Force other than his own

hombre_pajaro

How does a man become a singer, you ask? Not through straining his voice on a the bare hill tops, not yet through making presents to many teachers.

Is a singer born a singer then, Parchen-tulchi?”

No, neither is a tulchi (rhapsodist) born. How can a man invent pictures of the world of heroes, how can he see the hundred snowy peaks of Altai and the ten blue lakes and the seventy swift rivers and the red and yellow camels and the herds of black and roan and piebald horses, if these things are not communicated to him my forces other than his own?”

What forces are these?”

When I was a boy of twelve I pastured my father’s flocks on the steppe. One day I saw a giant ride up on a dragon, whether in dream or in fact I cannot tell you. The giant asked me if I wished to become a singer of epic tales. I told the giant that this indeed was my dearest wish but I feared it might never be. For my father was sending me to the monastery to put on the lama’s robe and learn the sacred books. The giant pointed to a white goat, the largest and best of my father’s goats. ‘Give me that goat to sacrifice to the King of dragons,’ he said, ‘and you shall sing such heroes’ songs as will make your name for ever dear where men gather at night around the fires, or meet at the great feasts of the princes.’

Gladly I agreed, the giant struck me on the shoulder, mounted his dragon and was gone. When I came to myself there was no one, no giant, no dragon, but near by a wolf was eating the white goat, the very one the giant had demanded for a sacrifice. From that day I knew that I had the gift of song, given me by the lord of dragons himself.”

And all was then easy – song, and fame, and learning?”

Parchen smiled. “Nothing was easy. For my father beat me sorely because the wolf had eaten his goat. He sent me to the monastery and there the monks beat me because I could not learn the sacred doctrine.”

Yet you became a singer?”

I had the gift. They let me learn the songs and sing. When I knew them I felt the steppe call and left the sacred walls to wander among the tents of the princes and sing the deeds of my people.

I had many songs, and the spirits spoke easily to me, so that I became famous among men. Many were the gifts I had, silks, garments, saddles, carpets, horses, and sheep, but I spent all and went back again to the monastery. In those days I was gay and careless, given to drunkenness and women, was prodigal of all things and loved the life of men. Even at one time I loved a Russian woman, and she me.”

Mongolia; Ralph Fox, “Conversation with a Lama”, New Writing, autumn 1936, pp. 180-181 
Illustration inspired by a Bird Man Rapa Nui, Easter Island

 

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God has planted this gift for singing in my heart

Navajo

When I asked one of the most successful singers [of tales] with whom I became acquainted whether he could sing this or that song, he replied to me:  ‘I can sing any song there is because God has planted this gift for singing in my heart. He supplies my tongue with the word without my having to search for it. I have not learned to sing any of my songs; everything gushes out of my insides, out of myself.

 

Wilhelm Radloff (mid 19th century-1918), quoting a Kirghiz epic, in “Samples of Folk Literature from the North Turkic Tribes” translated by Gudrum Böchter Sherman with Adam Brooke Davis, Oral Literature, 5: 84; this is a part of Radloff’s book Aus Sibirien, published in Leipzig, 1854
Illustration inspired by a design of the Navajo people

 

 

Nothing to fear during the performance

 

Pez dentado

Before Keldibek began a performance of Manas he told the herdsmen that they might come to the camp without fear because their cattle would go home by themselves, and no one –neither man nor wild beast– could steal even the last sheep whilst he was singing Manas. But when he began to sing, the yurt trembled, a mighty hurricane arose amid whose murk and din supernatural horsemen, Companions of Manas, flew down so that the earth shuddered beneath their horses’s hooves.

Kirghiz; quoted in Hatto, “Kirghiz”, en Traditions of Heroic and Epic Poetry. Volume I: The Traditions, edited by A. T. Hatto, London: The Modern Humanities Research Association, p. 305; Manas is the national epic of the Kirghiz people, and tells the exploits of the eponymous hero and his descendants.
Illustration inspired by a drawing of a fish found in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.