In 2009, The Epic of Manas was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.
The Kirgiz ethnic minority in China, concentrated in the Xinjiang region in the west, pride themselves on their descent from the hero Manas, whose life and progeny are celebrated in one of the best-known elements of their oral tradition: the Manas epic. Traditionally sung by a Manaschi without musical accompaniment, epic performances takes place at social gatherings, community celebrations, ceremonies such as weddings and funerals and dedicated concerts. Regional variations abound, but all are characterized by pithy lyrics with phrases that now permeate the everyday language of the people, melodies adapted to the story and characters, and lively parables. The long epic records all the major historic events of greatest importance for the Kirgiz people and crystallizes their traditions and beliefs. The Kirgiz in China and the neighbouring Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan regard the Manas as a key symbol of their cultural identity and the most important cultural form for public entertainment, the preservation of history, the transmission of knowledge to the young and the summoning of good fortune. One of the ‘three major epics of China’, it is both an outstanding artistic creation and an oral encyclopaedia of the Kirgiz people.
Nomination form: English|French
Consent of communities: English
Decision 4.COM 13.17
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List, as follows:
R1: Manas is a major epic representative of the traditions and historical richness of the Kirgiz community of China, which recognize and transmit it as a key symbol of their cultural identity;
R2: Inscription of the element on the Representative List would give greater visibility to intangible cultural heritage, encourage cultural dialogue across China and beyond in neighbouring pastoralist communities, and give an impetus to the safeguarding and transmission of the practice;
R3: The nomination proposes important measures that commit local and national authorities, as well as civil society and the bearers to safeguard the Manas tradition, notably through the establishment of safeguarding agencies in the communities where it is practised;
R4: The element has been nominated in a process that has involved communities, groups and practitioners while respecting the tradition’s abundant customary practices, and their free, prior and informed consent has been certified by relevant agencies;
R5: The element is inscribed on the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage administered by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.