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Centuries-old epic endangered despite preservation efforts


16:01, December 04, 2012


URUMQI, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Yusup Mamai, 94, is the only living Manaschi, a singer of the Kirgiz "Epic of Manas," who can rhythmically chant the entire epic poem from beginning to end from memory.

The Kirgiz people's "living Homer," in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, worries that after his death no one will be able to sing the entire epic, the invaluable treasure of his ethnic group, as he has done for the past half a century.

Even his best students can only recite several sections -- not even one-eighth of the entire poem.


With more than 230,000 lines, the "Epic of Manas" is one of the longest epics in the world and 18 times longer than Homer's "Odyssey." The epic's eight episodes tell the story of eight generations of the family of the hero Manas, totaling 20 million words in the Kirgiz language.

Passed on orally from father to son and from teacher to student, different versions of the epic have been recorded only in the memories of Manaschi.

"People grow old in five decades and landscapes change in a hundred years, but the story of the hero will be remembered forever." The prelude to the epic speaks directly to Yusup Mamai's concerns, as he worries that the younger generation is not interested in keeping the epic alive.

There are approximately 168,000 people of the Kirgiz ethnic group in China, fewer than 1,000 of whom are Manaschi, and even fewer can sing the first episode.

Preservation work started two decades ago, but little progress has been made due to insufficient funds and a disorganized plan.

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