Manas: The Kyrgyz Epic

Iraj Bashiri

copyright 1999







Around the year one thousand of the common era, two different processes of epic formation, belonging to the Iranian and Turkic peoples of the growing Islamic world, are in progress. The Iranians, who have completed their nomadic wanderings, are settled in the towns and oases of Iran and Central Asia, enjoying the fruits of a culture that had been enriched by the dominant Arab world and by the Silk Road. Their epic, rooted deeply in their oral tradition and written history, is compiled by Abu al-Qasim Firdowsi and reduced into writing. The result is the Shahname of Firdowsi, the first truly Iranian document to emerge after the Arab takeover of the Iranian domains.

The process of the integration of the Turks into the Islamic Kulturbund varies according to the proximity of those tribes to the so-called dar al-Islam. Some Turkish tribal chiefs, who triumph over the indigenous populations of Central Asia at this time, choose to promote the artistic endeavors of their settled subjects, often at the expense of either educating their own tribal constituents or of documenting their own heritage. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, who partially supports the redaction of the Shahname into verse, is a case in point.

Some Turkish tribes that are both geographically and ideologically distant from the Muslims, safeguard their heritage through oral transmission. The most cherished heritage of the Kyrgyz, for instance, is a collection of songs that glorifies their emergence from Uighur and Chinese bondage. Singing these songs, the Kyrgyz walk down a road that leads to an unprecedented national unity under the banner of a brave and triumphant native son.

The Kyrgyz epic, Manas, is born out of the heroic efforts of Kyrgyz tribal lords who, in AD 840, successfully fight the Uigurs and destroy their capital of Bei-tin. Praises of this victory, according to Mukhtar Auezov, and other Manas experts, form the core songs out of which the monumental epic finally emerges. At this time, the Kyrgyz occupy the Yenisei river valleys quite distant from the region that they occupy today. What the actual form of the epic is at that time remains a mystery as, traditionally, the akins reshape the epic to the needs of the time. There is no question, however, that a large amount of the present-day Manas continues to reflect the life that existed at that time. The retention of archaic words, unknown names, and exact details of rituals attest to the veracity of this statement. Similarly, the sense of national unity and pride that fills the reader, especially of the first part of the trilogy, bespeaks the sentiments of the Kyrgyz who, after centuries of oppression, finally rally around a truly brave and triumphant hero of their own.

According to Mukhtar Auezov, Kyrgyz national identity owes a great deal to the Kyrgyz hero who, after defeating the Uighurs, united the forty disparate Kyrgyz tribes and led them to the Altai and, eventually to the Alai regions. In fact, Mukhtar Auezov, a Kazakh, is a major contributor to the establishment of Manas as a mainstay of Turkic cultures in general. It is due to his untiring efforts and those of Chingiz Aitmatov that Manas continues to remain a part of Kyrgyz culture. During the Soviet era, Aitmatov contributes to the revival of the epic by outlining the reasons for revisiting this icon while Auezov provides the scholarship on which the arguments regarding the distance of Manas from religion and nationalism are established. Otherwise, like other epic traditions, Manas, too, would have been condemned and destroyed in a frenzy of anti-nationalist sentiments. Auezov argues that Manas belongs to all the Turkic peoples irrespective of their socio-economic, political, or geographic affiliations. And, to a great extent, Auezov is right. As an epic, Manas does not recognize any temporal or spatial boundaries. It is a poetic and artistic expression that has passed from generation to generation and continues to contribute to the vibrancy of the culture of the Kyrgyz. Etymologically, however, the epic goes back to the tenth century. As such, thanks to the selfless contributions of countless manaschis who have retained the archaic forms, today Manas serves as the cornerstone for the reconstruction of the nomadic life and culture of the Kyrgyz. The efforts of Auezov and Aitmatov are supported by a host of other authors including S. Musaev, K. Rakhmatullin, A. Bernshtam, and others.1

The Altai Kyrgyz are forced to migrate still one more time. This time they move to the Alai mountains and the Ferghana valley. In order to coexist with the inhabitants of Andijan, 2 Samarqand, and Bukhara, the Kyrgyz marry into the noble families of the region, creating lasting bonds that sustain them against a new enemy, the infidel Kalmyks who try to destroy the growing power of the Kyrgyz.

