excursion into the kinship structure of Tibetan society
is needed to appreciate the villainous role assigned to
the character Akhu (Uncle) Trotung.
The epic’s central conflict concerns family ties
in the society into which Gesar is born. Traditionally in Tibet, a group of brothers
shares wife, house, and land to keep the family property
indivisible. Their collective ownership functions through
the eldest. This
sometimes leads to antagonism among paternal uncles and
nephews, as is depicted in the Gesar epic.
While Gesar’s only blood relative is Luza, his mother
(due to his miraculous virgin birth), he is considered the
“son” of the king of Ling, who received his mother as the
spoils of war. The king’s younger brother, Akhu Trotung, is
therefore the hero’s paternal uncle.
This scurrilous relative wants to prevent his nephew
from marrying and ascending the throne, so that he can take
power himself. While
this kind of familial antagonism is contrary to the rules
of good behavior, both parties are bound to a code of civility
that governs even their harshest motives.
So, while Akhu Trotung is a powerful Bonpo magician
and chief, he never succeeds in killing or dispossessing
the hero. And although
Gesar ridicules his cowardice and greed, he never attempts
to get rid of his uncle once and for all.
overall design of the epic
The earliest authentic Gesar documents in the Tibetan
language are among the manuscripts found at Tun-hang, China,
an outpost at the eastern end of the Silk Route that served
as a storehouse of much early Asian literature.
A cave at Tun-hang, sealed about 1000 A.D., became
one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of
the twentieth century.
According to Stein, the Tibetan texts uncovered there
display a baffling inconsistency in spelling. But they also reveal poems, songs, and a distinctive prose marked
by brisk rhythm and an onomatopoetic style utilizing reduplicated
and trebled syllables—the same devices used throughout the
legend of Gesar. Without the usual devices of other poetic traditions—rhyme
or alliteration—this poetry rests on its rhythm and structure.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for a European
language to match the rhythm because the meaning cannot
be expressed with the same limited use of syllables.
Stein feels that use of onomatopoeia in the Gesar epic
“implies a particularly emotive or dramatic situation.”