The Kirgiz ethnic minority in China, concentrated in the Xinjiang region in the west, pride themselves on their descent from the hero Manas, whose life and progeny are celebrated in one of the best-known elements of their oral tradition: the Manas epic. Traditionally sung by a Manaschi without musical accompaniment, epic performances takes place at social gatherings, community celebrations, ceremonies such as weddings and funerals and dedicated concerts. Regional variations abound, but all are characterized by pithy lyrics with phrases that now permeate the everyday language of the people, melodies adapted to the story and characters, and lively parables. The long epic records all the major historic events of greatest importance for the Kirgiz people and crystallizes their traditions and beliefs. The Kirgiz in China and the neighbouring Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan regard the Manas as a key symbol of their cultural identity and the most important cultural form for public entertainment, the preservation of history, the transmission of knowledge to the young and the summoning of good fortune. One of the ‘three major epics of China’, it is both an outstanding artistic creation and an oral encyclopaedia of the Kirgiz people.
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