Although the first recorded mention of the epic Manas belongs to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the epic is not reduced to writing until 1885 when V. V. Radlov, the well-known Russian Turkologist, publishes his Russian translation of Manas in Saint Petersburg. Radlov's version consists of the main stories in the epic, especially those dealing with the birth of the hero, his marriage to Kanikei, the funeral repast for Koketei Khan, and the death of the hero.3

The Manaschi and his Audience

Kyrgyz written culture does not have a long history. Kyrgyz oral tradition, however, is both profound and informative. It includes the conceptual frame of Kyrgyz thought which encompasses Kyrgyz social mores, struggle for independence, and national consciousness. Among the songs and stories that establish Kyrgyz oral heritage first place is usually awarded to Manas, a poetic account of the literature, culture, and art of the Kyrgyz people. The genesis of the epic is usually attributed to one of Manas's forty warriors who has been blessed with poetic capabilities. After him, his fellow manaschis continue the tradition and refine the practice. Whether AD 840 should be recognized as the beginning date for this epical performance remains to be seen.

Manas is a trilogy consisting of "Manas," which deals with the life and heroic deeds of the founder of Kyrgyz national identity; "Semetei," the story of Manas's son and successor who continues Manas's efforts for gaining the Kyrgyz their independence; and "Seitek," the story of Semetei's son, who brings the efforts of his father and grandfather into fruition. Although all three parts are fully developed, reference to Manas is usually reference to the first part of the trilogy.

The story line of Manas is quite simple. At the age of fifteen, when nomad boys normally choose a profession such as shepherding the khan's cattle, Manas forms a band of warriors and teaches its members the ways of war. To keep his supporters united and happy, he prepares feasts and organizes games for their entertainment. The lambs that he kills to provide food for these feasts belong to Oshpur, a shepherd who is requested by Manas's father to educate Manas.

After many bloody encounters with the Kalmyks in which Manas shows his mettle, the young warrior is elected the leader of his tribe. As such, with the help of his father and his own forty companions-at-arms, he organizes the movement of the Kyrgyz from the shores of the Yenisei to the Altai mountains and, subsequently, from there to the Alai region. During this same process, he marries Kanikei, the daughter of the ruler of Bukhara. The marriage proves fruitful for both Manas and the people at large. It is fruitful for Manas because Kanikei actively participates in her husband's struggle for independence. It is fruitful for the people because it puts an end to the feuds brewing among the settled and nomadic inhabitants of the Ferghana valley and the Altai highlands.

Births, circumcisions, weddings, and funeral feasts constitute a major building block in both family formation and personal recognition among the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. The feast held on any of these occasions is scrutinized by the community; merit is awarded only if the efforts of the host surpass the expectation of the participants. The popularity of an individual among his tribal peers, thus, depends on the number of people who participate in a funeral feast he holds for a dear departed. Still more important is the distance various chiefs are willing to move their subjects to participate in the funeral feast. Other indicators of importance are the type of games included in the plan, the value of the prizes awarded, and the number of horses, camels, and sheep slaughtered for the occasion.

For three years after Koketei Khan's death, Koketei Khan's son, Bokmurun, and Manas work on the logistics of the repast to be held in his honor. Kyrgyz tribes from all over the region are commanded to participate in the feast. Manas personally makes sure that everyone contributes generously to the success of the feast and that tribal squabbles, a main disruptive feature in such gatherings, are kept at a minimum.

After the Kyrgyz are assembled, Manas not only organizes them, but empowers them to triumph over the Chinese and the Kalmyks--their enemies. At the end, the Kyrgyz drive all the cattle belonging to the Chinese and the Kalmyks to their own yurtas; the animals are won either as trophies captured in battle or as prizes awarded to victorious contestants. Like the funeral repast that is held in honor of Koketei Khan, the rich resistance culture that emerges from the repast, especially the unity that leads to an overall victory over the Kalmyks and the Chinese, is unprecedented in Central Asian annals.

