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A Good Sample For Cultural Diffusion

A Hero Who Carries The Characteristics Of Prophet David In The Nart Epos Of Karachay-Balkar People

Nart Debet, The Smith

The International Symposium of “NART EPOS”
Kabardin-Balkar Republic, Nalchik 28th September-3rdOctober 2000


The Caucasian mythology says that the Narts are the ancestors of the Caucasian peoples. The mountaineers of the Caucasus believe in that they descent from the Narts.

Narts have discovered the iron and they have domesticated the horse. Narts have been fearless warriors and clever fighters. They have overcome their superhuman enemies, devils and demons by the help of their intelligence and shrewdness.

Nart epos are the best pattern of acculturation among the Caucasian peoples. Besides Karachay-Balkar people, Nart epos are the epos of Abkhas, Adige (Circassian), Osset and Chechen-Ingush people.

The heroes of Karachay-Balkar Nart epos are Oruzmek, Satanay Biyche, Sosurka (Sosuruk), Debet, Fuk, Alavgan, Karashavay, Batýrez, Achemez,.Shýrdan, Noger, Bodene, Rachikav, Bora Batýr, Bolat Himich.

Debet is the ironmaster of Nart people. He is the son of the God of Sky and the Goddess of Earth.

Satanay Biyche is the daughter of the sun and the moon. Her father is the sun and her mother is the moon.

Sosurka has born from a granite rock. Sosurka means “the son of granite” in Karachay-Balkar language.

Oruzmek has born from a comet which has fallen to the world. He has grown up with the milk of a wolf.

All the Nart heroes possess supernatural powers, Debet’s heart and blood is made of fire. He can understand the languages of stone, fire and the animals. Satanay Biyche can take the shape of everything whatever she wants. The arrow does not penetrate to Sosurka, because he is the son of granite.

In the Nart Epos of Karachay-Balkar the creation of Narts related as below:

“Kun Teyri (The God of Sun) has created the sun. Djer Teyri (The Goddess of Earth) has created the earth. Then the seas have been created. Between the sky and the earth the human being has been created. The God of Sun has been the leader of all Gods. He has warmed the world. When he has got angry he has burned the earth and he has dried the seas. One day, the clouds have made the God of Sun angry. They have covered the world and have prevented the Sun’s warm ray. The God of Sun has grown angry and vomited on to earth. Hot stones and rocks has fallen like a rain on the earth from the mouth of the God of Sun. All of the mine, gold and silver on the earth have come out after that. There have been two kinds of human being on the world. One of them has been the Narts, and the other one has been the Harras. The Harras have had red hair and they have eaten everything on the earth. One day the smith of the Narts, Debet, has discovered the iron in the rocks which the God of Sun have vomited to the world. Debet has made the first weapon from the iron. The Narts have overcome to the Harras by the help of their weapons made of iron.”


Nart Ironmaster Debet (whose name is Devet in some variants of Karachay-Balkar Nart Epos) has been described as a mythological hero in Nart Epos. Nart Debet can strike the iron while it is hot by his naked hands. He can speak to the birds and all animals and he can understand their languages. He has manufactured the iron swords, shields, spears and arrows for Nart warriors for the first time. He has invented the first horseshoe thus Nart horses has been able to run far distances. The stars shining in the dark sky are the sparks of the hot iron which is beaten by Nart Debet. According to the Nart Epos Debet has nineteen sons. His elder son is Alavgan who has married to a giant woman.

