Kyrgyzstan Struggles to Revive its Tradition of Epic Bards

“It’s not just memorization.” Ulukbek Toktobolot Uulu, 22, is helping revive recital of Kyrgyzstan’s 500,000-line national poem. (Photograph by Paul Salopek)

Learning a half-million-line poem isn’t easy.

“It takes a lot,” says Ulukbek Toktobolot Uulu, 22, a music teacher who is just beginning his training as a manaschi, a traditional reciter of epic poetry in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

For about a year Toktobolot has been studying Manas, the country’s ancient and colossal national poem, the lengthiest recorded version of which is 500,553 rhyming lines long.

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