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Map of Kyrgyzstan
Ewa's Funny Story: Dieting with the nomads
I am a true believer that diets and exercises don't make you feel good (whoever "invented" this saying must have had a lot of unresolved issues from his/her childhood), but an active life and eating whatever you want in small amounts do the trick. Unfortunately, in some circumstances one does not have too many choices. "Following" the nomads in high mountains of Tien Shan was one of the best examples of a limited "menu." Here, this is my take on a nomadic diet (also popular in other countries of Central Asia as Kazakhstan and Mongolia).
To make a long story short... Since I could not stick to my favorite nomadic food (bread and tea [but remember to bring your own sugar]) and with a battle call of each Kyrgyz being "ciut, ciut" (an invitation to drinking vodka or fermented kumys), I became a living proof that it is possible for a human to function even when most of his/her body water (ca. 75% of a human body) is replaced with alcohol and the rest is packed with fat. ENJOY YOUR DINNER!
The Legend and the Inspiration: The Epic of Manas
In order to understand the Kyrgyz people one must understand the importance of The Epic of Manas, the oldest, the longest and the most compelling oral story of the world. Each and every tradition and custom of modern Kyrgyzstan and all Turkic (or even more general: Altaic) countries can be found in this Epic which also refers to over 532 geographical locations and mentions over 113 ethnic groups (Orozbakov’s version alone)!
Although its historicity may be disputed, The Epic of Manas itself is a cultural treasure, and we owe its preservation primarily to generations of epic singers, traditionally called jomokchu (jomok, a “fairy-tale”) or ozan (a Turkic troubadour). The ones who recite the story of Manas are presently called manaschis. The most famous living manaschis are Yusup Mamai (right; he tells story of Manas and his family up to the 17th generation), Urkash Mambetaliyev (left) and Seydena Moldoke Kizi.
Many others, however, continue to breathe life into the Epic in camps, settlements and villages in Kyrgyzstan's broad steppe and high mountains. Sometimes they tell the story among the picturesque scenery of mountains and ancient ruins associated with Manas and his friends. For example, an old manaschi, Arikov, keeps the magic and memory of Manas' ally, Koshoy, alive by telling his adventures in front of a kurgan (a burial mound) with the same name (or rather an old fortress that has nothing to do with The Epic of Manas).
Kyrgyzstan has a very diverse population accounting for ca. 80 ethnic groups. This diversity and nomadic origin are represented on the Kyrgyz flag where forty rays of the sun refer to forty warriors of Manas representing forty Kyrgyz tribes. They can be interpreted as branching from “forty girls” since this is an exact translation of the name of this country.
The “heart” of the sun is the Kyrgyz “home,” a yurt (symbolized here by its roof (tunduk [crown]), a ring crossed with two sets of lines).
While most of the Kyrgyzstani are of the Turkic (or, in general, of the Altaic) origin, it is interesting to note that the Chinese sources of the 9th century refer to pure-blooded Yeniseyan Kyrgyz as red-haired, fair-skinned and blue/green-eyed people. However, the "true" Kyrgyz of the Manas' descent can be described with characteristics of this great hero:
The 4.5 to 5.2 million (depends on a source) people of Kyrgyzstan live in the crisp-air valleys and on the high steppes of the western ranges of the Tien Shan, the "Heavenly Mountains." They cover ca. 80% of Kyrgyzstan. Even Soviets didn't manage to "kill" the natural beauty of this area although they succeeded in losing the Sea (Aral Sea; see Uzbekistan).
In case if you ever get tired of Tien Shan (I don't think this is possible), you can always visit the pride of Kyrgyzstan: Issyk Kul ("Warm Lake"). This is the largest lake (and the second largest mountain lake in the world) in Kyrgyzstan, located in north-eastern part of this country at an altitude of 1,608 m. It is 668 m deep.
To the people of Kyrgyzstan and those of Turkic origin throughout Eurasia, The Epic of Manas represents a revered narrative of a people that, in spite of hardships, survived, preserved their identity and unified in the name of a great leader. In his opening address at Manas 1000 (1995), the Kyrgyz Republic's president, physicist Askar Akayev, called the epic "our historical chronicle, spiritual foundation, cultural reality and scientific background." For many centuries, he said, "it has been our pride, our strength and our hope. The spirit of our nation is forever encoded in this epic... Everyone of us carries a piece of it in his or her heart."
While the rest of the world mostly ignored the invitation to join the Kyrgyz in their celebrations, Benazir Bhutto and all Turkic presidents made their appearances (Note: Luckily, the anti-Turkic terrorists missed their opportunity [not much was ever expected of the post-Soviet security] to gun down all of them at once). Many media people left within 48 hours of their arrival upset with modest accommodations, lack of qualified interpretors, and overall confusion which followed them from one event to another (hence, the only English article covering this event at length is mine [see Manas at 1000th]). They had difficult time to grasp that Kyrgyzstan was just about to be reborn after years of poverty and isolation experienced under the Russian and then Soviet occupation. They seemed to forget that the beauty of Kyrgyzstan was not in 4 stars hotels and timely interviews, but in the hearts of all Kyrgyz people. The Kyrgyz worked 24/7 for three years, and the last six months without any pay, to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Manas and rebirth of Kyrgyzstan.
They realized their dreams through constructions of fabulous complexes in Bishkek (Manas Ayi [village]) and Talas (Manas Orda [camp]), participation in all events (even those which didn't make too much sense), and re-learning their history through the manaschis and scholars.
Over ten years have passed since I visited Kyrgyzstan the last time. During this period she experienced a lot of ups and downs and still is struggling for the better future. However, such a struggle is nothing new to the Kyrgyz people who have always believed that in the name of Manas they will reunite again and conquer the world. After all, the name itself is of such a significance that no other Kyrgyz would dare to name his son with it. This is the greatest tribute his people could pay to the hero who unified them so many times in life and after his death. In his name, once again, the Kyrgyz are ready to rebuilt Kyrgyzstan in the best traditions of the steppes. HAIL MANAS!!!
Odds and Ends...
Designed and maintained by Dr. Ewa Wasilewska. January 2008.
All rights reserved by Dr. Ewa Wasilewska. Salt Lake City. 2008
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