Should-knows of Kyrgyz culture

Every country has their national heroes, after whom avenues, cities and universities are named. Thousands of statues across the country, their faces on the banknotes, everybody adoring and treating them with the utmost respect, so you should also talk about them respectfully in a local’s presence. Who are these people in Kyrgyzstan? Let’s see!


The Genghis Khan, George Washington and Julius Caesar of Kyrgyz people. There isn’t a big enough superlative, how these people treat their greatest national hero, Manas (photo of his mausoleum above). They even composed an epic about him, which is in fact the world’s longest epic with it’s half a million lines. Early times the epic was only sung and passed in speech (the first written version only appeared in the 19th century) that’s why there are different versions of the story.

According to the legend Manas was given by God answering his father’s prayers. With extraordinary strength and leadership he became the leader of his tribe, and later united all the 40 Kyrgyz tribes against the Oirats and Uyghurs. This supposedly 2.5 meters tall hero on a 4 meters high flying horse then lead his nation to the present-territory of Kyrgyzstan, where they prospered until his death. Today he and his act of unifying the 40 tribes plays a huge role in the Kyrgyz national identity.


Manaschis are tellers of the epic of Manas. As unusual as it is to hear, being a manaschi is an actual profession and they are highly respected people within the Kyrgyz society. It is said that all manaschis start telling the epic after a dream, and it sometimes happens at the age of 2-3! The most famous manaschis are Sagimbay Orozbakov and Sayakbay Karalaev, who are known to be able to tell the epic for days withouth eating or sleeping. Today most manaschis tell the epic based on their performance and text.

Kurmanjan Datka

Found on the 50 som banknote, this woman, who is called the ’Queen of Alai’ was on one hand a breaker of traditions (when she fled to China to escape an organized marriage) and on the other hand a wise and persuasive leader. After she was recognized as ruler of Alai (region in the South), she convinced the Kyrgyz people not to fight against the Russian annexation in 1876, but to accept rulership for the better. Even today Kyrgyz history remembers this to be a day, when they gained Russian citizenship rather than loosing independence.


The rulership of the Tsarist regime wasn’t a pleasant experience all the time for Kyrgyz people. Poet and music composer, Toktogul was bravely promoting his democratic views in his art in spite of all the troubles it caused him. After his alleged participation of the 1898 revolt against Russians he was jailed in Siberia. His songs are still popular today, not to mention, that a whole Kyrgyz region is named after him.

Chinghiz Aitmatov

The most-well known person in Kyrgyz literature, later diplomat. Aitmatov is the author of the internationally popular novel, Jamilia. which is telling the story of a crippled young man and a married woman, whose husband is fighting for the Soviet Union in World War II. With his life’s work Aitmatov helped to put the remote Kyrgyzstan on the map within the Union. In his late years he contributed even more as ambassador to his country in many platforms.