Literature - Central Asian literature has traditionally been popularised in the form of songs, poems and stories by itinerant minstrels or bards, called akyn in Kyrgyz. Among better-known 20th-century Kyrgyz akyns are Togolok Moldo (whose real name is Bayymbet Abdyrakhmanov), Sayakbay Karalayev and Sagymbay Orozbakov. Kyrgyzstan’s best-known author is Chinghiz Aitmatov (1928–2008), whose works have been translated into English, German and French. Among his novels, which are also revealing looks at Kyrgyz life and culture, are Djamila (1967), The White Steamship (1970), Early Cranes (1975) and Piebald Dog Running Along the Shore (1978), the latter was made into a prize-winning Russian film in 1990.
Manas - The Manas epic is a cycle of oral legends, 20 times longer than the Odyssey, which tells of the formation of the Kyrgyz people through the exploits of a hero-of-heroes called Manas. Acclaimed as one of the finest epic traditions, this ‘Iliad of the steppes’ is the high point of a widespread Central Asian oral culture. The Manas narrative revolves around Manas, the khan, or batyr (heroic warrior), and his exploits in carving out a homeland for his people in the face of hostile hordes. Subsequent stories deal with the exploits of his son Semety and grandson Seitek. Manas actually predates the Kyrgyz in the same sense that Achilles or Agamemnon predate the Greeks. The stories are part of a wider, older tradition that have come to be associated with the Kyrgyz people and culture. The epic was first written down in the mid-19th century by Kazakh ethnographer Chokan Valikhanov. Akyns who can recite or improvise from the epics are in a class by themselves, called manaschi. According to tradition, bona fide manaschi find their role in life after a long illness or life-changing dream. Since independence, the Manas epic has become a cultural rallying point for the Kyrgyz. Legend has even assigned Manas a tomb, located near Talas and supposedly built by his wife Kanykey, where Muslim pilgrims come to pray.
Other Arts - Kyrgyzstan’s Aktan Abdykalykov is one of Central Asia’s most accomplished filmmakers. His 1998 bittersweet coming-of-age Beshkempir (The Adopted Son) was released to critical acclaim and Maimil (The Chimp) received an honourable mention at Cannes in 2001. Both are well worth viewing. Tengri: Blue Heavens (2008) is a Frenchmade film that follows the romantic pairing of a down-on-his-luck Kazakh fisherman with a Kyrgyz widow, set and shot in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz traditional music is played on a mixture of two-stringed komuz guitars, a vertical violin known as a kyl kyayk, flutes, drums, mouth harps (temir komuz, or jygach ooz with a string) and long horns. Pop and rap music sung in both Russian and Kyrgyz are popular among young urbanites. Look out for CDs by pop singers Aya Sadykova and Sezdbek Iskenaliev and rapper Tata Ulan, all of whom mix traditional lyrics about their homeland with 21st-century beats.