The rich and unique Karakalpakstan folklore has developed over the centuries. It includes all genres of oral folk arts: tales, proverbs, sayings, legends, poems and others.
The most characteristic and distinctive feature of Karakalpak folklore is an epic poem or epos (dastan). There are about 50 various types of dastan: heroic, lyric, social, historical and legendary, magic and romantic and others. They are performed by storytellers and singers – baksi and jirau – to the accompaniment of national musical instruments, the kobiz and dutar.
Eposes of the XI–XVIII centuries (for example, Sharyar, Koblan, Edige Ep Shora, Alpamis, Kurbanbek Ep Ziyar, Kirk-Kiz, and others) play a special role in Karakalpakstan oral folk arts. The main themes of the heroic epos Alpamis are consolidation, friendship and patriotism of the ravaged tribes. The Kirk-kiz epos, an outstanding monument and a masterpiece of Karakalpak culture, tells a story of female defenders as well as male heroes and patriots, who fought together against foreign invaders. There is no such epos in any other culture.
Humour and satire elements are often encountered in numerous genres of Karakalpak folklore, for example, in oral folk prose (anecdotes) or in the form of playful and humourous songs or dialogs (aytis or zhuap). They are performed during verbal contests, often by young men and women. Zhuap is based on the performer’s abilities to ask questions in a compressed, refined, imaginative and rhymed form and invent witty answers quickly and without confusion. It is performed without accompanying music and the singers have to change the song rhythm. There were verbal contests organized among Karakalpakstan national poets in the past.