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Accepted Paper:

How Kyrgyz Bards Sabotaged Soviet Folklorization Projects  
Svetlana Jacquesson (Palacky University)

Paper abstract:

Between 1922 and 1926, Sagymbai Orozbakov – a bard (akyn) -- and Ibyraim Abdyrakhmanov -- a scribe – worked under contract with the Kyrgyz Academic Commission and produced an extensive written record of “the Manas epic”. In this presentation I am trying to solve a puzzle: throughout the Soviet period Sagymbai kept being named a great epic singer; yet, the only way to consider the text he co-produced with Abdyrakhmanov “epic” was by pitilessly purging it.

It is undeniable that in his sprawling masterpiece Sagymbai paid respect to the epic tradition. But he also warned against its limitations, provided examples of what oral traditions missed, and invited Kyrgyz to partake of the rich Turki written tradition. When “read along the grain”, Sagymbai’s records embody the attempt of a Kyrgyz bard to create a modern literary artefact in the Kyrgyz language. In doing so, Sagymbai ignored the expectations heaped on him as an “epic singer” and strived instead to interweave traditional epic themes and motifs with religious, historical or literary narratives that he considered indispensable to a modern Kyrgyz literature.

The answer to my puzzle resides in the fact that throughout the Soviet period and up until the present Sagymbai’s records have been read “against the grain” or against their authorial intentions, i.e., as a sample of textualized oral epic. Sagymbai himself was stereotyped as an epic singer and his composition as a traditional epic, a rare “monument” of Kyrgyz history and culture. For the sake of maintaining these stereotypes, Soviet scholars kept editing and rewriting Sagymbai’s masterpiece while the written records stayed locked in the archives. As did other written records of the epic produced in the first 20 years of Soviet rule. There were not, in fact, satisfactory written recordings of the Manas as a traditional epic but neither Kyrgyz scholars nor Soviet ones wanted to acknowledge this openly. I suggest that to the extent that these written records of failed performances of the “traditional epic” are still preserved, they represent an untapped source for the study of vernacular practices and vernacular identities – Sagymbai offering one such example -- that have been either ignored or suppressed by Soviet (and post-Soviet) folklorization projects.

Panel REG05
Visions of Self and Community: tradition, modernity, and the negotiation of national and Soviet by Central Asian poets and writers
  Session 1 Friday 21 October, 2022, -