Toktogul Satylganov

Toktogul Satylganov (1864 -1933)

A great composer, poet, akyn (singer-improviser) and komuzist (someone who plays komuz, a traditional Kyrgyz musical instrument), the great son of Kyrgyzstan and the classic of Kyrgyz literature Toktogul Satylganov played a significant role in traditional Kyrgyz art by making an impressive contribution to the Kyrgyz culture. He sang about the hardships of the poor people and he is best known for his songs about freedom and independence during the Tsarist Russia’s colonial era. 

Toktogul Satylganov was born on October 25, 1864, in the family of a poor farmer in the Kushchu-Suu village, placed in the Ketmen-Tyube valley of the current Toktogul region. He was the most famous of the Kyrgyz “Akins” improvising poets and singers. The Kyrgyz town of Toktogul in the Jalal-Abad Region is named in his honor. His mother, Burma, was a talented and well-known professional mourner (koshokchu). She became the first mentor of Toktogul, awakening in him the desire to sing and compose. His parents were from a poor family and it was the miserable existence of his ancestors and neighbors that called in the akyn a sense of the struggle for justice and he became famous thanks to his courage to speak up. To speak only the truth and it was this sense of protest against the remnants of feudalism that ruined the great poet. Toktogul’s fame spread rapidly among the peasants and also reached his enemies who did not like his satirical works and truth spoken aloud. He began to reveal corrupt and to  defend the interests of the poor, exposing the vices of the rich in his works. 

In 1898, an opportunity presented to those who wanted to persecute him as the Andijan rebellion broke out, led by a clergy. Toktogul had nothing to do with this movement, however the manap (rich man) Baktiyar Ryskulbekov, wrote the charge that claimed Toktogul was a participant in the conspiracy. In the same year, he was arrested for supporting the Andijan rebellion and was sentenced to death by hanging. But soon the death penalty was replaced by seven years of hard labor in Siberia. Toktogul spent five years in the Irkutsk Alexandria center. After repeated attempts, he finally managed to escape and returned to his homeland in 1910. Meanwhile, his son had died and the family split up. But grief did not break Toktogul, difficulties didn’t destroy his passion to compose. He became the most famous akyn, the “voice” of the poor people. In 1928, A. Zataevich, a member of the Commissariat of Education in the Kyrgyz Autonomous Republic, invited Toktogul to Frunze (today Bishkek) to record his works, where he performed 18 instrumental songs.

Toktogul died in 1933 at the age of 69 in his village and was buried there. A monument was erected on the grave and a museum was opened in the same village. His son Babadzhan (from his second marriage) followed in his father’s footsteps and became an artist of the Toktogul District. The art of akyn, the great form of cultural representation of nomadic Kyrgyz people, was listed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.

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