“The Epic of Manas”, the world’s second longest epic poem, was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in 2009. It is many times longer than the Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad combined, and is at the very heart of every Kirghiz living on the vast land of South Xinjiang, China.
It is no easy task to chant the long and beautiful stories about the courage of eight heroes fighting their enemies, and the Kirghiz take pride in performing it in public. It is an epic fresh and alive in the modern world, with some Kirghiz set becoming a specialist in chanting the Manas (Manaschi) as their lifetime goal.
75-year-old Alaman has spent his life practicing Manas for sixty years. As the pupil of the “living Homer” Yusup Mamai, he is not satisfied with memorizing five of the eight episodes of Manas. He desires to be the next Great Manaschi but his goal has never been accomplished.
At the same time, 13-year-old Eli dedicates his revision and play time to learn Manas; a rare interest amongst the urban new generation. In order to attain his goal, he spends time travelling to perform, and as a result, he is retained in the same grade for another year. Yet, he is not deterred from reaching his goal to become a Great Manaschi.
Two generations, similar stories. This is how the epic of Manas passes on and connects generations of Kirghiz.