Before Manas is committed to writing, there are as many versions of it as there are narrators or manaschis. Each manaschi, interacting with his audience, creates his own version of the epic. Although these versions carry all the facts of the epic, they do not shy away from incorporating new ideas and events. For instance, it is not unusual to encounter episodes in which Manas carries a gun or is involved in the politics of Imperial Russia. Among the many versions of the epic, two stand out: the version by Sagymbai Orozbakov (1867-1930) and that by Sayakbai Karalaev (1894-1971). Of the two, Orozbakov's narration is deemed to be superior, especially with respect to the first part of the trilogy.

Reciting Manas needs special talents. More than that it requires personal inspiration rooted in either the nomadic tradition itself or in Islam. Without one of these well-springs, the manaschi cannot motivate himself to invest the energy required for the recreation of the repetitive, albeit necessary, verses outlining the deeds, wealth, character, and motivation of the many colorful individuals who populate the epic.

Sagymbai Orozbakov's career as a manaschi begins with a prophetic dream when he is fifteen years of age. In this dream, Semetei, Manas's son, inspires the akin to become a narrator. For the next forty years Orozbakov perfects his mastery of the songs that constitute the epic under the tutelage of teachers such as Chonbash and his own brother, Alisher. Then, before his health begins to interfere with his ability to perform, he allows his version to be recorded. The recording is carried out first by K. Miftakov (1922) and later by I. Abdyrakhmanov (1926). This version consists of only the first part of the trilogy even though Orozbakov's mastery for the narration of Semetei is unquestionable.


The most complete version of the epic trilogy, however, is created by Sayakbai Karalaev. It consists of some 500,000 verses for which Karalaev draws on all his own resources, including what he learns from his grandmother, his first teacher of Manas, and from his teacher of many years, Choyuke Omurov. To these, of course, we must add the prompting of his audiences between 1935 and 1947, the time during which this version is being put together.

Finally, it is imperative that we understand the role of the audience in the performance of the Kyrgyz epic; an understanding that is not essential, for example, in dealing with the Shahname of Firdowsi. The audience for the Shahname, whether it is the court, the Iranian nobility, or the people of towns and villages, is not allowed to change the text in any way. Neither is the person who recites verses from the Shahname allowed to change a word of the text. For this reason, while there are many editions of the Shahname, there is basically one version. Any discussion of versions of the Shahname is confined to areas such as types of illustrations, calligraphy, and addition and deletion of total stories. The substance of the epic, i.e., the social, political, and ideological concerns of Iranians since the ascension of their first king, Kayomars, to the throne of Iran, remains a constant as do the circumstances that precipitate action, be it ideological, political, or merely heroic. The process of updating the Kyrgyz epic, however, even though it retains the essence, changes the appearance of Manas to fit the times. What a wonderful record of the incorporation of Islam into Kyrgyz life, for instance, would it be today, if every now and then someone had recorded the Manas of his or her time for posterity!

The Role of Islam in the Epic

It is not possible to assess the exact time of the introduction of Islam into Kyrgyz culture, but it is possible to witness, as it were, the Islamization process. Muslims who introduce the Kyrgyz to the faith are primarily sart Tajik merchants belonging to various Sufi orders. As traders, they sell their wares to the Kyrgyz and as Muslims they teach them their religion. Their teaching process, however, is flawed. Rather than teaching the principles of the faith, the efforts of these quasi-missionaries are focused on the rituals. Popular features of the religion that seem attractive to the infidels, especially to the warrior caste, are also emphasized. What is interesting is that in the process of achieving their goal, these Sufi pioneers exercise an admirable degree of tolerance. Even when ridiculed, it seems, they persist as long as some affected Kyrgyz remain loyal to the teachings. Consider, for instance. the following reaction to Muslim prayers:

Obviously, rituals alone are not sufficient to attract the Kyrgyz, especially the warrior class, to the faith. The Muslim sages, therefore, have devised supporting stories--some within the Islamic tradition, others in the tradition of the tribes--that would easily satisfy the societal needs of various groups. For instance, belief in resurrection and in the existence of heaven and hell is expressed through the actions of Azrail, the Angel of Death. Along with two companions, the Kyrgyz learn, Azrail visits the moribund individual, receives the soul, and assigns it to heaven or hell according to its good or evil deeds on the earth plane.

