Preserving Heritage: How the Manas Epic Inspires Kyrgyzstan’s Youth

Manas statue, Bishkek; Photo: TCA

A nation steeped in cultural heritage, Kyrgyzstan continues to be proud of its unique attractions, and among them, the epic work “Manas” occupies a special place.

The Manas epic is of special importance because it contains rich information on history, ethnography, philosophy, language, diplomacy, military affairs, folk pedagogy, and other aspects of life of the Kyrgyz people. Another distinctive feature of Manas is its huge volume – more than half a million lines of verse – which makes it the longest epic in the world.

The relevance of Manas continues, today. Theatrical productions based on the work and competitions to display knowledge of it underscore the continuing interest in this great literary heritage. An observer of these contests, Zhanara believes that Manas still has a profound impact on the people of the regions, especially on schoolchildren who participate in these competitions. “Such events are conducted with a very careful selection process, which implies the serious preparation of the participants. At the end of the day, their efforts yield results and well-deserved prizes,” she told TCA.

However, journalist Aigerim from Bishkek believes the Manas epic still has a profound effect even on urban youth. “I think the epic plays a significant role for the whole country. Although not everyone knows it in full, key plot points are known to almost everyone and are often reflected in everyday life. For example, ‘Kokotay’s wake,’ which lasted for several weeks and was very lavish. Also, the main characters can be called role models to a certain extent: brave and fair Manas, wise Bakai and weak, vain Bokmurun, whose name literally translates as ‘snotty nose’,” she told TCA.

The epic also contributes to the development of young people’s creative abilities.

“In almost every classroom, scenes from the epic are staged and students study its lines. Manaschi (bards), who continue to be the performers and custodians of this epic, still enjoy respect and popularity. I recently became aware of a case where a young boy was given a stallion in recognition for his outstanding performance.

Mairam, a blogger from Osh, sees Manas as an integral part of Kyrgyz culture and traditions. She notes the epic serves as a key cultural code for the Kyrgyz people.

“‘Manas is a kind of portrait of the Kyrgyz nation as heroic and brave,” she told TCA. “It also reflects Kyrgyz culture in detail, and I, along with many of my friends, turn to it as a cultural touchstone so that we don’t forget who we are.”