Placing the Manas epic into the Contemporary World (2011)

Related activities consists of a) a school for novice narrators, b) audio and video versions of the epic recited by the contemporary manaschys, c) organization of public discussions on and promoting innovative study of newly emerging and classical-old versions of the epic and d) translation of the first volume of Aikol Manas by Byby Mariam Musa kyzy into English.

In Kyrgyz culture, when certain spiritual call or mission is bestowed, oftentimes in the beginning, it is accompanied by a serious illness related to its recognition and acceptance. Becoming a Manas narrator follows the same pattern; usually spiritual call to recite the epic comes at the age of 7-12 and is followed by a prophetic dreams, an illness or some disease and only by accepting the call can the person free from the illness and carry on with life by being a Manas narrator. Today, contemporary Kyrgyz society emphasizes the role and importance of the Manas epic, but paradoxically, there is no special programs and concepts to support bearers of epic knowledge on the state level. Therefore, acknowledging this, Aigine CRC initiated to conduct the school for novice Manas narrators, which is designed as a teaching seminar with a goal of rendering methodological and spiritual assistance to novice narrators in becoming Manas epic chanters. The seminar is also intended to alleviate “manaschy’s disease” and help novice narrators become cognizant of the narrator’s mission through indulging into the epic world and exchanging spiritual experiences and live stories with experienced manaschys. The school was split into three – spring, summer and fall sessions. Programs were built perusing the strategic vision that new generations of the bearers and supporters of Kyrgyz traditional values and knowledge would be reflective in terms of the past, rational in terms of the present and open-minded in terms of a future;

Implementation part started with a selection of novice narrators experiencing spiritual call throughout the country. Selection was done together with experienced manaschys and certain traditional practitioners.Informal networking was one of the main and efficient ways to conduct our search. Main criteria of our selection were: a) age (between 7-21) and b) knowledge about the epic and its recitation. Mainly we paid attention to those young people who take part in different in-school and out-of-school activities with the Manasrecitation. Aigine CRC together with manaschys held several field trips to remote areas and series of meetings in Bishkek with the goal of interviewing the children. Overall, we have interviewed 35 children from different regions. The last word of decision came from our experts who took part in all the meetings and field trips. One of the main challenges we experienced was to recruit and find novice narrators from the southern regions, especially Batken oblast. (att.7: list of participants of the school for novice Manas narrators).

First set-up spring session and the summer session were held together (29 June 12 July). Our main experts and instructors were manaschys of different age, regions and schools, Kuban Almabekov, Rysbai Isakov, Zamirbek Bayaliev and Kamil Mamadaliev. Aigine CRC’s goal was to give a chance to novice narrators to experience the diversity of the epical world and recitation, and find unity and oneness in this diversity. Thespiritual part of the session contained profound information on previous manaschys, the world of Manasitself, detailed overview of the epic’s main episodes, visits to sacred sites, listening to komuz performances; while the practical part of the session included giving novice narrators certain episodes for learning by heart with further recitation and then making improvisations based on the learned episode. According to the experienced manaschys, in order to become a strong manas reciter, a person should be very knowledgeable, well-read and should know all the ins and outs of the Manas epic. In their view, a true master of its art should always strive for perfection and make all the possible effort to perfect his/her recitation manner. Certainly, many Manas reciters have a spiritual guardian and receive ayan (prophetic dream); however, experience, beauty of the tone, richness and harmony of the recitation manner come from practice and perseverance. As the manaschys say, strong hunger for listening to Manas, learning more about it and unbeatable desire to recite the epic and dedicate one’s life to it – is the main characteristic of a true manaschy (att.8: school for novice narrators – program and report of the summer session).

Therefore, instructors made all the possible efforts to satisfy novice narrators’ hunger for epical knowledge and wisdom, and therefore, shared with all their knowledge and information they have. This kind of wholehearted output and instructors teaching approach is essential in nurturing novice narrators and transmitting the epic knowledge. The sessions were conducted in less formal and stereotypical way; rather it was very relaxed, but at the same time disciplined and goal-oriented. Certainly, there were some difficulties and challenges along the way. First of all, the age difference of the participants created certain difficulty, second – different level of their epical knowledge and third – difficulty in dealing with written text. It was also evident that the idea ofmusulmanchylyk vs. kyrgyzchylyk created certain difficulties for some participants; especially those with a religious upbringing, for them these two ideas were totally opposing ones. Each participant’s case, story and experience is worth looking at separately, therefore, more detailed information about each of them can be found in.