Often the propagators of the faith go so far as to graft quasi-Islamic heroes to the body of the already existing Kyrgyz oral tradition. The story of Almambet is a case in point. Almambet is a Chinese so devoted to Islam and the promotion of the Islamic faith that he embraces expulsion from his father's kingdom rather than give up his Muslim values. As a story, "Almambet" creates a perfect fusion of the Islamic values with the acceptable heroic actions of beloved Kyrgyz heroes like Manas. Is this not why bogatirs Manas and Almambet share similar early life experiences--they are both born late to rich, elderly fathers after the latter's many earnest pleas to the Almighty? Are not their childhood eventful and do not they both attain high degrees of military success? Yet, in essence, the two occupy the two ends of a spectrum. Almambet, a Chinese, has an inborn incentive to promote Islam. China, as a source of national pride does not have any meaning for him. Manas, on the other hand, is a Shamanist converted into Islam. He has a penchant for creating a Kyrgyz nation, a socio-political entity not supported by Islam which does not recognize any social, political, and national barriers.

In fact, Manas's own life reflects some of the prominent features usually attributed to Islamic saints. From the time that he is born, he is repeatedly assisted by angels who, in various disguises, appear to him. As soon as he accepts Islam, for instance, he is given a special sword as well as access to the blessings of Khizir.5 As a child, Manas has a vision of the Chiltan, a holy group of forty spirits who protect and assist warriors in battle. Like Khizir, the Chiltan, too, can appear and disappear at will. In Manas's case, in time of need, the Chiltan appear as ferocious animals hovering around and above him, killing the enemies of the faith. Following their example, Manas forms his own forty companions-in-arms while still a teenager who assist him throughout his life and die with him.

Manas's Early Life

Living near the Chinese border, nomadic Kyrgyz tribes are routinely raided by their civilized neighbor. At the time of the rulership of Khan Alo-oke, however, the Kyrgyz elders, headed by Khan Nogai, feel strong enough to challenge Chinese over lordship and put an end to Chinese aggression. But although their intentions are honorable, their calculations prove to be incorrect. The army fielded by the Kyrgyz Council of Elders is defeated by the Chinese and the trouble-makers, Nogai, Shigai, and Chidir are arrested. Furthermore, to prevent any future aggression by the Kyrgyz, Nogai's four sons--Orozdu, Usen, Bai, and Jakib--are exiled to distant lands. 6

Jakib, who is exiled to the Altai region of Turkistan, marries Shakan, his brother's widow, as well as Bakdeelet, the daughter of Chayan. But neither Chiyirdi 7 nor Bakdeelet bears him a son. This situation affects Jakib who during his youth had attributed his childlessness to the will of the Almighty tremendously:

But now, in his old age, Jakib fervently desires the presence of a son to enjoy the wealth he has amassed; more importantly, he wishes to have a son who could continue his line. Night and day, therefore, he cries and pleads to the Almighty for a son:
Eventually, Jakib's prayers are answered. He himself, Chiyirdi, and Bakdeelet have separate dreams with the same symbolic portent: arrival of a glorious son. Following the dreams, the fifty-year-old Chiyirdi becomes pregnant:
Meanwhile, the Khan of China, Esen, hears about the possible birth of a boy called Manas among the Kyrgyz of the Altai. According to his soothe-sayers, this infant would become a mortal danger to China. The Chinese Khan, therefore, orders all Altai newborns called Manas to be killed. Unable to find Manas--the child is still not born--the Chinese officials imprison Yar-Manas, the son of the ruler of Samarqand.

