The Manas Epic is Kyrgyzstan‘s most significant cultural treasure and one of the world’s largest collection of spoken poems. The oral epic of Manas has even been included on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list. Manas is a 10th-century legendary hero of the Kyrgyz people, who value him as their sacred ancient forefather. The Manas legend goes to the heart of their spiritual identity and is a symbol of their nationalism and culture.
Manas epoch is a long, complex cycle of legends associated with the achievements of a heroic Batyr (khan or tribal leader). He is believed to have all the powerful qualities that are ideally associated with the Kyrgyz character. With half a million lines of poetry, it is 20 times longer than Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad combined. Being an oral tradition, the legend has survived for centuries without being written down and “Manaschi” (Oral speaker of the Manas related tales) have always been admired for their improvisation skills while presenting the tales.
A brief summary of the Manas epoch
The legend begins with Manas, a leader of enormous bravery and power who unites the Kyrgyz people against foreign enemies, leading in an era of justice, brotherhood and unity. After he is mortally wounded in battle, the second part follows the adventures of his wife, the wise Kanykei and son Semetei, while the third part tells of his brave grandson Seitek.
A brief summary of the thoughts of the epic: Manas is said to have had tens of thousands of horsemen at his control. A personal guardian of 40 warriors who served the best various Kyrgyz’s tribes and who would later become his personal friend and close companions. Manas was assassinated by Kongurbai, a Chinese leader.
Following his death, the Kyrgyz tribes were led by his younger brothers Abyke and Bobosh. These brothers wanted to marry Manas’s widow Kanykey but she escaped with her son Semetei to Bukhara where her father ruled as a khan. When Semetey grew up he returned to the land of his birth (Talas) to revenge his father’s death. Semetei succeeded in defeating his uncles in battle but his father’s 40 companions who had survived would not serve him and so he had them beheaded.
A manaschi is a person who entertains by reciting the Epic of Manas. The story of the legendary manaschis tells that one is born into their profession rather than made, taken in dreams by a visit from Manas spirit. The Manaschi have passed the stories down from generation to generation and have been revered for their knowledge, but also for their dramatic delivery. They were traditionally illiterate akyn (bards) and wove issues of the day into the stories and improvised from a basic storyline and rhythm in the same way a talented jazz musician does.
The best manaschi improvise verses, which have a distinct rhythmic beat and are characterized by expressive hand gestures. The most nationally famous manaschi are Toktogul Satylganov, Togolok Moldo, the rare female manaschi Seyde Moldoke kyzy, Sayakbai Karalaev and many more.
There are only few really good Manaschi left. Manashi generally sang the verses without musical accompaniment and were assumed having shaman-like powers and were often consulted by ordinary people on personal matters.
Page updated 5.12.2021