Variation and Tradition Performance in Recent Recordings of the Mans Epos
(National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic)
James Plumtree (American University of Central Asia)
Manas, a hero of Kyrgyz oral epic poetry, has been made central to post-Soviet Kyrgyz political and cultural identity. The Analyzing Kyrgyz Narrative (AKYN) Research Group based at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) was founded to study the vitality and context of contemporary performance of the Manas epos. One aspect of contemporary performance is the distinction between a 'real' manaschi (who is capable of improvisation) and a 'book' manaschi (who recites from memory). Wishing to examine this distinction, while also seeing whether the Lord-Parry theory of oral formulaic composition was, as some authorities claim, less present in Turkic poetry, AKYN recorded two contemporary manaschis on three different occasions performing the same section of narrative: the birth of Manas. This paper shows what analysis of these performances has revealed: both specific features of the performers - their style, their learnt phrases and formulas, their focus - and established influences that illuminates how the oral tradition relates to earlier printed variants. Key words: Manas epic, manaschi, performance, AKYN.
Epics and Memory