A JOURNEY TO TALAS OBLAST BY ALEXANDRA TACEA

On Friday, the 9th of September, I left for a seven-day-trip to Talas oblast. This Friday I was leaving with the participants of the second World Festival of epics of peoples of the world, journalists, musicians, folklorists and epic tellers from ten different countries. This day was dedicated to a rich cultural program at Manas ordo, the place where the Kyrgyz national hero Manas is said to have had his “base” and where a mausoleum marks his grave. We were shown the performance of Kyrgyz songs and dances and had the chance of visiting the Manas museum.

The next day, I was fetched by my translator, Kamilja Appasova. On this day I was able to take an interview with her father, who spent three days with a group of practitioners of kyrgyzchylyk [ъүү, ъакшы] before he decided to go the path of a more orthodox Islam. In the evening we had the chance to have an interview with Khadija-eje, a тааъ [traditional healer].

Kamiljas father establishs the contact with another spiritual practitioner, Said-baike, who calls himself шумкар [“falcon”, male practitioner who performs ъатачыагуу]. He is part of a group of people who do ата жолу, which means, that they receive instructions from the аталар [saints and forefathers of the Kyrgyz, like Manas] and then visit their mausoleums and sacred sites, which are connected to them, in order to heal people. He invited us to take part the next day in the weekly зиярат [pilgrimage to sacred sites], conducted by the members of this group.

On the 11th of September, which is a Sunday, we accompany a group of approximately fourty people, coming from different parts of Kyrgyzstan in order to be healed, on their way to six different мазарс [sacred sites]. Before we leave there is a gathering in the ордо [base] of the practitioners unit, which is the house of Toktogul-baike, who is a шумкар himself. He and Said-baike hold speeches on the importance of the Muslim duties, like the daily namaz and the prohibition to drink alcohol as well as on the recovering of various people who performed the зиярат before. The first sacred site was the grave of Zulpukor ata, a student of the Prophet, who is said to have died in Talas in the 7th century. The second station is Manas ordo, where worship is made at the mausoleum of Manas as well as at the grave of Alaiken uul Ajibek datka. The fourth station is канеки апа’sspring [the wife of Manas], where she is said to have always washed herself. The procedure is almost the same at every of the four мазарс. First a white cloth, called актык is offered to the saint, then the participants pray for their healing and then ъатачыагуу is performed. This means, that the saint is invited to join the group and speaks through the mouth of each of the four аккулар [“swans”, the female practitioners, performing ъатачыагуу] who accompany us to the participants, who were divided in four groups. The аккулар tell the problem of every participant (some suffered from alcoholism, some had physical diseases) and what they have to do in order to be cured. Unfortunately we were not able to see the last two мазарс, because the акку who was responsible for our group was very unpleased about the fact that we did not participate in all of the prescribed rituals. After the wheel of our marschrutka split, she blamed our behavior for this and Kamilja suggested returning home.

The next day we had an interview with Toktogul-baike at the ордо, where we also witnessed the daily дем салуу- and шамчагуу-ritual. The second one was conducted first. 21 candles [шам] were lit in a pot (seven for the matrilateral ancestors, seven for the patrilateral ancestors and seven for the ancestors of the spouse) and Toktoguls wife walked three times around the room with the pot in her hands, in order to purify it. After this the patients, including us, purified themselves with the light of the candles. The дем салуу- ritual begins with Toktoguls wife doing ъатачыагуу for each of us, which is the diagnosis. In the next step Toktogul started to heal. He therefore pressed his hand on the patients head and his foot on the patient’s leg and started pushing the patient, to drive out the negative energy. After this he started beating the patient’s back with a small leather whip [камчы], while reciting suras from the holy Qu’ran.

Said-baike and his wife were joining the group later and told us a bit more about their practices, while being very eager to make us come again on the next зиярат.

Although Said-baike promised us to have an interview on Wednesday he is not picking up the phone on that day so we don’t have the chance to talking to him once more. At home, Kamilja shows me the next day a video, called Akikat [truth], where suras from the holy Qu’ran are shown, which forbid the practices of visiting sacred sites or asking the souls of dead people for help. On Thursady the 15th of September my trip to the land of Manas ends and I return to Bishkek, passing the snowy Suusamir-plateau.