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AKIPRESS.COM - The National Geographic has released an article about the Manas epic in Kyrgyzstan and a 22-year-old Ulukbek Toktobolot uulu, who is just beginning his training as a manaschi, a traditional reciter of epic poetry in Bishkek.
"Learning a half-million-line poem isn’t easy. It takes a lot," says Ulukbek.
For about a year Toktobolot has been studying Manas, the country’s ancient and colossal national poem, the lengthiest recorded version of which is 500,553 rhyming lines long. He can declaim parts of it for about 10 minutes. Lifelong masters can narrate the lyrics for hours.
Probably no country has a greater claim to this art form today than Kyrgyzstan, one of Central Asia’s smaller and more democratic states. Manas, its national epic, matches the oceanic scale and beauty of the region’s landscape: part folktale, part gospel, part patriotic tract, it tells the sweeping story of the origins of the Kyrgyz people through the exploits of its eponymous central character, the knightly super-hero Manas, says the report.
Scholars compare the eloquence and psychological power of Manas to Homer’s masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey. (Though Manas is about 20 times longer.) The Kyrgyz epic even addresses similar themes: good versus evil, the moral codes of leadership, Shakespearean rivalries, national destinies, and generations of warfare—in this case, against neighboring China. Though Manas has been declared a treasure of world culture by the United Nations, it remains virtually unknown in the West owing to a lack of accessible translations. Even in Central Asia, detailed knowledge of the poem has grown tenuous, and bards capable of reciting long passages are rare.
“Under the USSR the epic of Manas was suppressed or had its words changed,” says Toktobolot, one of a small core of aspiring bards who is helping revive the tradition among a younger generation of Kyrgyz. “But now I’ve heard how it is supposed to be told. And it has entered my heart.”