The predominant form of cultural expression among the Kyrgyz nomads is the narration of epics. The art of the Akyns, the Kyrgyz epic tellers, combines singing, improvisation and musical composition. The epics are performed at religious and private festivities, seasonal ceremonies and national holidays and have survived over the centuries by oral transmission.
The value of the Kyrgyz epics lies largely in their dramatic plots and philosophical underpinnings. They represent an oral encyclopaedia of Kyrgyz social values, cultural knowledge and history. The pre-eminent Kyrgyz epic is the 1000-year-old Manas trilogy, which is noteworthy not only for its great length (sixteen times longer than Homer's Iliad and Odyssey), but also for its rich content. Blending fact and legend, the Manas immortalizes important events in Kyrgyz's history since the ninth century. The Kyrgyzs have also preserved over forty “smaller” epics. While the Manas is a solo narration, these shorter works are generally performed to the accompaniment of the komuz, the three-stringed Kyrgyz lute. Each epic possesses a distinctive theme, melody and narrative style. Akyns were once highly respected figures who toured from region to region and frequently participated in storytelling contests. They were appreciated for their proficiency in narration, expressive gestures, intonation and lively mimicry, so well suited to the epics' emotionally charged content.
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