Chechen Folklore. Proverbs and sayings

Chechen Epics


Myths reveal the caveman's view of life. Such stories as "The Mother Of Snowstorms" and "How A Sinner Brought To Earth The Hog And The Sow" reveal the Chechens' earliest views of the morals and morality, praise kindness and condemn greed. Myths of a later period focus on the standoff between Man and Nature. Man is capable of gaining the upper hand in this battle and he is anxious to learn the secrets of Mother Nature.

The final stage of the tribal system and the subsequent period of "military democracy" reveal an interest in human character. Myths mould the image of an ideal hero. The Chechen version of the myth about Prometheus portrays a man who gives up his life for the happiness of his people. It is, then, in times immemorial that the Chechens moulded the image of a socially important character. The Nart legends and, even later, heroic songs updated the moral values of the Chechen myths and fairy tales.

The Nart epics of the 2nd century B.C. occupy the central place in the folklore of many a North Caucasian nation. But the Chechen-Ingush vein in the Nart epics sounds special. The Narts are usually portrayed as hard-working and highly virtuous giants who help people. But the Chechen and Ingush myths focus on the standoff between the Narts and the bravest of men. The stubborn struggle against the Narts leads to national consolidation: the Nart epics relate to a new stage in the Chechen cultural tradition. Their heroes protect the weak, they act in the interests of society.

The story about the death of the Narts is a graphic sample of the epic tradition. It was recorded by Professor Kh.Turkayev in 1965. It says that an old woman was washing wool yarn in a river that flows near a cemetery. Seven men rode up to her. They wanted to know who could give them a good meal. (The ever-hungry Narts gobbled up stones and yet their stomachs were never full.) The old woman failed to recognize the Narts and invited them to her place. She cut a thin slice of meat off a mutton rib and put it in a pot to boil. She took a thimbleful of baking flour to make some dough. The Narts grinned as they watched her make a meal. But when the water started boiling, the small piece of meat started growing. The old woman was making ravioli of her never-ending dough and the chunk of meat kept growing in the pot. The Narts had at last filled their bellies full but more food was coming. Amazed, they asked the old woman about her wonderful foodstuffs. She said that the hungry and evil-minded Narts were responsible for the sad state of affairs on Earth but she was still drawing on what remained of the pre-Nart bounty. She wished there were no Narts on Earth.

On hearing this, the Narts went outdoors. If their presence on Earth made everyone suffer, they said among themselves, they ought to die. The Narts walked up to a smith where each of them gulped down some melted brass. And they all died.

It is not incidental that a woman should condemn the evil Narts and hope for a better life. The Chechens of the pagan period held their goddesses in the highest esteem and expected them to supply people with all the good things. The Chechen heroic and historical epic songs "illi" assign much the same role to mortal women.


Chechen Folklore. Proverbs and sayings Epic songs of heroic and historical character - "illi" - sat at the forefront of Chechen lore in the 16th to 19th century. The "illi" are reflective of the period of national consolidation, struggle against the Chechen and foreign landowners and the division of society into social groups and classes. They reflect the difficult process of nation-making, the optimistic and friendly nature of the Chechen people and belief in the ultimate victory of kindness and justice.

The dramatized songs "illi" have made the biggest contribution to the epic genre and the national cultural tradition. They are characterized by the in-depth detailization of characters, a clear-cut message, and the poignant hues of the poetic palette. Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy and Afanasiy Fet, as well as many literary critics and historians, showed a keen interest in the "illi." Well-known poets translated Chechen "illi" into Russian.

The "illi" reflect some historical developments. There are, for example, a number of songs about the leader of the anticolonial movement of the first half of the 19th century Beibulat Taymiyev.

The characters of the Chechen "illi" reveal the moral, ethical and ideological positions of the decaying patriarchal-tribal system. Historical leaders were the prototypes of the "byachi" of the Chechen lore. There were two types of heroic figures, or "byachi," in the "illi."

The first type is endowed with intelligence, bravery and generosity. He sympathizes with his compatriots. Often as not, he raises his people against an oppressor. Such is the main character of "The Illi About Prince Musost And Surkho, The Son Of Ada Who Lived By The Bank Of The River Terek." That "illi" appeared in the late 16th or early 17th century when the Chechens were locked up in fighting with foreign princes.

The second type of "byachi" is also a heroic figure. But his feats are motivated by conceit, selfishness and greed. He poises as the negative character of an "illi"and is condemned for violence and collaboration with foreigners.

