distinct cultures and ethnic groups around the world, the Kyrgyz have a
rich store of folklore. This is expressed in a wide variety
of song, story, proverbs, riddles, legends and fairy tales.
ancient times the Kyrgyz have honoured the art of story telling.
Folk-lore was passed from ayil to ayil (village to village), from bozoi
to bozoi (yurt to yurt). Story tellers were respected and
sometimes called “people’s nightingales”
or jomokchu and are welcomed guests in any home. They were
called “akyn” and one of the skills of the akyn was
to be able to improvise verses, rather similar to a
“minstrel” in medieval Europe. Sometimes
a competition, called an aytish, would be held in which the akyns would
vie with each other to produce the wittiest verses.
These akyns were the carriers of an oral history, myth and philosophy
for Central Asia's pre-literate nomads. In practice, they
were also extemporaneous preachers who lectured in sung verse on the
political and moral issues of the day, adapting old legends or codes
for the country's latest ruler. As such they, and the oral
tradition that they represented, played an important role in preserving
the traditions and cultures of the nomadic Kyrgyz in the days before
they adopted a written language. (The language was codified
into a written form only in the twentieth century).
It is said that even in the Soviet period, a lot of attention was paid
to akyn and the communists used them to spread party
propaganda. Akyns often sang about Lenin, the revolution and
the achievements of the party.
of the greatest Akyns of the Twentieth Century was Toktogul, whose
portrait appears on the 100 som banknote and was a master at the art of
Aytish. Some of his improvisations got him into trouble with
the local “manaps” (or senior tribal leaders) and
they arranged for him to be exiled to Siberia. After the
Bolshevik revolution he wrote a poem about Lenin which is sometimes
credited as being the beginning of “democratic
ideas” amongst the Kyrgyz.
It is said that at the time the Soviet Union collapsed there were only
four akyns left in the country. The art form is, however,
showing signs of a revival – with the creation of the Aitysh
Foundation, the opening of a school for young akyns and an increasing
awareness in the Manas Epic.
Manas epic is only one of a number of Kyrgyz epic sagas. Its importance
lies partly in the fact that it is the worlds longest epic, (longer
than Homer’s combined Iliad and Odyssey) and the remarkable
feat of memory required of the manaschi, (an akyn who specializes in
retelling the story of Manas), who recites it from memory from memory,
and partly because it symbolizes to the Kyrgyz themselves their
national identity. The hero, (Manas), his son (Semetei) and
grandson (Seitek) struggle to unite the Kyrgyz and overcome their
enemies, liberating them from subjugation to a life of prosperity in
their own homeland.
There are, in addition to the Manas epic, a number of other
“minor” epics and wide variety of legends. Some are
folk-tales are associated with places, others with events, or aspects
of nature, for example tales about animals. Some are moral tales whilst
others are like fairy tales. They describe rich and silly Khans, brave
hunters, poor peasants and shepherds, beautiful and brave women who
give good advice. At the end of the story the poor and clever people
usually come out on top. There are a series of tales about the wise man
“Asankaygy” and the smart fellow “Aldar
Kose”. Most of them illustrate aspects of everyday
life and the events in them are usually placed in well-known
surroundings. Some of them express universal values and
truths whilst embody a typical Kyrgyz style and meaning, (such as the
proverbs “cheap mutton has no fat” and “a
horse is man’s wings”).
Kyrgyz can play a musical instrument, (especially the komuz which is
similar to a three stringed mandolin and is picked and played at almost
any opportunity), and know a wide repertoire of ballads, love songs,
work songs and lullabies. These songs are also used to pass
on the national culture and traditional folklore to the next generation.