Monday, September 19, 2011

Tales of Manas

Dina Tokbaeva reports on Kyrgyzstan's public commemorations of epic hero Manas:
"Unveiled on August 31 this year to mark the 20th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan independence, the nine metres-long bronze figure on horseback is called 'Manas the Magnanimous'.

"Manas, the central figure in a long epic poem of the same name, is regarded as a symbol of unity for bringing the various Kyrgyz tribes together in times of danger...

"The bronze horseman replaces a statue called 'Erkindik' – Liberty – a winged female figure on top of a globe, holding aloft a 'tunduk', the circular frame that forms the top of a traditional Kyrgyz yurt.

"Originally built in 1999 to celebrate independence from the Soviet Union, the winged figure moved into the square only five years ago to replace Vladimir Lenin, who had survived there until 2003...

"The idea of demolishing the statue came from a group of historians and politicians who based their argument around a legend that a woman carrying a 'tunduk' is an ill omen. They said the turbulent events of recent years – mass unrest that caused regime change in 2005 and 2010, and the ethnic violence last summer that left more than 400 dead – showed the statue must come down.

"As an alternative, the idea of a Manas statue came up. The authorities lent their weight to the campaign and appealed for public donations.

"It is in fact only the latest in a long list of monuments and places named after Manas – the latter including the country’s main airport. Schools in Kyrgyzstan are to start teaching the Manas epic as a separate subject."

Tokbaeva is cynical about the statue change, noting that it won't help solve Kyrgyzztan's problems. My interest is in the commemoration of the past in new nations, and the use of history, literature, and folklore to forge a new identity. You can read basics about the Epic of Manas here, and in more depth here.



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