Foreign princes are often portrayed as enemies. But their countries are, in conformity with the moral and ethical rules of the Chechen cultural tradition, respectfully refered to as Mother Russia, Mother Georgia, Mother Kabarda, Mother Ossetia, Mother daghestan, Mother Kalmykia.

The "illi" underline the role of women in Chechnya. Not a single of the heroic deeds of the "illi" would have come to fruition without support from a woman. Self-sufficient as it is, the image of Mother fosters the hero's patriotic feelings and builds up his spirit. An "illi" always plays up the importance of a blessing, kind words of farewell or moral support received by the hero from his mother, sister, wife or wife-to-be.


The heroic ballads known as "illi" had been replaced, by the second half of the 19th century, by lyrical songs with an anticolonial message. The main character of these songs protests against the imposition of foreign will and seeks freedom. Songs of the late 19th century make wide use of such words as "hard labor," "prison," and "exile." Take, for example, "The Song Of A Hard Labor Convict," "To A Bird." "Don't You Weep, My Lad," "An Old Chechen Ditty," "The Song Of A Siberian Exile."

Lyrical songs of that period reveal how the people felt. The song "The High Mountains" says:

Chechen Folklore. Proverbs and sayings

You are standing high, oh ye mountains!

You are spreading far and wide, oh ye mountains!

How many starving orphans have found refuge

On the cliffs that cut through the clouds...

Oh, if I could only share the grief of my heart

With the blue sky, the sky would drop down

To the sprawling expanses of oceans and deserts -

So much grief I hold in my breast!


Chechen poet M.Mamakayev and translating poet Nikolai Asanov wrote in the introduction to An Anthology Of Chechen-Ingush Verse (The State Publishing House of Belle Lettre Literature, Moscow, 1959): "These manifestations of the oral tradition are reflective of the life of the Chechens and the Ingushis, their hopes and dreams, and all their joys and sorrows. There is nothing sadder that old Chechen songs: the autumn wind rustling in a mountain canyon, tears shed for the people who seemed to have no future."

The song "The Red Deer" is one of the most interesting pieces of the Chechen lyrics:

He will not wet his parched tongue

With the icy water of a mountain spring.

Downwards - to the bottom of the canyon he goes every day

And, his ears pricked, he laps water from the ground,

He drinks yet feels thirsty, and he has not a moment of sleep:

An enemy will catch him as soon as his head gets heavy with sleep.

The red deer is always on the alert, he takes a look around

And washes his body with his thin tongue.

He sharpens his antlers at the cliff,

With his hoof beating impatiently on the roots of a tree.

And, his antlers lying flat on his shoulders,

He rushes forward with a call to the does.

He gets no answer. He is all alone...

Oh, young highlander! You are just like him: always wanting more love and failing to get it!



- It rains out of a cloud, and tears are shed in grief.

- A bottomless barrel will never fill with water.

- Sometimes a wheelcart is put in a boat, sometimes a boat is loaded onto a wheelcart.

- The sun is not to blame if the owl fails to see in the daytime.

- Marshland never gets dry.

- The owner knows what his wheelcart is good for.

- A pear falls close to the pear tree.

- A boy is happy to move around and a girl - to sit still.

- Food nurtures the body, sleep gives a man vigor.

- Don't dress your head if you've got no headache.

- If you can't eat what you like, eat what you can.

- What the father has eaten will not fill his son's stomach.

- If you bleat, the wolf will carry you away, if you keep quiet, the shepherd will cut your throat.

- Gold costs more where it is extracted .

- Neither will a stick bend to form a wheel rim, nor will an ass foal grow up to be a horse.

- One man lead an army to defeat and one, to victory.

- The rock is there but the water is gone.

- The body dies together with the head.

- Any pillow will do if you feel sleepy. You may fall in love with any kind of a girl.

- Even the smallest thorn pricks the skin.

- A mother nurtures her baby just as Mother Earth nurtures Man.

- A river may change its course.

- A bad man will, unlike the weather, never get to be better.

- Neither try to grab everything for yourself nor let others have all the good things to themselves: you are neither a pick nor a hoe. In your dealings with people be like a hacksaw.

- Fire is kindled by fire only.

- Eagles are only born in the mountains.

- Rivers flow without losing water.

- A fat croup does not necessarily show a good horse.

- The dead man did get a shroud, the young girl did get her bride money.

- A good fledgling starts singing in the nest.


- A man who has no brother is like a falcon without wings; a woman who has no brother is like a dry twig.

- The clever member of a stupid family has many things to do.

