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‘true manaschis’ (chïnïgï Manaschïlar), performers of the Manas epos capable of the traditional oral improvising, have been replaced by ‘manaschis by the book’ (jattama Manaschïlar), those who merely memorize a printed version.[iv] Wishing to examine this issue, in Fall 2017 a group of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.
“We Are Not Mutants”
Stihia Festival promised to be the Burning Man of Central Asia. On September 14, hundreds of revelers gathered in Moynaq, a once bustling port at the edge of the brimming Aral Sea, but now a dusty town in the Karakalpak autonomous region of northwestern Uzbekistan. Festival goers arrived from cities across Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia, Europe, and the US, hoping to rave to techno sets mixed by DJs from Tashkent, Moscow, Tbilisi, and Berlin. Media reports soon followed, describing the spectacle: the desolate landscape of a former sea-bed-turned-desert; electro-music as rain-song to call back the sea or, at least, to raise environmental awareness; the hundreds of curious locals who showed up to observe the festivities.
In the spring of 2013 a private workshop was organized by a major international donor for its Tajikistani state and NGO partner organizations in Dushanbe. The event was part of the reporting process related to a large labour migration program being implemented by three large international development agencies. I attended this event as a part of fieldwork on the bureaucracy of migration management I conducted between 2012-2014.
Gendering a Tourist Economy
Ölgii, the capital city of Bayan-Ölgii Province, is a small city that one can stroll all over in just an afternoon. Since falconry’s title of cultural heritage was affirmed by UNESCO, the concept of heritage has been widely accepted by locals. Just as falconry became a vital connection to the Kazakh historical past, natural environment, and traditional culture across Eurasia, handicrafts have also allowed Kazakhs to maintain their identity and traditional knowledge as an ethnic minority in Mongolia, and have become an attribute of “authentic” Kazakhness. While Kazakh men take up the iconic image and profit from falconry as part of ethnic tourism and international spectacle, women have quietly become the backbone of a local informal economy, clearly represented by traditional handicraft production. Continue reading The Afterlives of Yurt Wall-hangings: Tus Kiiz by Guldana Salimjan, University of British Columbia
In this article, I explore the emergence of two heads of Mongolian Buddhism: first, Hamba Lama (Abbot) of Gandantegchenling monastery, a religious authority created during the socialist period, and second, the late Ninth Jebtsundamba Khutugtu (1932-2012), whose previous reincarnation pre-dated the socialist religious authority in Mongolia. Continue reading Double Headed Mongolian Buddhism, by Lhagvademchig J Shastri (Visiting researcher, University of Shiga)