Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oral Poetry of Karakalpakstan

The pre-eminent form of oral poetry in Karakalpakstan as in most Central Asia is the daston or epic tale. Shorter orally composed poems, often improvised in the course of performance called terma are also popular.

Both the daston and terma are composed in the common genre of Turkic folk poetry known as barmok, which in its canonical form is organized into quatrains, the lines of which contain an identical number of syllables, most commonly 7, 11 or 15.

Both the daston and terma are performed by male bards whom are called Zhirau in Karakalpak. The term also refers to traditional healers who use music as an aid in contacting the spirit world. At some point in the past, the two activities seem to have been linked both socially and psychologically in the work of the same individual; the recitation of musically heightened poetry was understood to have a magical and potentially therapeutic effect on listeners.

The vocal styles of the Karakalpak zhirau feature a guttural, raspy timbre which in contrast to the normal speaking and singing voice, thus creating an artistic and magical distance between everyday experience and the heroic world in which the epics take place.

This special, laryngeally tensed voice is called ichki avoz or ‘inner voice’, in contrast to tashkari avoz, ‘outer voice’. The poet traditionally accompanies himself by strumming on the fretless, two-string Dömbra.

In Karakalpakstan the use of the dömbra has now largely displaced an older style of accompaniment performed on the kobuz, a two-string fiddle with horsehair strings that links the Karakalpaks to the old nomadic Turko-Mongol cultural realm.

In neighbouring Khorezm, there are two styles of epic performance. The Irani style, which shows many affinities to the Khurasani and Turkmen styles of daston performance, where the bakhshi (uzbek term for zhirau) accompanies himself on a dutār and the Shirvani style, where the bakhshi plays the Tār and is accompanied by a violin and doira.

This Shirvani instrumental trio exemplifies the kinship (consanguinity) of the Khorezm bakhshi to the bards of the Western Oghuz Turks (Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Turkish), whom are know as ashuk or ashik.

A number of heroes of the Khorezm daston are called ashik, which suggests that in earlier times this title was used to designate the performer of daston. In the Shirvani style, the narrative alternates between sections of prose recitation in emotionally-heightened speech and melodies drawn from an inventory of 72 noma (melodic forms). The portion of the epic in song comprises a musical form in the pattern of a typical Khorezmian art song in which the texture (tessitura) of the melodic line ascends in successive pairs of stanzas (strophes) to the a musical, and symbolically, a metaphysical culmination (known as the awj), then descends to a well-prepared melodic configuration or series of chords marking the end of a phrase, section, or piece of music (know as cadence).

Throat Singing

This oral poetry of Karakalpakstan and Khorezm enters the realm of throat singing
Another name for throat singing is overtone singing or chanting, or just harmonic singing, is a type of singing in which the singer manipulates the resonances (or formants) created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and out the lips to produce a melody.

The partials (fundamental and overtones) of a sound wave made by the human voice can be selectively amplified by changing the shape of the resonant cavities of the mouth, larynx and pharynx. This resonant tuning allows the singer to create apparently more than one pitch at the same time (the fundamental and a selected overtone), while in effect still generating a single fundamental frequency with his/her vocal folds.



  1. L’ouvrage de Karl Reichl consacré à l’épopée karakalpake Edige constitue une avancée importante dans l’étude des épopées centrasiatiques.

    En effet, cette édition fournit non seulement la traduction intégrale en anglais d’une épopée karakalpake d’importance (précédée du texte original) mais elle en offre aussi une analyse détaillée, menée à différents niveaux.

    Le tout est complété par des documents audio-vidéo montrant quelques extraits significatifs de l’exécution.

    Edige fait partie d’un riche fond d’épopées héroïques (dastan) répertoriées chez les Karakalpaks. Ce peuple turcophone, de tradition semi-nomade, islamisé, vit dans les zones désertiques d’Ouzbékistan, entre le Kazakhstan et le Turkménistan. Les enregistrements d’Edige par K. Reichl (1986 et 1993) ont été réalisés auprès de Jumabay Bazarov (Jumabay-jïraw), vraisemblablement le dernier barde connaissant l’épopée dans son intégralité. C’est dire à quel point la transmission des épopées s’est tarie, leur exécution se limitant aujourd’hui à des extraits relativement courts en comparaison du fonds d’archives référencées à l’Académie des Sciences d’Ouzbékistan (branche karakalpake).

  2. The Edige - A Karakalpak oral epic


    Reichl, K., Edige, A Karakalpak Oral Epic - as Performed by Jumabay Bazarov Helsinki, Fennica/Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 2007, 498 p. ISSN 0014-5815 ISBN (hard) 978-951-41-1012-2. ISBN (soft) 978-951-41-1013-9
    Frédéric Léotar
    Référence(s) :


    The EDIGE is one of the most esteemed oral epics of the Karakalpaks. Based on the life of "Edige" who is considered the founding father of the Noghay Horde, from which the Karakalpaks and a number of other Central Asian Turkic peoples emerged. The Edige tale is of particular importance as it helps link Karakalpaks to their historical roots and ethnic identity.

    The epic is set during the height of the Golden Horde, one of the four "successor realms," to Genghis Khan's empire,. Edige although an emir and not a khan, was the de facto leader of the Golden Horde from 1395-1419 as leader of the Noghay Horde, one of the various realms and khanates into which the Golden Horde dissolved in the fifteenth century.

    The original Karakalpak texts come from an era when the various clans and tribes making up the composition of the Karakalpaks were still part of the Golden Horde and the Noghay Horde, during the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.

    The poem is a great yarn: we follow Edige and then his son Nuradin as they grow up and
    accomplish a variety of trying tasks; finally the poem tells of how the reunited pair takes vengeance on their tormentors and how eventually theirs become the ruling house of the Noghay. Also along the way are encounters with a giant, a 360 year-old bard, conniving courtiers and an ancestral figure Baba Tükli and Sïpïra-jïraw, an aged singer who help and advise the hero -- all in all it makes for an enjoyable tale.



    The 8th Natural Wonder
    Author : Dean Frenkel
    Publisher: Bonsai Books
    120pp, 2006
    ISBN: 0958068828


    World renowned harmonic vocalist, Australian Dean Frenkel reveals the ancient secrets of this scientific phenomenon and looks into the long history of throat singing and explains the different throat singing cultures.

    The common thread is throat singing, which atmospherically blends with the sound.

    Dean Frenkel's main style is known as 'harmonic' or 'Overtone' singing. It is part of a large collection of throat singing techniques, practiced by in excess of 20 cultures.

    These include Mongolians, Inuits in Canada, Tuvans in Russia, Tibetans, The Tendai Buddhist sect in Japan, Saamis in Norway and Sweden, Nagaland, South Africa (Xhosa, Wagogo and Biaka tribes), Taiwan (three hill tribes) and Papua New Guinea (Huli tribe)and amongst Kazakhs and Karakalpaks (Uzbekistan/Khazakhstan).

    Throat singing is at least 14,000 years old. The traditions of acoustic practice is also very old. The technology of recorded throat music is less than 1% of the time it has been practiced.

  4. Thank you for sharing this wonderful information. It makes the earth a better place to live....our beautiful world and people....I send you all-- my friendship.