The epic Kojojash is considered one of the “lesser” Kyrgyz epics, a term used to denote its small size when compared
to the great epic Manas, which has roughly half a million lines. Perhaps more importantly, Manas telling and
tellers played an exclusive role in traditional Kyrgyz society and it held a special place among Kyrgyz folk works.
Other epic folk poems are therefore somewhat affectionately termed kenje, meaning both “junior” and “lesser,” even
though they average about ten thousand lines (Aytmatov 1996:6) and are hardly small compared to the epics of other
The composition of some of these poems—including Er Teshtyuk and Kojojash—appears to be roughly contemporaneous
with that of Manas. Semantic features of Kojojash allow scholars to place its composition in ancient
times and determine its archaic nature, even though its story of a bold hunter has neither disappeared with time nor
faded away with the past. Instead, it has attracted considerable interest among contemporary writers and artists, as
witnessed by Tolomush Okeev’s 1985 film Ak ilbirstin tukumu [The descendant of the snow leopard], stories such as
“Ak keme” (“The white steamboat”) by Chingiz Aytmatov (1980, 1986) and “Kojojash mergen” (“Kojojash the
hunter”) by K. Jusubaliyev (1991), novels such as Aytmatov and Shahanov’s 1996 Askada kalgan anchynyn yiyi [Q:
Can you supply a translation of this title? Also, do you have a first name for Shahanov?], and plays such as
Bayirki jomok (“An ancient fairy tale”) by Mar Baijiev (1975) and Kereez (“The last will”) by T. Osmonov.1 [Q:
First name for Osmonov?] This list of recent creative variations on this ancient epic raises the question of why it
remains so attractive in contemporary Kyrgyz society and why it is used over and over again. This article is an attempt
to rethink the ancient story and highlight some possible reasons for its continued relevance.
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