A few years after the prophetic dreams of Jakib and his wives, Manas is born to Jakib's senior wife, Chiyirdi. The birth, resembling the birth of a dragon or a tiger, is difficult and unusual:

Khan Jakib, who is staying clear of the birth yurta, is informed by his old friend Akbulta about the birth of his son. After he overcomes his joy, Jakib Khan rewards Akbulta generously and orders him to prepare the tribe for a sumptuous feast to celebrate the birth of his son, Chon-Jindi: 12
After a remarkable celebration to announce the birth, the time comes to choose a name for the child. For this, Jakib assembles all the influential members of the tribe. They study the tribe's genealogy but cannot suggest a name that fits the infant Manas who is like a dragon, a tiger, and a man-child all rolled in one. At about the same time, a Dervish appears from nowhere, sees the assembly, and inquires as to the purpose of its deliberation. Once he is told that they cannot find a suitable name for the child, he suggests the name "Manas":
As the child advances in age, he becomes increasingly mischievous and unruly. His singular behavior disturbs old Jakib a great deal. Distressed by Manas's acts, in consultation with Chiyirdi, he takes the boy to a shepherd called Oshpur to educate. But Oshpur, too, finds Manas to be beyond help. Every day, Manas invites his playmates to a feast for which he kills off several of the old shepherd's lambs. What continuously angers the shepherd, however, is Manas's delight in watching the old man look for his pipe which he has hidden. Eventually Oshpur, too, gives up. He asks Jakib to come and take his wayward son home: When Jakib arrives at Oshpur's hut to pick up Manas, a band of Kalmyks appears from nowhere and beats up the old shepherd. When they see Jakib, they beat him up too, making Manas irate. Protecting his father, the boy kills the leader of the Kalmyks and disperses the rest who take to their heels.

The boy's prowess is superhuman. Having been visited by Aikojo, a messenger from Prophet Muhammad, he is not only blessed by an understanding of Islam but awarded with a special sword and spear as well. Seeing his son's extraordinary powers in many battles and at such an early age, Jakib nominates Manas for the leadership of the tribe. The elders accept to support Manas as long as Jakib rules alongside with him. The Elders wish to see the father and son together lead the Kyrgyz forces against the infidel Kalmyks and the oppressive Chinese:

In this way, Manas, still in his teens, becomes the leader of his people. He is properly raised on the traditional blanket made of white felt and crowned with a wreath made of bronze. Ninety mares are slaughtered in his honor and a nine-day celebration is held under the auspices of the sky-blue banner of Jakib, old Nogai's forebear.

Almambet's Story

The story of Almambet connects the Islamic Empire in the West with the Chinese Empire in the East. Put differently, Almambet plays a crucial dual role in connecting the dar al-Islam of its time with the dar al-harb. The story, thus, not only recruits warriors for Islam but uses their military capabilities in opening up lands that otherwise would remain beyond the reach of the Muslim armies.
Due to the very dual role explained above, in their narration of Manas, different manaschis emphasize different aspects of the Almambet story. The life story that Karalaev presents for Almambet, for instance, is very different from that presented by Orozbakov. According to Karalaev, Aziz-Khan, whose sixty wives had failed in bearing him a son, asks Kara-Khan, the emperor of China, to choose a wife for him. Aziz-Khan thinks, by using his magic stone, the emperor can determine which bride would be able to bear a son. Kara-Khan, however, refers the matter to his sorcerers who advise Aziz-Khan to marry Altinai, Sooronduk's daughter.
Altinai, who has already been impregnated by the holy beam three months prior to the time of the wedding, keeps the pregnancy a secret from her husband. Even when the child is born, for the first three months, she sends him to her father, Sooronduk. Only after three months, Almambet is introduced to his father. Upon learning about his son, Aziz-Khan holds a sumptuous feast and asks Kara-Khan for assistance in giving the newly born a name.
Kara-Khan, however, does not like the child. In an attempt to drown the child--Kara-Khan explains his unusual action as a test of the child's potential for becoming an invincible champion--he throws him into a well of ice-cold water. But the child, shielded by a Muslim angel, survives. Furthermore, a Muslim saint appears at the feast and provides the group seeking a name for the child with the Muslim name of Almambet.
Almambet is an extraordinary child. He begins his studies at the age of six and completes them by the age of ten. By age twelve, he is an accomplished master in the art of magic, surpassing all his teachers. As an accomplished master then, he approaches Esen-Khan, the ruler of Beijing, and asks him for the governorship of a major province of China. Esen-Khan refuses the request. He also rejects Almambet's request for his daughter's hand in marriage. Esen-Khan's daughter, who harbors Muslim sentiments, learns about her father's plans for eliminating Almambet. She, therefore, advises Almambet to seek Manas, the leader of the Kyrgyz and join him.
Almambet's search for Manas brings him to Khan Kokcho, the leader of the Kazakhs. He stays with Khan-Kokcho for six years, helping him reduce his enemies and amass a great deal of wealth. In time, however, Almambet is accused of having an affair with the Khan's wife, Akerkech. Before the Khan's sinister plan for eliminating him sees the light, however, Almambet, advised by Akerkech, leaves the land of the Kazakhs to continue his search for Manas. This time, his wanderings take him to Bukhara, where he meets Bakai and Kanikei, and to Mecca. It is from Mecca that he returns to Central Asia, meets Manas, and becomes one of his forty warriors.
According to Orozbakov, however, Almambet is born to the family of the Chinese Khan Sooronduk. Like Jakib, Manas's father, Sooronduk, remains childless throughout his life. Then, during his old age, in response to his fervent prayers, he is blessed with a son who, at the advice of Khizir, is called Almambet. The child proves to be intelligent and inquisitive. Even when still in the womb, he speaks and refuses to enter the world. Only after the angel Gabriel breathes the name of the Prophet of Islam on him through his mother's mouth does he allow himself to be born, entering the world with the word "Muhammad" on his tongue. In later life, too, he is merciful and just. He abolishes the Chinese tradition of execution of provincial prisoners to welcome high governmental officials and of killing young girls and boys for preparing remedies against old age.
Although both versions are affected by Islam, the two stories carry different emphases. Karalaev's version stresses the Islamic theme summarized in the words of the Prophet: "utlib al-ilm va lau bis-sin" (seek knowledge even if it is in China); Orozbakov's version follows the epic blue print established by the Kyrgyz akins of the past, i.e., the hero's birth to an old couple after years of childlessness, the unusual character of the hero as a child, and the hero's military potential and capabilities. In other words, while Karalaev's story is replete with themes from The Thousand and One Nights (cf., the role of Almambet's mother and of his slave) that of Orozbakov resembles the life history of Manas.

