THE MANAS EPOS
The masterpiece epic Manas is a cornerstone of the cultural heritage and oral traditions of the nomadic Kyrgyz people, whose written lines have been recorded only in modern times. Consisting of more than 500,000 lines – 20 times longer than Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined – the poem describes the life and heroic exploits of the legendary hero, Manas, who fought for Kyrgyz independence from China in 995 A.D. The Manas Epos is recorded on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The story of Manas is replete with colorful descriptions of daily life and illustrates the tradition, customs, festivals, and ceremonies observed by the Kyrgyz toward the end of the first millennium AD. Professional narrators of the poem are called manaschi – translating into ‘storytellers’. The most talented of manaschi fall into a trance during recitation, which takes place over several days and enthralls listeners with the world of hero warriors, their troops, enemy hordes, political intrigue, and betrayals. In the end, good triumphs over evil. Manaschi represent the cultural heart of the Kyrgyz nation and enjoy widespread honor and respect.