The birth of Debet is related as below in the Nart Epos of Karachay-Balkar people:


While we were living in the caves
The God of Fire has married to the Goddess of Earth
The sky has thundered and the earth has become pregnant
For nine years and nine days
She has stayed as pregnant
The Earth has been split and Debet has been born
The Goddess of River (Water) has washed him
She has turned the rivers towards his mouth
Debet’s heart has been made of fire
His body has been made of steel
The God of Fire has taught him the language of fire
The Goddess of Earth has taught him the language of stones
The Goddess of River has sent him his meal and water
The iron has been like a dough for him
He has manufactured arrows for Nart warriors
His arrows has passed over Elbrus mountain
They have fallen to Black Sea

Some Karachay-Balkar scholars submit different opinions about the origin of the name of Nart Debet or Devet. According to professor Magomet Habichev “Dev” means “giant” and “-et” is a plural in old Turkic-Mongol languages. So that Devet or Debet means “Giants” or “Powerfuls” in old Karachay-Balkar language. But “dev” is not a Karachay-Balkar word. It is a Persian word. So his explanation does not have a strength base. Another Karachay-Balkar scholar Ismail Miziyev submits that the name of Nart Debet is related to the name of Scyhtian goddess “Tabiti” who is the goddess of family and house.

When we examine the book of muslims, the Holy Koran, we can notice the abilities of Prophet David which has been donated to him by God. In Koran God says that He has taught prophet David how to make iron armor and He has made iron soft for David’s hands. (In 80th verse (ayat) of Enbiya sura and in 10th verse (ayat) of Sebe sura)

In Islamic tales it is told that Allah (God) has taught David how to speak to birds and mountains and how to make iron soft to manufacture weapons and armors. David is the owner of a miracle that he can make iron as soft as gum without help of fire. David has had nineteen sons.

Prophet David is known as the saint teacher of ironmasters among the Turkic peoples of Central Asia. In some prayers of Taranchi (Uighur) shamans Prophet David is described as the saint teacher of ironmasters and they require help from him. In prayers of Kazakh shamans prophet David is described as a saint who strikes the iron without help of fire.

Debet (or Devet) who is the ironmaster of Narts In Karachay-Balkar Nart epos carries the characteristics of Prophet David. For example in Nart epos of Karachay-Balkar Debet is described like that:


The iron has been like a dough for him
He has bent the iron to wherever he liked
He has manufactured armors and shields
He has stretched the iron like gum in his hands

Those expressions are just like the characteristics of Prophet David described in Holy Koran and in Islamic tales. Both Nart Debet and Prophet David has nineteen sons. Both of them are ironmasters and they can make iron like gum without using fire. Both of them are the first manufacturer of iron weapons and armors. Both of them can speak to birds and mountains.


Those similarities can not be explained by coincidence. It is obvious that some old religious tales have been transferred to Central Asia and Caucasus in old centuries. Those tales and heroes have mixed to the old epos of indigenous peoples like Karachay-Balkars in the Caucasus. We can say that Prophet David has undergone a transformation in Karachay-Balkar Nart epos and he has changed to Nart Debet (or Devet).

Prophet David has lived in the tenth century B.C. in Palestine. In the seventh century B.C. the Scyhtians have passed over the Caucasus and have invaded the lands in Middle East. It is a probability that the Scyhtians have carried some cultural elements from Middle East to Caucasus. It is known that Prophet David is a Jewish prophet and the Khazar Turk Empire the ruler of the Caucasus for four hundred years between 7th and 10th centuries A.C. was accepted the Jewish religion. Prophet David was a hero for Khazar Turks. After the collapse of Khazar Turk Empire the tribes of Khazar Turks have mixed to the peoples of the Caucasus. While they were being mixed ethnically they have carried their culture to the Caucasian peoples. May be it was another means for transformation of Prophet David into Nart Debet.

Diffusion means the spread of culture from an ethnic group or area to another. Although whole cultures may spread as a result of the migration of their bearers, a culture is practically never adopted by other ethnic groups without considerable change and selection of traits. Borrowed elements of culture usually undergo some kind of change or adaptation.

In Nart Epos of Karachay-Balkar we can observe that the characteristics of Prophet David has been carried to Caucasus and has influenced Karachay-Balkar culture. But Karachay-Balkar people have changed some characteristics of Prophet David while they were adopting him to their culture and they have transformed Prophet David to Nart Debet in their Nart Epos.

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