Versions of the Kyrgyz epos Manas have been collected and studied for over a hundred and sixty years. Reasons for this research have varied. Foreign scholars collected the first variants of stories connected to the legendary hero Manas and his descendents for linguistic purposes in the mid-nineteenth century.[i] As a Tsarist expedition made the first sound recording of a performance, connoisseurship of written variants appeared with an emerging class of Kyrgyz literati.[ii] Nationalistic interests of these local intellectuals, and the Soviet focus on folklore, coincided with the aim to produce a complete narrative. Post second world war political concerns led to the publication of a harmonized epic, with features deemed problematic removed.[iii] Throughout these periods, the extinction of the living oral tradition has frequently been predicted. In post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan (1991-), the resurgence of oral performances has been met with the frequent claim that ‘true manaschis’ (chïnïgï Manaschïlar), performers of the Manas epos capable of the traditional oral improvising, have been replaced by ‘manaschis by the book’ (jattama Manaschïlar), those who merely memorize a printed version.[iv] Wishing to examine this issue, in Fall 2017 a group of researchers connected to the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, responded to my initiative to collect and study new variants of the Manas epos.
As Central Eurasian researchers and scholars, we sometimes find ourselves working in a field over-determined by tired and limited tropes, particularly when news about the region makes its way to the mainstream press. As curator and online zine editor Ciarán Miqeladze wryly puts it, “Uzbekistan is no different in this matter. The Central Asian country is constantly treated to the same narrative of a post-Soviet, despot-controlled country, replete with bridenappings, magical men on horses, and Instagram-able mountain ranges housing radical Islamic terrorists.” However, at the avant garde culture site Post Pravda, where Ciaran and his colleagues are working to amplify local and alternative voices from the Caucasus to Eastern Europe and beyond, the goal is to provide different viewpoints and narratives. Continue reading Check out new blogs on Central Asia: Exploring ‘Scapes’ of Sight and Sound
Friends please check out the wonderful blog by Guldana Salimjan, “Singing Back to the Steppe: Kazakh Poetry Battles in Contemporary Xinjiang” – originally published at Radii and livingotherwise.com, which are run by fellow colleague Darren Byler, who is writing a series of blogs on ‘The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia’! Continue reading Check out new research on Xinjiang!
If you think that Kazakh youth is far too modern and stylish for tribal identity talks, think again. Let’s go back and look beyond the D&G shirts, fast cars and fancy bags that constitute the desired and/or obtained bricolage of a mainstream modern and young Kazakh. Differences in class, occupation, and place of residence may not stand as the main identification points if you wish to talk about pride and “coolness” from the roots’ point of view. It is the Tribe that does relate to all these things above all for many young Kazakhs. Tribal identity packed in the symbolic acoutrement of contemporaneity – cell phone and IPad cases, car plates, and even business stationary – wins its own market in Kazakhstan. The launch of the official social network based on tribes – Rulas.kz – was more or less a logical continuation addressing the urges for Kazakh youth to identify with their tribal heritage. Continue reading Inside Rulas.kz: mapping Kazakh youth’s tribal identity, by Diana Kudaibergenova
Why is it that, amidst ineffective governance, failing infrastructure, violence, poverty, illness and death, Central Asians continue to make music? What does music offer that cannot be gained in other ways, and how might attention to it add to our knowledge of the region? Continue reading Why Should Central Eurasianists Care about Music?