Accepted Paper:

Improvisation as Heritage: Situating Kyrgyz Oral Poetry Performances in a Longue Durée  

Author:

Mustafa Coskun (University of Tübingen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper, based on recent ethnographic and archival research on Kyrgyz oral poetry performances, aims to complicate the notion of heritage and processes of heritagization by engaging with the concept of improvisation and improvised poetry as intangible cultural heritage.

Paper long abstract:

Historical development of Kyrgyz oral poetry performances suggests that they do not correspond to classical categories of folk art, songs or tales since improvisation is not an exception, but the rule. Poets do not have a set repertoire or canonized text for their performances. Yet, they make constant reference to historical events, traditional norms and values when singing on a contemporary topic; they blend their performances with proverbs, sayings, aphorisms that are well-established in the collective memory of the Kyrgyz. Thus, the poet "subordinates his own voice to the age-old cultural truths" which ensures favorable reception from the audience. Improvisational character of these traditional performances opens up a discursive field where the past and present meet and inform each other. Thus, these performances turn into a unique folk art that is traditional in form, modern in content.

Regardless of its historical development, these performances are promoted as "spiritual heritage" and "spiritual wealth" in postsocialist Kyrgyzstan both by the state and regional elites, even more so after their inscription into the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list. This paper, based on recent ethnographic and archival research on Kyrgyz oral poetry performances, aims to complicate the notion of heritage and processes of heritagization by engaging with the concept of improvisation and improvised poetry. While the "form" of these performances are traditional and have had a long history among the Kyrgyz, the "content" has been spontaneously composed and its message has never been independent of the social and political circumstances.

Panel Heri004
From folklore to intangible heritage