The Factors in Disappearance of Kazakh Epic Singers
Affiliation: Institute of Ethnic Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Kazakh epics have experienced a long course of history. The peak of the development took place during 16th-19th century and during this long course over four centuries the epic singers Jiraw and Hiyssashi have played a great historical role in the enrichment of epic contents. Epics have been transmitted widely among local people through manuscripts and epic singers since 19th century. But the number of epic singers has declined greatly ever since. I found from the field study I conducted during the last 10 years that there are very few epic singers nowadays. The reason of this sharp decline is certainly very complicated, but two factors are major ones:

1. Change of cultural environment has restricted the development of epic singers

Certain literary forms depend on certain environment to grow and develop. The grassland culture of nomadic people such as the religious beliefs, social regulations, folk customs, holidays, and other deeper cultural factors including the thinking pattern, value system, national mentality and aesthetics are the basis of the distinct and stable cultural ecosystem which culminates and gives birth to epic singers among the nomadic people. The very cultural ecosystem has a great impact on the epic singers and has in turn constant reflections in the epic singing. The influences from different cultures have changed the originally relatively independent social and cultural environment. The contents and patterns of the epic singing change according to the environment, and the cultural space for the singers is shrinking due to the disappearance of the cultural environment. Kazakh folk artists such as Baksi, Sal-seri, Jiraw, Akin, Akin-anshi and Jirshi can no longer sing long narrative poetry including epics, except that only Hiyssashi can sing short epics and narrative poetry.

2. The decline of audience affected epic singers’ performance

The interactions among different ethnic groups have constantly introduced new contents into the grassland culture, and it has absorbed the advantages of agricultural culture and urban culture, which is a common practice for any traditional culture to develop and accommodate itself in the modern context of society. The grassland culture develops according to the features of every historical period, and the shift of cultural morphology will lead to the change of people’s aesthetic views. People’s aesthetic views will directly influence their interest: the former is the source and the latter is realization. Singers and audience are interactional, and the audience’ responses are the direct motive of singers’ epic performance. Now that the long narrative poetry has very small audience, the epic singing is fading out of the social life of local people. Nowadays, epics are no longer where the Kazakh people’s interest lies; instead, people are more interested in the Akin aytis which is a kind of improvised singing by folk artists.