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Centuries-old epic endangered despite preservation efforts
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  • http://english.dbw.cn銆€銆€ 2012-12-04 08:42:30
     

    銆€銆€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.

    銆€銆€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.

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

    銆€銆€EPIC IN DANGER

    銆€銆€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.

    銆€銆€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.

    銆€銆€"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.

    銆€銆€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.

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

    銆€銆€"LIVING HOMER"

    銆€銆€Yusup Mamai said he was able to sing the epic from beginning to end after a dream.

    銆€銆€The Manaschi said he dreamed of five people riding horses in front of him one morning when he was 13. One of them told him the lead rider was Manas, the epic's hero. Yusup Mamai suddenly woke up and could fluently chant the lines of the epic carved in his memory.

    銆€銆€"My parents slaughtered a sheep and warned me not to tell anyone abut the dream until I am 40 years old, as was the tradition for all Manaschi," he said.

    銆€銆€In March 1983, he sang day and night for 21 days to finish the whole epic. He continued from sunset until dawn when he sang to the climax, drinking only buttered tea to keep his strength up. Staff with the Xinjiang Autonomous Regional Federation of Literary and Art Circles worked in shifts to take down what he sang.

    銆€銆€At 11 a.m. on March 20, Yusup Mamai sang the final line of the epic. Wild with joy, he lifted his youngest granddaughter over his head.

    銆€銆€To date, he has recited the entire epic three times. The time he sang the entire epic during the Cultural Revolution was recorded on 17 cassette tapes. It wasn't until 1995 that edited text totalling 8 episodes and 18 volumes was published in the Kirgiz language. A new edition was published in 2007 in both Kirgiz and Mandarin.

    銆€銆€The tapes and texts are now in the hands of Yusup Mamai's great-grandson Turuganal. He has been studying the epic for 11 years, and the young man carries the weight of Yusup Mamai's great expectations on his shoulders.

    銆€銆€Every day he spends four-and-a-half hours reading Manas text aloud to his great-grandfather, who corrects his mistakes, takes out the wrong words and adds missing sentences. Yusup Mamai hopes Turuganal can work out a revised version on his own after Yusup Mamai passes away.

    銆€銆€Turuganal is also writing Yusup Mamai's biography, describing in detail his childhood, marriage and suffering during the Cultural Revolution, as well as the achievements he has made in his 90s.

    銆€銆€About 500 people celebrate Yusup Mamai's birthday every year in Akqi County in southwestern Xinjiang. His children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family friends and neighbors all come to his house to wish him good health, a long life and happiness.

    銆€銆€"It's a grand ceremony for all Kirgiz people. We celebrate his birthday as well as the birth and inheritance of our culture," said Turuganal.

    銆€銆€URGENT NEED FOR PROTECTION

    銆€銆€The central and regional governments have allocated 10 million yuan (1.61 million U.S. dollars) in special funds for the inheritance and protection of the epic.

    銆€銆€Since May 2007, 10 Manaschi trainees and 10 players of Kumuzi, a stringed instrument played to accompany the epic, have been sent to hone their skills with more advanced Manaschi each year. They receive a monthly wage of 500 yuan and a 600-yuan year-end bonus.

    銆€銆€Inheritors of the epic on the national and regional levels receive monthly subsidies ranging from 240 yuan to 1,000 yuan, staff with the regional culture department said.

    銆€銆€The Xinjiang Autonomous Regional Federation of Literary and Art Circles set up a Manas research center in the 1990s to collect and edit related material.

    銆€銆€The Mandarin edition of the first episode, which contains 53,000 lines, come out in 2007. The second book is currently being edited and will soon be published.

    銆€銆€Ma Xiongfu, vice president of Xinjiang Federation of Literary and Art Circles, said the Mandarin version will allow more Chinese people to learn about Manas and serve as invaluable research material on the history and culture of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

    銆€銆€As one of the translators, Ma said nobody has translated the original charm of the "Epic of Manas" into Mandarin yet.

    銆€銆€Meanwhile, more difficulties remain despite protection efforts.

    銆€銆€Governments at the regional, prefectural and county levels, as well as universities and non-governmental organizations such as the Federation of Literary and Art Circles, are simultaneously carrying out Manas preservation work, but each in its own way, said Ma.

    銆€銆€"Resources are not utilized. Departments that have funds don't know how to use them and carry out effective policies, while non-governmental organizations and talented people don't have enough money to help," Ma added.

    銆€銆€Mametjuma Mametakun, a Manaschi with the song and dance ensemble of Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture of Kizilsu, said younger generations are not willing to learn the epic poem.

    銆€銆€"Children love the story of the heroic Manas when I tell it to them, but they only want to listen," he said.

    銆€銆€"Manas is unique because we express emotions with exaggerated body movements. When we sing to the settings of war, we imitate the horses' neighs, the soldiers' shouts and Manas's heroic posture," Mametakun added.

    銆€銆€Adel Jumaturdu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said learning both the song and the movements requires a long-term commitment, and the government should provide aspiring Manaschi with higher subsidies and job opportunities in song and dance ensembles and culture departments to encourage them to improve their skills.

    銆€銆€"Singing the epic is the only way to keep it alive. Printing the text can only serve academic research purposes," said Adel Jumaturdu.

    銆€銆€To cultivate an audience, Tolanhan, a political advisor to the government of Akqi County, suggested setting up a museum to make the history of, and artifacts related to, the epic available to the public.

    銆€銆€Public spaces where professional singers, Kumuzi players and Manas lovers can meet regularly to perform, learn from one another and exchange their ideas should be set up, as well, said Adel Jumaturdu.

     

    Editor: Chen Zhi
    Author锛? 銆€銆€銆€Source锛? xinhua 銆€銆€銆€ Editor锛? Sun DongYang
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