communication but the terms are metaphors covering a broad scale of emotions, meanings and associations.
Transforming metaphoric language of the Balkans into discursive Western terms is a kind of "culturecide" or killing of what Dante Alighieri used to name: "Big Soul of the People".

Kigo "putnik" ("traveler") is a summer topic.
The poem has one more seasonal kigo: "dusty hands,"
but here it represents a universal symbol: the hands are dusty, they should be washed, cleaned for the reception of the guest. The poet uses the phrases from folk language giving this haiku very specific poetic character, which especially refers to the phrase putnik namernik, a special cultural stereotype very important in our culture, bearing a mythological dimension. This mythological dimension is well described on the Internet:

People did not travel much in olden times, but when they started to visit distant places, a guest was no more a rare phenomenon, and hospitality has remained a custom up to the present times. A "putnk namernik" was considered a divine being.
A host would try to please him so as to gain his affection as well as to ingratiate himself with him. Guests were greeted and entertained as best as possible, because a host expected to gain God's protection by the gentleness of a bypassing traveler.
A traveler could cast a spell on the house by his mean look, too. That mean look should be induced mercy in and turned away; a guest had to be served with best food and drink and his every wish had to be fulfilled.
The myth about a divine guest has become a habit of hospitality as an obligation, while the fear that a traveler could cast a spell on the house by his mean look no more exists. It would help to serve him wine from a colored bottle. Apart from a glass of water and some preserve, it's also good to offer him an overnight stay and hospitality and not to expect to get anything in return.
Have a nice trip and come back, visit us again if the road brings you our way!

Because of the mythological context of this poem, I think that it is untranslatable into English, that is, the words can be translated, but they do not transfer the same context, mythology and poetic sensibility. There are walls among cultures, so in order for someone from another culture to understand this poem, not only to feel its poetic, the translator would have to explain the whole above text in a footnote.

The phrase "putnik namernik" is a picture, a metaphor, it comes from the "Big Soul of the People", it is an archaic expression but broadly used still today. There is a whole mythology around and there is a magic connotation to this "mythological creature".

The biggest problem is literal (and literary) translation. The phrase uses just two words:

1. putnik (traveler)
2. namernik

"Namernik" is a archaic grammatical construction which is not easy to be transformed into a single modern Serbian word. The term comes from the root "namera" which means "intention".
But here the suffix "-ik" is not grammatically correct, is a kind of "poetic violence of the grammar".
In the tradition of Serbian People and the use of language, such a kind of "poetic violence" over the language rules is quite usual. Perhaps such kind of phrasing was common before the codification of grammar done in 19. century. But today it sounds strange.

The suffix "-ik" can be compared with English "-er" (like in "travel-er"), so it means a PERSONIFICATION OF A TERM WITHOUT REAL MEANING.

Путник намерник.
О чакшире дед отре
прашњаве руке.

from somewhere remote
a traveler, and grandpa
wipes his hand on his pants

(Tr. with support of Jim Kacian)

Before all it is a kind of INTERPRETATION from the viewpoint of "grandpa": so, it describes a psychology of a a possible host IF a "traveller intentioner" visits his home. So, this interpretation is built around the psychology of the host-- that is ONE important aspect but just a small piece of the PICTURE coming with TRAVELLER INTENTIONER.

Many problems are around this interpretation:

-change of main subject: traveler and guest are not the same
-change of possible action (it is not obvious that "traveler intentioner" will become a guest.
Often a "travellers intentioners" stops by the fence just for asking for a glass of water, then they continue their way, or stopping just for asking for a direction... all these aspects of action are even more possible than becoming a real guest)

-mythology of "traveller intentioner" is lost
-magic connotation is lost
-a new not-existing word is added: "unexpected" (this word creates interpretation)
-sense of distance is lost (dimension of endless ways behind the "traveler intentioner")
-sense of time is changed: feeling of ancientness become just psychological moment of present time

Thinking as poets we must ask ourselves before translating this poem the common questions:
what is the essence of this poem?
Or Why is this poem important?
Or What makes this poem universal behind all cultural and linguistic differences?

