Accepted paper:

The Art of Re-building Relationships on the Roof of the World: The Manas epic beyond Kyrgyzstan


Julien Bruley (University of Lille)
Daler Kaziev (Cornell University)

Paper abstract:

Manas is the eponymous character of an oral tradition - the Manas epic - shared only among the Kyrgyz people beyond artificially created borders whether they are living in Kyrgyzstan, China or Afghanistan. If we can access a large amount of documentation or observe the presence of the Manas epic tradition in those countries, very little seems to speak for it in the context of the Kyrgyz communities in the Eastern Pamirs of Tajikistan. This article analyses the concept of "kyrgyzness" (traditional self-identification of the Kyrgyz people and how it is manifested) and its use among the Kyrgyz communities in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan through the Manas epic, which has been propelled the main paragon of national ideology in Kyrgyzstan. Although cultural revivals among the indigenous peoples of Central Asia are a normal social-cultural process after the end of Soviet Union, a two-weeks fieldwork on the Murgab district (GBAO province, Tajikistan ) realized by the two authors reveals that the Manas is little known and far to be worshiped as it is in Kyrgyzstan. As a result, a different aspect of "kyrgyzness", like the one crafted and understood in Kyrgyzstan, exists on its own in the Murghab district. This can be explained by the complex context of the latter - there are mutual relationships, a strong sense of homeland, exchanges and shared values between Kyrgyz and others different ethnic, linguistic, religious groups in the region. Moreover, it illustrates that the tradition of Manas disappeared from Tajikistan, due to colonization and Soviet ideological restrictions onto Pamirs' cultures, but was reintroduced after the collapse of SSSR, mainly by media, and cultural exchanges with Kyrgyzstan, where Manas was boosted as a moral and heroic model. This study shows, through the example of Manas, how the Eastern Pamirs' Kyrgyz communities are continuously re-constructing, re-building, and renewing their multiple self-determinations in the pluralistic space called Murghab. Anthropologists (Till Mostowlansky above all) and other academic authors have already produced an important amount of knowledge, but we would like to open the existing debate on that area, rethinking the concepts of cultural boundaries, cultural revivals, colonization, relationships between lands and peoples in the Eastern Pamirs, a remote but yet central place as a source of new knowledge for Central Asian issues under the conditions of contemporary geopolitical and social-ecological changes.

panel CUL-04
Performing and Negotiating Local and Global in Contemporary Central Asian Affairs with Identity, Art and Culture