Dastan: Ornate Oral History among the Peoples of Central Asia

As I begin to delve into various forms of Altaic story-telling, I am looking for clear and memorable definitions and descriptions. The quotes below are excerpted from H.B. Paksoy’s Dastan Genre in Central Asia

Ornate Oral History

Dastan (jir, ir, chorchok) is ornate oral history, common among the peoples of Central Asia. It conveys the revered and cherished value systems from one generation to the next. It lives on as a unifying charter in the consciousness of the people whose lives and exploits gave birth to it. It is the national anthem, birth certificate and literary heritage of its owns. It provides the framework to bond a coherent oymak, the ancestral unit, a division of a greater confederation. Members of the oymak share one language, religion and history.

Key Themes & Motifs

What lies at the heart of the genre? Broadly formulated: The jir, chorchok or dastan typically depicts the travails of the alp to secure the freedom of his people from invaders or enemies. . . nor is the theme of love a stranger to the plot. 


Dastans commemorate the deeds of fearless and capable men and women. . . the exploits of these battle-tested alps on behalf of their people are celebrated and immortalized by reciters known as ozan (some of whom composed dastans). Almost always the ozan (sometimes known as bahshi, kam or shaman) will accompany himself with a musical instrument known as kapuz.

Dastan as Resistance

Central Asians strove to preserve, and Bolsheviks to destroy, the dastans . . . In 1925, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union resolved: ‘. . . As the class war in general has not ended, neither has it ended on the literary front. In a class society there is not, nor can there be neutral art’ . . .” In that decade and the next, dastans were collected by the authorities in order to be hidden away; reciters were killed.” ***

*** For the tale of how one China-based master reciter of the Manas Epic (Manas Destanı, 玛纳斯史诗) was treated during the Cultural Revolution, see Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic.

(To view comments or post one of your own, pls scroll to bottom of this page)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s