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Sayakbay Karalaev (1894-1971). Manaschi

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Uploaded on Nov 4, 2007

Sayakbay Karalaev (1894-1971), who is called the "Homer of the twentieth century," was one of the last "chong manashchys" from whom the Manas trilogy (Manas, Semetei, and Seitek), consisting of half a million poetic lines, was recorded. Saiakbai Karala uulu mostly known as Karalaev, was born in the Issyk-Köl region of northern Kyrgyzstan. His family was poor and they had to work for wealthy Kyrgyz to earn their living. Karalaev began reciting Manas when he was about sixteen to seventeen years old. His grandmother played a key role in instilling the "seeds" of Manas in her grandson. Karalaev heard the main stories of Manas from her.

Well-known or great manaschys like Saiakabai Karalaev usually did not say that they learned Manas from someone or previous master-singers. Becoming a great manaschy involved some kind of spiritual transformation of the singer who had a vision by seeing a special dream in which he was visited by the hero Manas himself or by other main characters in the epic. Saiakbai Karalaev also connected his singing of Manas with a visionary dream. He saw that special dream in his early twenties. His dream is described in the following way: "On his way from Semiz-Bel to Orto-Tokoy, he saw a white yurt in place of an old big black rock. He became very scared from the loud noise that came from the sky and fainted. He then woke up and entered the yurt where he was offered food by Kanļkei, the wife of Manas. When he came out from the yurt he met a man who told that he was happy that they encountered him on their way to Beijing:

Causing a great calamity in the world,
With about forty or fifty tümön of army
We are going on a war campaign
To the far away and hazy Beijing.
He then told him: "I am that Bakai who finds the way in the dark and words of wisdom when necessary. I want to give you the gülazļk of Manas, open your mouth." He then introduced some of the forty companions of Manas. Bakai's putting food in Saiakbai's mouth signifies the idea of receiving the gift of singing from the wise man Bakai.

In the same year in 1916, a big uprising against the Russian Tsar and his colonial rule took place in the whole territory of Central Asia. The uprising among the northern Kyrgyz was the most tragic experience. Terrified by the brutal oppression of the Russian army, who were sent to suppress the uprising, Sayakbai Karalaev, together with his family and thousands of many of other Kyrgyz people, fled to Kashgar (Kashi). They returned from Kashgar after the 1917 October Revolution and from 1918 until 1922, Saiakbai served in the Soviet Red Army. Like many other young men and women, he was recruited by the new Soviet government to become a local village administrator and spokesman to spread the new Soviet and Communist ideology.

Saiakbai's "career" as a manashcy began during the early years of Soviet rule among the Kyrgyz. In mid-1920's he met with two other established manaschys from whom he learned the skills of singing Manas. The recording of the first part of the Manas trilogy, which began in 1932, was finished in 1937. This process of gathering folklore was part of the Soviet campaign which promoted national language and culture of the non-Russian peoples who experienced the colonial oppression of the "White" Tsar. The first recording of his singing on a tape recorder and videotape was carried out in the 1960's. As the well-known Kyrgyz scholar Bolot Yunusaliev, who had close a relationship with the singer, notes: "The Manas trilogy has never been recorded from any other singer than Sayakbai. Therefore, his version is unique and the only one. This is a greatest and priceless gift, which Saiakbai left for his people as well as to all mankind."

Those people, including foreigners, who saw and listened to his recitation of Manas were quite moved by his powerful spirit and high artistic singing talent. The Algerian Minister of Culture noted: "You [the Kyrgyz], say that you had no written literature and books. He, this elderly man, is indeed your national library." During his recitation of Manas, he made his listeners cry and laugh. Those who listened to his performance described him in the following way: "While he was singing, we not only saw him before us, but pictured the epic's characters as well." Chingiz Aitmatov compared Sayakbai's singing to a symphony orchestra: "Sayakbai was not only an oral poet, but a great artist and composer. Like a symphony orchestra, he varied and changed his voice a thousand times. He moved from tragedy to lyrical songs, from lyrics he moved to drama, then within a short time he burst into tears, then became joyful, then tired, then became energetic again. Sometimes he sounded like a teeming army of soldiers, sometimes he became as calm as a lake, sometimes he became like a fast and strong wind, and rushed like a river."

Translated by
Elmira Koyoumkulkyzy
Ph.D. Candidate in Near and Middle Eastern Studies. University of Washington (Seattle)

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