Creating Histories: The epic hero Manas and other Pasts in the Talas valley, Kyrgyzstan
Historical narratives in the Talas region of Kyrgyzstan are diverse and expanding, but remain rooted in material social practices. They emerge from and reflect many contexts, including local community life, institutions such as museums, as well as spiritual and scholarly activities. Narrative knowledge, textual sources, artifacts and material objects, and performances are crafted into relevant contributions to contemporary politics, education, and social and economic life. This paper discusses ritual life at the Manas Ordo tomb and museum complex in the upper valley of the Talas river, and shows how ritual activities there connect with places and activities in other parts of the valley, including at other sacred and heritage sites, in healing practices, and in rituals for ancestors and heroes. The paper focuses on how people engage with these sites, and make connections among them by exchanging objects, narratives, and other meaningful materials. Historical knowledge is part of this circulation, shaping and being shaped by sites and practices. Discussions and representations of the past are often used to legitimate commitments and ideologies, and people put forth evidence for authority or accuracy. Circulating histories are presented in different contexts, whether museum, restored tomb, or ritual invoking ancestors, along with claims about evidence and interpretation that rely upon widely differing ideas about truth, validity and proof. This paper shows that careful analysis of these claims and their social embedding is crucial to understanding the meanings and uses of historical knowledge.
Epics and Memory