Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Like all 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.
From 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.
One 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.
The 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”).
Many 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.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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