Manas Marries Kanikei

At the age of thirty, after winning many battles and reducing a number of tribal chiefs, Manas lives with two women: Karaberk and Akalai. Almambet, Manas's friend, does not approve of his friend's wives: Prompted by Almambet, Manas asks his father, Jakib, to find him a bride. He argues that the women he lives with have come to him as war prizes rather than as wives. Manas tells Jakib that the latter has not been as attentive to his fatherly duties of finding his son a bride as his son has been in shoring up his father's power, helping him amass a fortune, and safeguarding that wealth from the plunderers of the plains:
Having no reasonable response for his son, Jakib leaves Talas in search of a suitable bride for Manas. Traveling far and wide, he examines the beauties of Charjou, Tashkent, Jizzakh, Khiva, and Samarqand. But none of those beauties satisfies his requirements for the bride who would grace his home. Finally, he comes to the city of Bukhara. There, Alim-Mirza, his aide, informs him about a most beautiful girl who lives at the court of Atemir:

Alim-Mirza's description pleases Jakib. The old father then manages to view the girls while hiding behind the rushes in the garden. Sanirabiyga proves to be even more enchanting in person than the girl described by Alim-Mirza. Jakib then speaks to the girl's father who, after consulting his wife, refuses to marry his daughter to an outsider. Jakib, however, perseveres and agrees to accept any and all terms offered by Sanirabiyga's family. In order not to provoke the wrath of the nomads and yet not commit himself, Atemir offers a bride-price for his daughter that no one in his good senses would agree to:

Jakib, however, accepts the terms and, glad to have acquired Atemir's consent, leaves Bukhara for Talas to inform Manas of his good fortune. Manas, upon hearing his father's report, prepares the bride-price according to the demands of Sanirabiyga's father and, with a large army, sets out for Bukhara on a match-making trip of his own. Sanirabiyga's father receives Manas warmly. His heart, however, is not in the forthcoming marriage. Rather, he spends a good deal of the time that he should be spending with his prospective son-in-law, examining the bride-price. He looks for that one mistake that usually happens, the mistake that would annul the contract he had made with Jakib. Offended at his host's lack of hospitality, Manas, aided by Agibai, sneaks into the ruler's harem and enters his bride's private chamber. Sanirabiyga, armed with a sword, faces Manas. She recognizes the nomad hero and likes him but, at the same time, she pretends ignorance:

