An epic tale worth telling

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The cover of Elzati's illustrated book about the hero's first battle. [China Daily]

The Epic of Manas is folk literature with significant art value. It combines the acts of speaking, reciting and singing to express historical events. The harmonious lines make it easy to sing and the epic can be sung in pitches of more than 20. It has also been translated into several languages.

In October 2009, the Epic of Manas was included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Abdubek Oscan, 45, from Akqi county in Kizilsu Kirgiz autonomous prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, is a manaschi successor. He has been learning to sing the epic since he was 9 and can now croon about the legend for over six hours. He maintains his first handwritten copy of the epic.

Abdubek still remembers the first time he entered an Epic of Manas singing competition while at junior high school in Akqi. "My classmate and I were the only kids among 36-odd participants. I was very nervous, but then I remembered what Manas had achieved by being brave. Guess what, I ended up winning first prize," he recalls.

In 2015, he took part in another competition in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which was jointly organized by China and the Kyrgyz Republic. He won first prize, again.

Currently, there are more than 100 people learning to sing the epic in Akqi county, and he has coached around 20 since 2007, including his three children.

Elzati Eshantol, 23, born and raised in the county, just graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts of the Xinjiang Normal University. He learned to sing about Manas from his parents, who also named his younger brother after a hero from the lore. "Every Kirgiz regards Manas as a role model, a cultural icon," he says.

He was there when the first Manas International Cultural Tourism Festival was held in 2007. More than 500 villagers came together to sing paeans to the warrior while cultural troupes performed scenes from the epic.

Once his understanding of the folklore deepened, Elzati started making illustrations for posterity. Now quite adept in sketching characters and scenes from the epic, he can condense a complex plot into a single painting.

Elzati's graduation project was a book of paintings about his favorite chapter from the Epic of Manas-the story about the hero's first battle. "The epic is indeed very long, and I have only been able to illustrate a fraction of its content. I want to keep making illustrations so that the epic reaches more people. Images can offer a much better understanding of the Kirgiz folklore," he says.

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