Knowledge and culture
The Manas epic is considered to be the greatest literary work in Kyrgyzstan history. The centenary of the epic was celebrated in Kyrgyzstan in 1995. However, it is disputed when the epic was actually created, as it is part of an oral narrative tradition among Kyrgyzstan and was written down only in modern times. It is a historical poem that deals with the commander of Manas and the Kyrgyzstan’s fighting against other Central Asian peoples, including the Oirats, Uighurs and Afghans. The Manas epic is declared by so-called Manastsjy on certain holidays. Manastsjy are people who have learned the epic in its entirety by heart, and who perform it in a rhythmic, suggestive form. Doctrines from the Manas epic have been part of the government’s attempt to create a national identity in the post-independence era, especially under President Askar Akajev.
Kyrgyzstan’s best-known author of modern times is Chingiz Ajtmatov (1928–2008). Ajtmatov wrote in both Kyrgyz and Russian, and received considerable international recognition for his novels and short stories. Several of his novels have been translated into Norwegian. Among his best-known works are “And the day lasts longer than a century” and “Djamilja”. Ajtmatov was later appointed Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to the EU, and lived for extended periods in Brussels. He is buried outside Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek.
One of the major power stations on the important river Naryn. The country’s most important source of energy is hydropower.
Kyrgyzstan folk are often performed with national instruments such as komuz, a stringed instrument with three strings, and with a type of mouthpiece reminiscent of the one used in Norwegian folk music. Kyrgyzstan also today produces its own popular western and Russian style music. Among popular artists who have had some success outside the country are the band Gorod 312 and singer Kanykei.
Kyrgyzstan cuisine is based mainly on sheep meat, often cooked with potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables, as well as local spices and a flour-based form of pasta. Horse meat is also used in some dishes. Kymyz is a beverage made from fermented horse milk typical of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The Kyrgyzstan cuisine has a lot in common with Uzbek, Kazakh and Uighur, and many dishes go all over Central Asia under the same designation, but with local flavor variations and varying ingredients. In eastern parts of Kyrgyzstan you find influence from Chinese and Uighur cuisine, where stronger spices are often used in cooking than is usual in other Kyrgyzstan food. Among the common home-cooked foods served in Kyrgyzstan homes are manty, laghman, besch barmak, kurdak and sorpo. Other dishes that are currently included in the Kyrgyzstan diet are plow, of Uzbek origin, and asjljam-fu, of Uighur origin.
Animal husbandry in Kyrgyzstan. In the background you can see Lake Sonkjol, which is located at the western end of the Terskej-Alatau mountains, approx. 3000 masl.
Literature of Kyrgyzstan
In Kyrgyzstan there is a rich epic folk literature. The main work is the voluminous epic Manas of 200,000 verse lines, which depict the Kyrgyzstan folk hero Manas and his descendants’ struggle against the Chinese in the 1100-1400s. One of the most important writers of the 20th century is the lyricist Aaly Tokombayev. But the country’s internationally best-known author is Chingis Ajtmatov (b. 1928), who writes in both Russian and Kyrgyzstan, although the environments in most of his novels are Kyrgyzstan. His works have been translated into many Western European languages; the play Outing to Fujiyama came in Norwegian 1976, and he won international reputation with the love story Dsjamilja (1958, Norwegian translation 1985). In the novel Gapestokken (1986, Norwegian translation 1988), which deals with drug abuse in the Soviet Union, he poses a very critical attitude to the Soviet society.
Music in Kyrgyzstan
Music plays an important role in society and reflects the historical contact with other Turkish people, primarily the Kazakhs. Kyrgyz’s three-stringed lute, komuz, is without crossbars and differs from neighboring countries’ similar instruments. The other two important instruments, on the other hand, kiak (two-string fiddle) and choor (end-blown whistle), have close parallels in Kazakhstan. Temir komuz (mouth harp) is also used. The Kyrgyz have adopted several instruments from the Uzbek people, among others. surnai (obotype), sarbasnai (transverse flute) and doolbas (map drum).
The folk-song tradition is strong and has a wide place in people’s lives, which was noticed early on by European visitors. Formalized greeting songs are used when two people meet. The practice of performing improvised lyrics spontaneously to melodies composed of standard melody turns, called kaila, is also known among other people in the area, but has a center of gravity in Kyrgyzstan. The same goes for epic recitation, among the Kyrgyzstan called Manas, which constitutes an important vocal form among many Central Asian people. The Manas people, the so-called Manaschis, must have very good memory – a 20th century version of a Manas 400,000 lines of text have been written down by a single practitioner, Sayakbay Karalayev. When performing Manas, different styles of recitation are combined without instrumental accompaniment. Vocal music also encompasses a variety of genres related to daily life, religious parties, weddings, funerals and other festivals. Professional folk or bald singers, akin, have their own repertoire of songs, including performed by song rallies. Instrumental music also often has programmatic, epic content.
At the time of the transition to the Soviet Republic, intensive collection and writing of folk music began, and from the 1930s it was composed in opera, symphony and chamber music. Polyphonic forms have been transferred from folk music to art music, and some traditional instruments have been modified to function in ensembles. The Kyrgyzstan Symphony Orchestra has a varied repertoire of arranged folk music, concerts for komuz and popular songs in events inspired by western music.