The word karagoz is a Turkish word which literally means a black eye, but in the cultural and historical context in fact it denotes a specific type of theatre. This picturesque, original and exceptionally popular theatre reached the Balkans, comes from the Far East; the roots of its origin are hard to be determined - stretching to India, maybe to Indonesia, and even to Java... A Chinese legend from the 1st century speaks about a theatre made of puppets, their colorful shadows and dance... Another 3-centuries older legend (dated from the 2nd century BC), but thousands of miles closer to us, from Syria, speaks about a small theatre that the King Anthious had only for himself, in which "small puppets, made of paper and a thin leather, were dressed in shining clothes."
Shifting slowly but surely from the Far East towards the Middle East, this magic theatre had obviously gone through many changes - passing through many cultures, it had absorbed, as a sponge, many elements, becoming in that way richer and more interesting. Finally, the Karagoz Theatre came to the Balkans together with the Turks. In the history of their culture and theatre the name of this theatre was mentioned starting from the 11th, or at least the 14th century.
A Turkish legend speaks about the origin of the construction of a large mosque in Bursa and its constructors among whom were Karagoz and Hadzivat - two friends, two mockers and skilled storytellers. Instead of working all day, they were sitting and were telling stories to the workers and were making jokes... Their performances were so attractive to the "audience", that the construction of the mosque has completely stopped - the construction site turned into a theatre!
When the Sultan found out what was going on there, he got very angry and gave an order to kill the two protagonists - Karagoz and Hadzivat. So, it was done. But, after their execution, everybody in Bursa was overwhelmed by grief. The Sultan felt the lost that could not be compensated at all and realized that he had doomed his subjects to live in a world without laugh and that he had doomed even himself to live in a glum and dark world. So, the mighty Sultan tried to correct the mistake - he made a decision to revive Karagoz and Hadzivat. Being unable to really bring them into existence as real human beings, something which could eventually be done only by Allah, he gave an order to reincarnate them in a form of small, transparent puppets made of thin and colored skin. If they were to be placed in front of a white curtain with a burning candle behind it, they would dance as if they were alive!
Although this theatre includes a number of characters-puppets, its eminent theatricality emerges from the complex relation between its central "masks" - Karagoz and Hadzivat. Karagoz personifies an ordinary, common man. He is dressed simply as any other passers-by on the streets of Constantinople. He speaks plainly and in a language common to the people. He is clever and stupid at the same time, naive and witty. Although he is as poor as a dog, the only thing that he wants is not the wealth but the possibility to have his everyday piece of bread at peace. But, equally important, to enjoy the live, in a way that he would tease a little (but everyday) his "angry enemy", his antipode, his existential "enemy" whose name is Hadzivat and who is a little bit "slow" (not to say stupid) and a flamboyant effendi: he speaks conceitedly using archaic words, wants to seem like a wise man, pretends to be much of a scholar, and moreover he is a boringly pedant, rigid, corruptible, an opportunist who constantly emphasises his aristocratic origin...
Relations between Karagoz and Hadzivat develop exclusively through a series of funny misunderstandings, spiced with a large quantity of healthy, scathing, curative humour. Folk humour! The famous Turkish travelogue maker and diplomat, Evlija Celebija, travelled patiently around the Balkans in the first half of the 17th century - the result of his travels are his ten comprehensive books in which he more than often mentioned the performances of Karagoz in Bosnia, Serbia, and especially in Macedonia - mostly in Skopje.
Brought by and with the Turks (as a part of the entertainment of the newcomers-conquerors), this vital and exceptionally communicative theatre easily adapted to the new environment. On the Macedonian soil, the Karagoz Theatre existed for centuries up to the middle of the current century - it is supposed that such performances were delivered in the Skopje teahouses until 50's, since there are still living witnesses, even participants, who used to attend them.