It was amazing to observe how participants’ attitude, mood, perception and general state of being has changed by the end of the summer session. It was clear that the participants started consciously tuning into the world ofManas and recitation.         However, participant’s growth and development were more evident during the fall session (16-22 November) of the school. Participants got quite mature, their recitation manner, style and voice became strong, diverse and more powerful. In between the sessions they managed to read several books and their inner interest and inner call grew much stronger than it was noticed before. All the previously learned episodes of the epic and certain epical knowledge received from the instructors were all mastered and perfected; moreover they improvised episodes with their own words and style. During the fall session, instructors individually worked with each participant to improve their recitation manner, tone and style. According to manaschys, uniqueness come with diversity, therefore, the more styles and recitation manner the apprentice learns and hears, higher the probability that the apprentice will develop his/her own unique recitation manner and style. Being able to hear the voices of legendary and contemporary manaschys,novice narrators became enchanted with strength of their voice and power of their recitation. Daytime practice was followed by evening “journeys” into the spiritual wonders, healing capacities and magical power of the Manas epic. These talks were accompanied by komuz playing, Manas recitation, listening to epicalkomuz melodies, experience and dream sharing. There was a strong spiritual component during the session; both instructors and the participants opened up and build strong master-apprentice ties and relationship, which we believe will grow and develop into something bigger in the future (att.9: school for novice narrators – program, report and list of the participants of the fall session). Aigine CRC plans to continue working with this group of novice narrators in 2012 and holds firm belief that this small group of gifted young people will grow into representatives of future generation of Manas reciters and bearers of epic knowledge and wisdom.

The second component of the project is forming the first audio and video versions of the Manas epic recited by active contemporary manaschys. The main goal is to compile full audio and video recordings and form complete traditional version of the first part of the trilogy. This audio and video version will be first of its kind ever formed in Kyrgyzstan. Certainly, there are some video and audio recordings, but there is no epic recitation from the beginning until the end, as a whole piece, in one audio and visual compilation. The recitation is done by 12 currently active and recognized manaschys (att.10: audio and video version – list of the participating manaschys); therefore, it is not Sayakbai Karalaev’s or Sagynbai Orozbakov’s epic versions, it is the version of contemporary epic performers, which is one of the most important and unique aspects of the project. The recording is aimed to preserve and capture the current epical knowledge, which later could be used for scientific research, spiritual awareness raising and other educational purposes for further development and preservation of the epic. Aigine CRC believes that this compilation of contemporary epic version will be of a great importance in researching such concepts as genuine (authentic) and trained reciters, true nature and the world of manaschys and many other issues. Audio and video compilation will be distributed to all the educational institutions in the country especially to remote and rural areas in Batken, Jalal-Abad, Osh and Naryn with no regular access to live performances.

The  compilation consists of the 50 main episodes, which make up the core of the Manas epic (att.11: audio and video version – list of the main episodes). The list of the episodes was composed by manaschys and approved by the Manaschy Steering Committee. As a final product and outcome of the project, Aigine CRC will presentCD and DVD discs with 25 hour live recitationEach manaschy recited several episodes of their choosing with the duration of from 20 minutes – 1 hour. All video recording sessions took place in different places throughout the country including places of historical significance mentioned in the epic and places of communion where manaschys receive inspiration and spiritual elevation. All these places were in the lap of nature with snow-capped mountains, turbulent rivers, crystal clear lake and diversity of beautiful wild flowers, which in turn perfectly reflect the essence, power and the free spirit of the Manas epic.

Video filming was carried out in collaboration with the local TV company ElTR[1] and manaschy Zamirbek Bayaliev, our main expert and coordinator of participating manaschys. Video recording sessions started in September and completed at the end of November 2011; all the editing part was completed by the end of December while the issuance and circulation of CD’s and DVD’s scheduled for January-February 2012. There weren’t many difficulties during the filming except for minor technical nuances; however, there were some challenges in organizing certain manaschys, who for personal or other reasons were not very cooperative. One of the Aigine CRC’s shortcomings was the fact that we didn’t sign an agreement or contract with individual Manas reciters on terms and conditions of audio and video recording in the beginning. However, we did receive manaschys consent on behalf of their Steering Committee, because they desired to be addressed as one group rather than separate individuals, but this turned out to be ineffective at the end. Therefore, we signed individual contracts with each manaschy who participated in the recording later.

