Few collections give an adequate idea of the rich enigmatic lore of Asia and these few are not easily available to most of us. There are, for example, good Yakut collections in Polish and Russian and excellent untranslated Turkish collections. The only easily found Asiatic collection is an anthology of riddles from Middle India made a few years ago by Verrier Elwin and W. G. Archer. These collections contain few comparative notes. In making this collection I have sought to offer a survey of Asiatic riddling as far as it could be based on the riddles current in a single language. The numerous Mongolian collections provide a good foundation for such a survey. I have used all the printed Mongolian collections that have come to my knowledge but have not sought for riddles in oral circulation.
With some minor modifications I have arranged the riddles according to a system devised by Robert Lehmann-Nitsche and used in his Adivinanzas rioplatenses (Buenos Aires, Imprenta de Coni Hermanos, 1911). This system is based on the way in which the solution is described and not on the solution itself. Riddles are comparisons of an object to an animal, a man, a plant, or a thing, or describe an object in terms of several comparisons (which do not add up to suggesting a false solution) or in terms of number, form, color, or acts. The other varieties of word puzzles that are loosely called riddles are here put into the chapter entitled Shrewd Questions.
The collection contains all the published Mongolian riddles that I know. The original texts, which were printed in various places and especially in rare Russian journals, were printed in Mongolian script or various kinds of transcriptions and were occasionally accompanied by translations into a European language. In all instances the original Mongolian text has been used as a basis for the translation offered here. Square brackets are used around added material; parentheses enclose words already in the Mongolian text. The collector's name and the number of the riddle in his collection are cited. The riddles cited in the notes are arranged in an order proceeding roughly from east to west, that is, from the tribes nearest to the Mongols to the peoples of Western Europe. The references in the notes are to collections of riddles, which are cited according to the collector's name and the numbers of the individual riddles. When the riddles are not numbered, they are cited according to the pages on which they appear. The books and collections cited are listed in the Collections of Riddles Cited in my English Riddles from Oral Tradition (Berkeley, 1951), pp. 871-897. Some additional books and collections that were not available to me in 1951 are cited in References, pp. 411-412 below.
I am indebted to Professor F. D. Lessing for the translation of more than eight hundred riddles and a reading of the manuscript. Professor N. N. Poppe generously gave me translations of both his own collections and a very rare lithographed collection made by Zhamtsaranov and Rudnyev. Professor Wolfram Eberhard lent me an indispensable book for a long term of years and translated a large number of Turkish riddles. I express to them once more my gratitude for help that has made this collection possible.