Manas identifies himself and informs his prospective bride of the presents he has brought and deposited at the treasury of her father, the Khan:
Rather than calming her down, Manas's words infuriate Sanirabiyga. She attacks the hero with her sword and inflicts a light wound on his left arm. Manas becomes enraged at her audacity. He knocks Sanirabiyga down, walks out of her chamber, and out of the palace grounds.
Sanirabiyga's father, of course, is unaware of all this. After he views the presents brought by Manas and his accompanying Khans, he returns to his guests, entertains them and assigns each a special yurta along with women servants. Women who are assigned to Manas's yurta, however, due to his awesome person, do not enter his chamber for three days. The hero, thus, remains isolated for the period without any food or drink. When on the fourth day his forty companions visit him, he beats them all up and issues orders for the sack of Bukhara. Jakib and Sanirabiyga intervene:
After this earnest plea, Manas forgives Sanirabiyga and spares Bukhara from further destruction by his troops. The Bukharans, on the other hand, prepare for the wedding of Manas and his forty companions. Forty one yurtas are prepared with a bride-to-be in each. Bogatirs ride their horses about. The horseman whose horse stops at a certain yurta, marries the girl waiting for him therein. It so happens that Manas's horse stops at Sanirabiyga's yurta. The married couple are known to the Kyrgyz as Manas and Kanikei:

Funeral Repast for Koketei Khan

Obeyed by six Kyrgyz tribes around the town of Tashkent, wealthy and influential chief Koketei dies while his only heir, fifteen-year old stepson, Bukmurun, is away. In Bokmurun's absence, Koketei leaves his will and testament with his own old friend Baimirza. His directions are clear. His funeral must be simple with little or no pomp and ceremony:
Koketei then enumerates the peoples and tribes that his family should not contact in relation to his death. He especially emphasizes that his son, Bokmurun, should not contact Manas to participate in the simple ceremony even though he has cooperated with Manas in the past: 26
Baimirza reports Koketei's wishes to Bokmurun and insists that the chief's will and testament should be carried out exactly as he has set them forth. But Bokmurun takes exception to his own father's words. He makes a distinction between his father's wishes and his decree. He believes that his father has sacrificed his own wishes for the future well-being of his family and tribe. In other words, Bokmurun identifies the very things that Koketei Khan has prohibited as the things that he would have decreed, under different circumstances, to be part and parcel of his funeral procession. Rather than beginning preparation for a small wake, therefore, he goes to Manas to seek his help in gathering the largest congregation possible and in holding the most memorable feast ever given for a deceased Kyrgyz khan:
Recognizing the contribution of Koketei Khan to the well-being of his people, Manas advises Bokmurun to follow his own feelings and hold a feast fitting for the great khan that Koketei has been. Subsequently, Bokmurun holds two feasts. The first, held during the first forty days after his father's death, is attended by not only his father's relatives and close friends but by the Kyrgyz from all over Central Asia. At this gathering, Bokmurun announces his intention to hold, in two years time, a most unprecedented funeral feast for his father. Fortunately for him, all his relatives support his idea and pledge to help him make the feast a success:
Following the advice of the tribal leaders, within the following two years, Bokmurun moves his people to Karkira. But Bokmurun and Baimirza cannot agree on the list of the guests to be invited:
Bokmurun does not like Baimirza's selection of guests which includes only the grandees. By widening the scope of the feast and inviting everyone, Bokmurun thinks, he would set an example by which the soul of the departed will be treated for centuries to come. As a result, the total number of the guests attending the repast exceeds 620,000:
Bokmurun then sends Aidar to invite the chiefs of all the tribes. He instructs Aidar in detail where to go, which chiefs to talk to, and what exactly to say. If necessary, Aidar is instructed to threaten the chiefs with the possibility of great losses. No tribes should be left out, Aidar is instructed.
The list of tribal chiefs is long and the number of warriors that attend the feast is large. The list, however, is indicative of the nature of the epic, especially its repetitive cycles and great tendency to employ hyperbole:
Manas is the last leader to arrive. The chiefs of the tribes, led by old man Koshoi, meet him and express their sentiments regarding his lack of tact. Manas explains the reasons for his thirty-days delay as that he is attending to peoples' business and running a kingdom.