As an active and constantly evolving phenomenon, Manas epic experiences birth of new versions, and Aikol Manas serves as a perfect example to this. Byby Mariam Musa kyzy, former traditional healer, have been communing with the spirit of Jaisan manaschy since 1995 and receiving spiritual messages in codes that she later decodes and transforms into words. All her received messages were put together and published as books, and by now she has published 10 volumes of new version of the Manas epic. However, this version of the epic hasn’t been studied and researched by scholars or brought into public discussion; it’s an absolutely untouched terrain with wealth of information. Therefore, with the aim of brining newly emerging epic versions into light and drawing public attention, Aigine CRC organized and held several meetings and panel discussions. One ofthe first closed meetings of traditional male manaschys and non-traditional female manachy titled Diversity of the World of Manas was conducted in January 2011. Representatives of different epic recitation traditions got together for the first time to discuss the whole range of debatable questions such as the degree ofkyrgyzchylyk and musulmanchylyk reflected in both versions, oral recitation vs. written text, narrators vs. scholars, difference in epic version of Yraman Yrchy uulu and Jaisan, male epical values and meanings vs. female ones. This scope of issues clearly indicates how little Aikol Manas is studied and researched, and the main goal of this closed meeting was to identify the controversial questions around the new epic version (att.12: first closed meeting of the discussion seminar – short summary and list of participants).

The second meeting was an open and public discussion on How does the non-traditional version of the Manas epic, written by a woman, correlate with the traditional oral version of males? Keynote speakers were Kuban Almabekovmanaschy of 4th generation, Bubu Mariam Musa kyzy and Dr. Gulnara Aitpaeva. The main aim of the discussion was to draw a comparative analysis between traditional epic version and new version by Byby Mariam (att.13: open discussion – comparison chart). There were about 35 people includingmanaschys, university professors and students, NGO representatives, scholars, mass media representatives, individual researchers, traditional practitioners and anthropologists (att.14: open discussion – list of the participants). Such a high and diverse turn out of participants indicate the relevancy of the subject among the general public. Comparative analysis raised a number of questions and lead to dynamic and thought-provoking discussion. It was also quite sad to learn that majority of our traditional Manas reciters were not fully familiar with Aikol Manas and mostly hold negative attitude towards it. The open discussion revealed, if not completely, but to a certain degree, general, especially male reciters’, attitude and mood towards newly emerged Aikol Manas. Aigine CRC intends to continue organizing and conducting such open public and private discussions around disclosing issues around the epic, especially by bringing together scholars, manas reciters, researchers, university students and other interested parties. Such meetings are beneficial for participants and have a great potential to build tolerance for diversity and also useful in terms of broadening people’s mind and building a bridge between people of different backgrounds and belief systems. Aigine CRC is also striving to contribute, to the extent possible, to broadening the outlook on life among the acting manaschys. In this context, a key role is played by providing a possibility to convoke with other traditional practitioners from different countries and to visit other countries (att.15: building network of manas reciters and other traditional practitioners).

As for the forth component of the project on translating the first volume of Aikol Manas into English,the Steering Committee of the Manas reciters stood against this idea. Their main argument was that Aikol Manas is not a traditional epic version, Byby Marian is not a traditional epic reciter and that religious i.e. Islamic components prevail in Aikol Manas. Aigine CRC accepted traditional manaschys’ opinion and didn’t disregard their will; and instead took a decision to compile a full contemporary traditional version of Manasepic in modern audio and video means and postponed the translation of Aikol Manas for 2012.

Overall, in 2011, Aigine CRC, as tangible results, was able to produce the following:

  • Revived the system of master – apprentice in the field of Manas;
  • Set up models of personal mentorship in transmitting the epic heritage (spiritual reciprocity and public recitation);
  • Developed one-year teaching program with a main principle – diversity-in-unity, to foster young generation of the Manas epic guardians, which could be used by other schools and organizations;
  • Compiled first audio and video versions of the epic recited by the contemporary manaschys;
  • Broadcasted video recordings on national TV company;
  • Introduced newly emerging epic versions into the public and social discourse.

[1] From Kyrgyz – People’s TV and Radio Company