- A divided family leads a bad life.

- A mother's anger is like snow: quick to come and quick to go.

- A neighbor's wife looks better than your own but no one's steed looks better than yours.

- You take neither a ramhorn for a hilt, nor a nephew for a son.

- A beautiful daughter gets people to talk about her father.

- Bring your most beautiful possessions. The crow has brought its fledgling.

- A beautiful looks beautiful even in her old garb.

- Beauty lasts till sunset, kindness lasts as long as you live.

- A good wife dresses up her husband.

- No son, no home.

- A man who has no son is like a tree without a crown, a sister who has no brother is like a falcon without wings. A falcon without a wing is easy to capture, a tree without a crown is easy to fell.

- A spark is born of a flintstone; a good son, of a good father.

- All mothers like their daughters, all mothers-in-law dislike their sons' wives.

- A good son-in-law is better than a bad son.


- "If a guest asks for a drink of water, he is not hungry, and if he is not thirsty, he is holding a fast," said a miserly housewife.

- If you've left no food in your plate, your belly is surely asking for more.

- Serve a good meal to a bad guest but offer what you've got to a good man.

- No respect at home, none from the neighbors.

- The bull drank water, the calf made do with a little bit of ice.

- He who fails to heed his elders' advice will fall into a pit.

- Whatever the guest has chanced to look at, shall be good.

- Giving what you've got is hospitality, hitting with what you've got is courage.


Chechen Folklore. Proverbs and sayings - Two enemies can hardly live under one roof.

- A worthy man cannot be without friends.

- A friend who lives far away is like a frontier outpost.

- A new coat and an old friend are the best.

- A united family of cats has defeated disunited wolves.

- When grief-stricken, hold your head high. Bow your head before other people's grief.

- An understanding friend is considered a brother.


- Sow seeds in the sunshine, and you'll sit in the shadow when the plants have grown big.

- The potter attaches a handle to a pot wherever he wants it to be.

- He who lives by the river knows where the ford is.

- Matchmakers are told even a dog's bowl is made of copper.

- Even if you have just had a good meal, make sure you have something to eat before starting on a journey , and don't leave your sheepskin cape at home even if the sun is shining brightly.

- Asked what was good, the hare said: "It is good to see a dog before it sees you."

- He who is too lazy to harvest his own wheat, shall have to cut rock for other people.

- The cat who has failed to get pork fat says it is Lent time.

- One summer day provides food for a month of winter.

- He who has been lying idle in summer, shall be running around in winter.

- Work as if you were to live forever, and be kind to people as if you were to die tomorrow.


- One kind word has moved a mountain.

- "I don't know" is one word, but "I know, I've seen" are a thousand words.

- As long as you keep silent, your word is your slave, as soon as you say it, you become its slave.

- A saber wound has healed, but a wound inflicted by a word of mouth has not.

- A bad crow sounds bad.

- The words "I don't know" cost more than gold.


- Prosperity will not buy wisdom.

- An empty head makes legs ache.

- Impatience is foolish, patience is wise.

- An intelligent man feels at home wherever he goes.

- What you learned as a small boy remains engraved in your memory.


- The arm is not afraid to do what the eye fears to see.

- Even a mouse bites at seeing death.

- He who thinks of what will come of his moves is not a brave man.

- Retreat in the face of inevitable defeat is no sign of cowardice.


- If the ox is fat, the family has little to eat.

- He who does not care about pennies, is not worth a penny.

- The mother of a cautious man has no reason to cry, a tightly tied knot will not untie.

- A man is no man if he has failed to keep three things secret from his brother.

- Take no step forward before you've seen where you go, utter no word before you've taken a look at where you've come from.

- Moving to another place is ruinous .

- Having stumbled once, you'll stumble seven times.

- Play no jokes with fire, never trust water.

- Soft-spoken men are not to be trusted, impatient men are not to be afraid of.


- The tooth that aimed to bite the daughter-in-law has bitten the son.

- You cackle for me, but lay eggs for my neighbors.

- A real thief is given to laughing, a hypocritical woman - to shedding tears.


- Fast-running water does not reach the sea.

- A man who has just become rich has lit a candle in the daytime.

- If the head is empty, the eyes shall fill with tears.

- Women washed wool yarn, and the fox washed its tail.

- A dagger unsheathed by a foolish man does more harm that the dagger of a brave man.

- He who does not know how to live well, always speaks of the past.

- A mean man is always in love with himself.

- A rooster too is brave at the door of its hen-coop.


© 2007 Chechen Republic Online