Urazali Tashmatov
Professor, State Institute of Arts and Culture of Uzbekistan

The similar actions in fairytales, epics, and dastan of Altaians, Tatars, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Karakalpaks, and other Turkic-speaking people, shows that the Uzbek dastan “Alpamysh,” as a creation of Turkic oral folk art, has a long history. In other nations, it is called “Alpamys,” “Alpamiros Botir,” “Alyp-manash,” “Alpamsha,” “Alpamysh,” and “Barchin Hiluv.”

Dozens of Uzbek versions of “Alpamysh” have been recorded, but only in the twentieth century did researchers begin to write the dastan texts of performers. More than forty manuscript versions of “Alpamysh” are currently stored in the library of the Research Institute of Language and Literature of Uzbekistan.

“Alpamysh,” as the best example of Uzbek heroic epics for many centuries, contributes to raising the young generation. Currently, there are three schools of storytellers in Uzbekistan—the Surkhandarya-Kashkadarya, the Khorezm, and the Karakalpak schools. In the Surkhandarya-Kashkadarya school, the narrators sing with a dombra (two-stringed ancient instrument); in a Khorezm performance is accompanied by a three-piece ensemble (tarbalaban, and doira); and in Karakalpak jirau, the heroic epics of Karakalpakstan, a kobyz (an ancient bowed instrument) is used.

Currently, “Alpamish” is performed at wedding family events in the Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya regions, where narrators are invited to perform. It is less often performed in Karakalpakstan and Khorezm. The epic texts are included in the school curriculum. In informal education, the epic is transmitted through a master-apprentice system. In 2017, in Surkhandarya, a special children’s boarding school for the young narrators was opened.

According to historians, in prehistoric times, newborns were given temporary names, and then, based on their demonstrated abilities, they were given permanent names. In this way, a boy named Hakimbek, at the age of seven, showed what miracles he could do with his grandfather’s bow by knocking down the top of Mount Askar. He was given the permanent name Alpamysh, which is made from two roots, alp meaning big (or great) and pamysh, hero, or when taken together, Alpamysh means “great hero.”

Similarly, the permanent names of other epic heroes were also given based on different abilities or positions. Some example combinations include the following:

  • Alpinbiy = “big” + “leader of the tribe”

    Karakalpak Jirau Bakbergen Syrymbetov sings “Alpamish” © Ikbol Melikuziyev

  • Dobonbiy = “saddle” + “head of the tribe”
  • Boyburi = “big” + ‘wolf”
  • Boysari = “big” + “hill”
  • Kuntugmish = “born” + “sun”
  • Kaldirgoch = “intermediary bird” + “between people and god”
  • Barchinoy = “wild” + “duck’

The dastan begins with Dobonbiy; his son, Alpinbiy; and his grandchildren, Boyburi and Boysari (the oldest of the clan), living in Baysun-Kungrad. It so happened that God did not give heirs to the brothers of Boyburi and Boysari, and so the family could not continue. The brothers did not seriously think about it until they were reminded about it at the wedding, where they were invited and unfairly offended, because they could not arrange a wedding without successors and consequently would be unable to repay the debt to other people—Debt is considered paid after arranging a wedding and distributing pilaf.

Upon returning home, the offended brothers beg God to give them heirs, too. After some time passes, Boyburi has a son and daughter (Hakimbek and Kaldirgoch), and Boysari has a daughter (Barchinoy). Both brothers want Hakimbek and Barchinoy to get married to continue their family. However, when Boyburi (the elder brother) as a senior clan asks his younger brother Boysari to pay impost like all the other members of the clan, Boysari refuses, and with his supporters, leaves for another country—in Kalmyk.

Kalandar and Feruz Normatov perform “Alpamysh” in the Khorezm style © Ikbol Melikuziyev

Now Alpamysh must return his uncle’s family to his native land. For Alpamysh to come to Kalmyk, his beloved Barchinoy organizes competitions for the suitors. Alpamysh decides to go there, but his father does not allow him. His sister Kaldirgoch helps Alpamysh get to Kalmyk, and for this purpose, she tells him how to get an unearthly horse, Boychibor. During the four-stage match, Barchinoy is worried but tries not to pay attention. Alpamysh wins the fight and takes Barchinoy and her family to their historical homeland. However, Boysari does not want to return and remains in Kalmyk.

Toichihon, who rules Kalmyk, takes away a herd belonging to Boysari and makes him work as a shepherd. Offended, Boysari writes about this to his daughter, and after Alpamysh finds out, he goes to Kalmyk for his uncle. On the way, he ends up in dungeon, where he spends seven years. After the rescue, Alpamysh overcomes Toichihon and puts his Kaikubod as head of Kalmyk. Alpamysh experiences some trouble on his return to his homeland. Everybody thinks he is dead and wants to let his wife Barchinoi to marry another person; Alpamysh’s son Yodgor, about whose existence Alpamysh does not know, lives in need. To determine who is a friend and who is an enemy, Alpamysh dresses like a wanderer named Kultoi and meets with all his old acquaintances.

As in all fairytales and dastans, Alpamysh reunites with his family and lives happily.