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Kyrgyzstan Struggles to Revive its Tradition of Epic Bards

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,...

“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.

Read the full story, or explore more content from the Out of Eden Walk at outofedenwalk.org.

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Meet the Author

Paul Salopek
Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s 21,000-mile Out of Eden Walk is a multiyear experiment in slow journalism. Moving at the beat of his footsteps, Salopek is walking the pathways of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age and made the Earth ours. Along the way he is covering the major stories of our time—from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival—by giving voice to the people who inhabit them every day. His words, as well as his photographs, video, and audio, are creating a global record of human life at the start of a new millennium as told by villagers, nomads, traders, farmers, soldiers, and artists who rarely make the news. Join the journey at outofedenwalk.org and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @OutofEdenWalk.