The answer is:
The drama of a common man meeting a mythological creature.
For facing this drama people of ancient time used magic. But this ancient dramatic moment is completely lost with a modern psychological interpretation.
So, the first goal of a translator is crating of mythological dimension of the traveler. Only in this point we can catch the universal moment because "traveler intentioner" is a
SYMBOL of THE BIG, UNKNOWN WORLD meeting "normal", "small", human being.
For crating this sense we have only two universal tools here:

-sense of distance (behind the traveler)
-sense of ancientness

All other aspects are very specific and can be added only in footnotes like an mythological explanation but cannot be real unique poetic tools.
So, to create these two aspects I translated a poem in 4 lines.

Perhaps with a hard study of English mythology written around the term "traveler" we can find some phrase creating some mythological dimension. But for now we only have a sense of distance and a sense of ancientness to point at this aspect.

Dimitar Anakiev

Worldwide use

During a long pilgrimage to 88 temples in Shikoku, pilgrims are regarded as an incarnation of Kobo Daishi himself, and are treated to food and shelter.
They are called "Kobo san".
Pilgrimage in Shikoku (henro)


Tourist, sightseer, traveller, visitor ...

Travel, Traveler's Sky (tabi, tabi no sora)

Things found on the way


Путник намерник.
О чакшире дед отре
прашњаве руке.

from somewhere remote
a traveler, and grandpa
wipes his hand on his pants


from somewhere remote,
a traveler — grandpa wipes
his hands on his pants

Saša Važić / Саша Важић
(Tr. with support of Jim Kacian)



Related words

***** Tourist, sightseer, traveller, visitor ... worldwide




anonymous said...

A few comments, in no particular order of importance:

I'm not sure that the Balkans are not 'western'. Traveling eastward from Western Europe, where does the culture we call 'western', from a historical standpoint, end geographically?

The concept of hospitality being offered to the stranger, and benefits accruing to the host thereby, is not unique to the Balkans; in fact it is rooted in 'western' culture, starting with the ancient Greeks. I'm not going to re-read Homer here to find specific examples, but my memory tells me that a host was obligated to welcome the stranger, with the blessings of the gods if the host does so, and incurring the opprobrium of the gods for not doing so.

Even in the American west, during the pioneer/cowboy era, it was ccnsidered good manners to welcome the passing stranger. In addition to the tradition of courtesy this represented, the stranger could be a source of news from other parts, as well as a source of entertainment.

Regarding the mythological aspects, not only do the Greek gods sometimes disguise themselves as mortals to test whether they will be welcomed as strangers by a particular host, but I believe this can also be found in Norse mythology. For that matter, also in Chinese mythology.

I find of particular interest the fact that it's the speaker's grandpa who is wiping the dust from his hands. Either this is simply a literal description of what happened or, additionally, it could be a way of implying that this tradition is a little 'old-fashioned'.
This sense of 'old-fashionedness' is accentuated by the use of an old-fashioned word, "breeches" (for pants or trousers) in the English translation.

I like the haiku. To me, it has a Buson-type feel to it.



Caleb Mutua said...

I agree that without reading the notes concerning the poem, I could have hardly understood it.

In Kenya, the Kamba tribe (Which happens to be my tribe ) were well known for the long distance travel, which was mainly for trade purposes.

Back then, Hospitality varied. Some communities were welcoming while others considered any outsider a hostile paerson who wanted to rob or harm them.

The Maasai for example were not that welcoming, considering the raids taht they had experienced over the years and they did everything to protect their cattle...

One sign though of welcoming visitors that is still practised up to now, is that of helping the visitor or stranger with the bags, or any load he or she is carrying. If the family host is able, it prepares a chicken for you...a chicken is the "real" thing now....when you've been prepared a chicken, your are warmly welcomed, no doubt about that!

Caleb Mutua,