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The art of Akyns

Many of us have had the pleasure of listening to stories, fairy tales, legends, myths, fables recounted by our grandparents and other relatives. ‘

“There are countless forms of narrative in the world”, wrote Roland Barthes. “In its infinite variety, it is present at all times, in all places, in all societies...Like life itself, it is there, international, transhistorical, transcultural’’.

Akyns (or Aqyns), known in Kazakh and Kyrgyz culture, are wandering improvising poets and storytellers. They are living mediums of collective memory, guardians of cultural identity, which transfer cultural values and patterns from generation to generation, especially in nomadic and illiterate societies. Akyns usually perform with an accompaniment of string instruments like dombra (Kazakhs long-necked lute), or fretless komuz (one of the Kyrgyz national symbols). Their improvising, highly rhythmical, trance-like recitations have plenty of repetitions, suspensions, and vivid portraitures, and express fundamental human feelings. The sounds express emotions, hopes and fears, glorify heroes and condemn wrongdoers, and help to understand who we are and where we came from. They help distinguish what is good and what is evil in this world. One long Akyn song or lyrical poem, is based not only on traditional narratives expressing practical wisdom more than philosophical treatises can do.

Although Central Asian countries developed their literary traditions long ago, Akyns are still an important components of their culture; today they still give live performances, and sometimes publish their lyrics in written form.

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