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Research Trip to the Land of Janyl Myrza July 2006

Yara's Eunice Wong holding Baysary,
an eagle who hunts wolves.
Photo by Margaret Morton

The Eagle Hunter
by Eunice Wong

Baysary has gained some weight. He gets a very long vacation, like a government official. When September comes, however, he won't be sitting at a desk stamping documents. Instead he will unfold his magnificent wings and launch into the sky, dropping weight like a boxer, and plunge from the clouds to bring down wolves and foxes for his master.

Baysary is an eagle, and his master is Tenti Djamanakov, the eagle hunter of Jele Debe.

Yara Arts Group, a theater company from New York City, has traveled from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, to gather research for our next project, a collaboration with Sakhna Theatre of Bishkek. It will be based on the story of Janyl Myrza, the 16th century Kyrgyz woman warrior, a renowned eagle hunter.

Virlana Tkacz, Eunice Wong and Margaret Morton set out with
Altyn Kapalova to research the Kyrgyz epic "Janyl Myrza"
which tells the story of a woman archer in the 17th century
who never missed. This photo by Valera, our driver.

From Jele Debe, near Karakol, we drive to a windy hilltop. Djamanakov sits in the passenger seat and holds Baysary with a hood over his eyes, his hooked beak stretching out towards our very nervous driver.

Outside in the bright sun, the eagle is breathtaking. The unfurled wings are taut, immense shells of skin and long, serrated feathers, ruffling heavily in the wind. Tenti Djamanakov's wrinkled brown face is radiant as he looks up at the massive bird on his arm beating the air.

"He thinks of me as his mother," he says. Baysary folds his wings and leans in close to Djamanakov, his breast feathers gently brushing his master's chin. "He knows my voice, he even recognizes the sound of my car when I drive up to the house." Djamanakov strokes Baysary's back. "He eats only fresh meat, a whole kilo a day! Lamb, dog, horse. But if he brings back just two foxes, that's 1000 som for me. So he works for his keep."

The highland summer pasture, or "jailoo"
Photo by Margaret Morton

Djamanakov, 73, learned the rare traditional Kyrgyz art of hunting with eagles at age 9. When he retired from the police force, he took up eagle hunting full time, becoming the only eagle hunter in the Issyk-Kul region. In 1997, he won first place in the National Kyrgyz Eagle Hunting Olympiad. His father was also an eagle hunter, and Baysary, which means "hero," is named in his honor.

"Since the Soviet Union collapsed there has been a revival of interest in national traditions," Djamanakov says. "More people are interested, but often they can't catch their own bird, which you have to do."

A week before they learn to fly, at two and a half months, is the ideal time to capture a chick. This is at the end of February, when the temperature plummets to minus forty degrees. Making very sure the mother bird is far away, the ambitious eagle hunter must then climb up the sheer snowy cliff and seize the baby. Djamanakov learns that I will be playing Janyl in the Yara/ Sakhna project, and invites me to hold Baysary. I blurt "YES!" and trust wildly that the eagle hunter knows what he's doing.

"The best female eagles are often named Janyl Myrza," Djamanakov tells us as I approach him, my heart pounding. "In the old epics, all the great women warriors were also eagle hunters. But I have never known a female eagle hunter in my lifetime."

He gestures me to stand behind him as he slides his right arm out of the stiff suede gauntlet that Baysary perches on. I quickly insert my own arm into the leather. I am amazed at the bird's weight, immediately needing to support my right arm with my left. "He weighs almost 20 kilos," says Djamanakov.

Baysary's head, with its thick curved beak, is inches from mine. I can see the shafts and filaments of every brown feather. The yellow and black talons encircling my arm could disembowel a human being with ease. The hood still covers Baysary's eyes, but he senses a change and becomes very still, cocking his head towards me. The wind ruffles his feathers and my hair. I try to breathe deeply, slowly.

After a long, still time, Djamanakov approaches me and places his hand under the gauntlet, allowing me to slip out from under Baysary.

"Rakhmat," I say. Thank you.

article originally appeared n the CECArtsLink Newsletter spring 2007

Kalkan Kerimalu ulu, "dastanchi",
or bard of the village of Kyzyl Tuu,
who is a descendant of one of the
characters in the "Janyl Myrza" epic,
showed us the places where Janyl lived and fought.
Photo by Margaret Morton.

For more pictures and information on Yara's Janyl on Yara's

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Copyright (c)2006 Yara Arts Group; all rights reserved. Photos by Margaret Morton(c)2006
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