Aitys – the art of improvisation marks_1
  • Manage No, Sortation, Country, Writer ,Date, Copyright
    Manage No EE00001329
    Country Kazakhstan
    ICH Domain Oral traditions and representations Performing Arts Social practices, rituals, festive events Traditional craft skills
    Contest is conducted country-wide, however the most popular regular competitions used to be held in Western Kazakhstan (Aktobe) and Northern Kazakhstan (Zerenda, Shortandy). Aitys is also very common and popular in Kyrgyzstan.
    Year of Designation 2012
Description Aitys is a contest centred on improvised oral poetry spoken or sung to the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments – the Kazakh dombra. Two performers (akyns) compete with one other to improvise verses on topical themes in a battle of wits that alternates between humorous ripostes and penetrating philosophical reflections. During the competition, the performers sit opposite one another improvising a dialogue on topics chosen by the audience. The winner is the performer considered to have demonstrated the best musical skills, rhythm, originality, resourcefulness, wisdom and wit. The most meaningful and witty expressions often become popular sayings. The element is practiced on a variety of occasions, ranging from local festivities to nationwide events, where practitioners often use the contest to raise important social issues. Although it was traditionally performed only by men, many women now participate in Aitys and use the contest to express women’s aspirations and viewpoints. Akyns compete with each other without any preparation, minutely composing poems mutual answers to questions of concern to society. Deep philosophical reflections in the witty, bubbly manner often turn into a form of poetic ridicule and criticism. Akyns compete in their resourcefulness and originality.
Social and cultural significance Today, Aitys is a very popular cultural component of Kazakh multi-ethnic societies and constitutes a vital part of the identity of bearer communities. Being a traditional form of Kazakh and Kyrgyz oral cultural heritage and reflecting at the same time new contemporary trends, the element fits the context of our epoch implementing the function of spreading topical information among the communities. Today the element is a living form not only of performing arts but also an important platform for social communication between different representatives of communities. Embodying the best features of traditional oral dialogic art, the element provides adequate responses to life conditions in the globalized world, using modern communication means. People highly appreciate practitioners of the element, whose poetic improvisations reflect folk aspirations and current problems and realities. The most meaningful and witty expressions of performers are learned and quoted by people. Having a life-asserting and optimistic nature, the element embodies the unity of culture and life, reflects the human spiritual world and social relations. As an essential part of social life, the element has important social functions enhancing the formation of national and cultural identity, broadening people’s outlook, fostering integration, interaction and mutual enrichment of cultures, strengthening the spiritual potential and humanitarian nature of Kazakh and Kyrgyz cultures. The element performers demonstrate publicly their philosophic reflections and propagate the ideas of tolerance, peace and respect to the universal human values.
Transmission method Older performers teach and transmit their knowledge and skills to younger generations. The elderly representatives of these practicing communities have primary responsibility for proper transmission of Aitys to younger generation. They teach and transmit their knowledge and skills mainly in traditional environment - home based music schools and studios. Selection and training of aspiring Aitys performers depends on every school, studio and individual master. In recent decades the number of young performers of Aitys has significantly increased. Such rejuvenation of traditional oral art indicates on sustainable development of the element within the societies in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and overall increase in public interest. Teachers and professors transmit knowledge about Aitys to younger generation by showcasing study materials with best pieces of Aitys accompanied with the narrations about the history and culture of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, traditional moral-ethic norms of the element as well as its social and cultural functions for modern society. Folklore researchers and musicologists are involved in recording, documenting and researching different forms, manifestations, regional schools of Aityns, diverse manners of performances, and specific style of music and text.
Community The main bearers and practitioners of the element are the communities of Tokmo-Akyns in Kyrgyzstan and Akyns-Aityskers in Kazakhstan. It also include families, local art communities and municipal cultural centers. Traditionally Aitys is performed by men, however since 19-20th centuries more female performers of Aitys started to emerge. Female performers gained particular popularity in regards to their subtle game of words, conveyance of women’s aspirations and inner world via Aitys, Aitysh performances. Akyns are recognized by people only after they pass publicly the aitysh-aitys examinations. It is an excellent experience for akyns. Almost all akyns started their creative way by participating in such performances. Competitions of young performers with well-known akyns determine their further creative destiny; evaluation of their talent by listeners and the elder akyns confirms the akyn status of young performers. Texts of poetic improvisations by well-known akyns are included in school educational programs in order to transmit the element to young generations.
Type of UNESCO List Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Incribed year in UNESCO List 2015
Information source
Kazakhstan National Committee for Intangible Cultural Heritage

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