As explained earlier, a main feature of these funeral feasts is the fights that break out among the leaders of the tribes or among the heads of the countries participating in the feast. There is a fight, for instance, between Bokmurun and the Chinese Khan Konurbai. The latter tries to force Bokmurun to make a gift of his own horse, Maaniker, to Konurbai. Konurbai argues that because Bokmurun has given his best steed to Manas, he should receive the next best. Otherwise, it is understood, there would be trouble.

The news of Konurbai's demand enrages Manas. Interpreting the transgression to be an affront to all the Kyrgyz attending the feast, he calls on his warriors to assemble for battle. But, other Chinese khans intervene and the matter is settled. 33

Another feature is the contests that are organized among the athletes participating in the feast. These include wrestling matches, shooting, javelin throwing and, of course, horse racing. The wrestling match is between Joloi and old Koshoi. The match lasts for twenty-four hours. It ends when Manas enters the ring and knocks Joloi out with a blow of his fist.

Then there is a spear match between Manas and his nemesis, Konurbai. The match must be fought while the contestants are riding horses. The warriors, however, are of equal strength. Neither can harm the other while on the horse. They dismount to engage in single combat. But the match is stopped. The athletes must ride their horses before they can continue the fight. At the end, Konurbai is defeated by Manas.

The main event, of course, is horse-racing. The main contestants are the Chinese athletes versus the Kyrgyz riders. Both Manas and Konurbai participate. Manas, riding Ak-Kula, 34 rides some distance ahead of all the others. Seeing this, an angry Konurbai tries to disable Ak-Kula and force Manas out of the race. Almambet, running third, comes to Manas's rescue. He knocks Konurbai's horse down, paving the way to a clear victory for Manas.

At the end of the competition, all the cattle used as awards are won by and belong to the Kyrgyz. Unhappy, the Chinese raid the Kyrgyz camp and drive away the cattle. Manas and his warriors are forced to give chase, catch up with the Chinese, fight them, and retrieve their property. Once again, the Kyrgyz are victorious. They return to their camping ground driving the cattle that had been driven away by Joloi and Konurbai.

Manas's Death

As old age approaches, like his father, Manas begins to feel unfulfilled. His many wives have not brought him a son who could continue his line or consolidate his many political and military achievements. Thus, upon his triumphant return from the "Great March" in which he defeats the Chinese, he decides to make a pilgrimage to Mecca to plead to Allah for a son. Before setting out for Mecca, however, Kanikei informs him that she is pregnant. And, before long, she brings forth a son whom they call Semetei.

Semetei's birth is celebrated with a sumptuous feast to which all heads of tribes as well as the kings of the neighboring lands, including Manas's Chinese nemesis, Konurbai, are invited. Dictated by tradition, numerous contests and competitions with worthy prizes are organized for the people to enjoy.

Manas's conflict with the Chinese does not end with the victory in the "Great March." Rather, the Chinese champions continue their conspiratorial endeavors until they reach their goal, i.e., the destruction of the main source of the strength of the Kyrgyz: Manas. Thus, in the final conflict with the Kyrgyz bogatir, Konurbai attacks Manas from behind and deals a very heavy blow on the champion's head. At the same time, another Chinese champion shoots an arrow at Manas that is lodged in the right cheek of the champion. This latter injury seals Manas's fate.

According to Manas's will and testament, his forty warriors-in-arms carry his body to an isolated spot away from the battlefield and bury it. Manas's high rank then passes to his brother, Kobesh who, unsuccessfully tries to marry his deceased brother's wife, Kanikei. After refusing Kobesh's request, Kanikei's position becomes precarious. In fact, Kobesh sets a price on both Kanikei's and Semete's heads. Eventually, helped by Manas's faithful companions, the mother and child flee to Bukhara where they remain until Semete comes of age.

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Kyrgyz National Identity
Firdowsi's Shahname
Factors Affecting Tajik Identity
Tajik Ethnicity in Historical Perspective

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