Кыргыз Республикасы • Kirgis Respublikasi • Кыргызская Республика • Kyrgyzskaya Respublika

Ewa's Kyrgyzstan

To the many peoples of Central Asia's five “newly” independent states, the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union was one of the great historical events in generations. But citizens of one of those five countries—the remote, landlocked Kyrgyz Republic—will probably remember even more fondly the reassertion of their national identity in an international festival held in August 1995, four years after independence.

Once again, Manas, the national hero of the Kyrgyz people, was to bring together all of them in celebration of his 1000th anniversary and newly acquired freedom. Once again, the country was to draw on its rich traditions praised by the Epic of Manas to build a better future for them all. Once again, these traditions brought both peace and conflict to Kyrgyzstan, a country that only a very few people can find on the map.

I was among the lucky ones who could witness this great event. After falling in love with Kyrgyzstan and its people in 1994, I was back to join them in celebrations dedicated to one of the most ferocious and successful khans of the Eurasian steppes (for others see, for example, Mongolia).

Enjoy visiting Kyrgyzstan with me by browsing through this part of my website and let me know (Mruczek@AOL.com) if you want more!

Ewa Wasilewska



Map of Kyrgyzstan

Basic information about the country

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).


While bazaars at Bishkek, Osh, and other cities of Kyrgyzstan offer variety of colorful and tasty vegetables and fruits, don't expect to find them in the Tien Shan mountains. You can "smuggle" a few cucumbers (the best in the world) but they will last for a whole day since you need to share them with everyone. So much for your daily supply of vitamins.


The food of the steppe is definitely a sheep but killed and served only for special occassions like weddings, funerals, and an arrival of an important guest (here: Ewa, minus "important") or guests (Manas & Bokmurun invited 620,000 guests to a funeral feast of Koketei Khan!). So many sheep were killed in my honor that, at the end of my trips, I always expected a "sheep delegation" at the airport making sure I leave. Just compare statistics on sheep population in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan before 1994 and after!


Practical "suggestions:"

• Find any excuse to avoid eating an eyeball, not a delicacy according to many Westerners (I don't know because I swallowed it with a chaser [vodka]). Good one for women: "I don't deserve this honor" and then ask for a tail. For all: "I'm too young" and look for someone who is not (setting up your graduate students is good too).

• Carry salt and pepper. No spices are used and meat is always boiled in its own fat with an exception of legs and head which are baked.

• Nothing is ever wasted. So, fat is mixed with kumys (see below) and pretends to be soup. Bone marrow is extracted (yuk!), and pieces of meat are cut into much smaller ones so they can be eaten with fingers (the so-called "besh parmak" [five fingers]).


The most acclaimed drink of the steppes is KUMYS i.e., horse's (or rather mare's) milk. Since the only milk I like is in my kahlua, I'm not the best person to judge its taste. However, in my book, kumys rates somewhere between camel's and the yak's milk. It is mixed with anything mixable and drank as such. When fermented, it is used as an alcohol (not for coctails!). Considered yourself warned! Cheese balls made out of kumys require a hammer to break them (the real reason while many nomads have limited number of teeth or replace them with gold).


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 The Epic of Manas is the most celebrated narrative of the Turkic cultures, only a few people outside academia have heard of it. While The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Mahabharata have all been studied and read around the world, the Kyrgyz epic has been almost entirely overlooked.

This is quite surprising because it is the longest epic in the history of oral literature (even The Guinness Book of Records refers to it as such) whose longest single version, recorded from the “master narrator” (chong manaschi) Sayakbai Karalayev (1894-1971), consists of over five hundred thousand poetic lines. The total is estimated at over a million. For comparison, the Iliad and Odyssey together have only around twenty-nine thousand lines, while the Makhabakharata has about one hundred thousand couplets.

Furthermore, The Epic of Manas seems to be the only epic to have survived for as long as a millennium in oral form before its first significant fragments were put down on paper, in the 19th century. Now, there are roughly 65 recorded versions of the three main parts of the Epic, known respectively as "Manas," "Semetey" (the name of Manas' son) and "Seytek" (his grandson). Other fragments and episodes, recorded from the recitations of 47 different narrators, are considered complementary works.


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).


The People

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:

Looked like a warrior, nothing less.
Deep and wide was his manly chest,
Shoulders firm, and slim all the rest.
Looks severe, and fierce his face,
Elephant power one there could trace.
Neck like a tiger, muscles no stint,
Powerful spine and heart like flint.
Eye-lashes smooth, and star-like eyes
[reference to Asiatic brows and lashes as flat]
Ears like a wolf, and breast tiger-wise.

(After Walter May's translation of Manas)

The Land

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.


The Celebrations

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!!!


At its beginning stands letter "M",
As in Mohammed's most blessed name!

In the middle stands letter "N",
That means "Nabi" -- prophetic men.

Then at its end stands the letter "S",
This is the tail of a Lion, no less!

What name do these three consonants make?

From these three letters the sounds we take,

Reading them out we get "MaNaS."

Odds and Ends...


All pictures are taken and copyrighted by Ewa Wasilewska. Two maps have been "borrowed" for educational purposes from different Internet sites.


Why don't you check Ewa's CDs with Power Point Presentations about Manas (Manas: An Icon for Central Asia) and Kyrgyzstan (Galloping Through the Steppes: Nomads of Kyrgyzstan)? Each is $15.00 only (big, big files with unique pictures and very informative text) but if you buy both, the price goes down to $12.50 each and I pay S&H!



If you want to learn more about Ewa's educational CDs just email Ewa at Mruczek@AOL.com. The following titles are ready:


Remember, I am always willing to make a deal!


Designed and maintained by Dr. Ewa Wasilewska. January 2008.

All rights reserved by Dr. Ewa Wasilewska. Salt Lake City. 2008



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