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Olonkho (Russian: Олонхо́, Yakut: Олоҥхо, Kazakh, Bashkort: Олонхо) is a heroic epic tale of the Yakuts and one of the oldest epic arts of the Turkic peoples. The term refers to the entire Sakha epic tradition as well as its central epic.
The Olonkho is still performed in the Sakha Republic. The poetic tales are performed by a singer and story-teller in two parts: a sung part in verse alternates with a prose part composed of recitatives. In addition to possessing good acting and singing skills, the narrator must be a master of eloquence and poetic improvisation. The epic consists of numerous legends about ancient warriors, deities, spirits and animals, but also addresses contemporary events, such as the disintegration of nomadic society. The olonkhos, varying from 10,000 to 20,000 verses (or more) in length, are sung during a period of up to seven nights. "Nyurgun Bootur the Swift", the best-known, consists of more than 36,000 verses.
Given that each community had its own narrator with a rich repertoire, numerous versions of olonkho circulated. The tradition was developed within the family context for entertainment and as a means of education. Reflecting Yakut beliefs, it also bears witness to the way of life of a small nation struggling for survival at times of political unrest and under difficult climatic and geographical conditions.
The political and technological changes in twentieth-century Russia have threatened the existence of the epic tradition in the Sakha Republic. Although there has been a growing interest in olonkho since the perestroika years, this tradition is endangered because of the very low number of practitioners.