Customs and traditions
Up to the beginning of the 20th century the Kazakhs traditionally used the yurta as the universal lodging of nomads. The word YURTA in this meaning came to other languages from Russian. In Kazakh it has the meaning of COMMUNITY, FAMILY, RELATIVES, PEOPLE. The building itself is called KII UY (felt house) or KARA UY (BIG HOUSE). Nomadic life would hardly be possible without some kind of portable lodging. In the year 5 B.C. the father of historic science Herodot, describing the Scythians’ campaign against the Persian troops of the king Dariy, mentioned the felt lodgings on the carts. Felt lodgings resembling those ones were also mentioned by the French monk Guillome de Rubruk, the ambassador of the King Louis IX in 1252-1254 when he crossed the Kazakh steps on his way to Karakorum. The cart carrying such felt house was 9 meters wide and was pulled by 33 pairs of bulls. Though such houses offered certain conveniences were too bulky and of poor maneuverability and could not move fast. A lighter type of such vehicle had been used by the Nogaiets till the beginning of the 20th century. It was a real discovery when in the middle of the1st millenium A.D. a collapsible version of the felt house was invented. Yurta of the new type consisted of folding lattices (kerege), dome perches (uik) and the dome circle (shanirak) which serves both as an opening for the smoke and a window into the sky.
Together with the opening for the door (esik) and the central pole (bakan) for raising shanirak they constitute the wooden framework of the yurta (suyek).
The wood used for building the yurta is usually the willow, the birch, the black alder or the poplar.
There are two types of yurtas in Kazakhstan. The first type is the Kazakh (kazaki kii zui), the second one is the torgout or the Kalmik (kalmak kii zui). The latter differs from the first one by its coke top formed by the straight top perches and is very much like the Mongolian yurta. The top of theTurkic and later the Kazakh yurtas acquired the semispherical shape. Covered with white thick felt, richly ornamented, set on the bright green grass of a mountain slope or on the background of the vast step it looks picturesque.
The yurta is usually fixed by two or three women within some hours. First, they fix the wooden door, then, on both sides of it two latticed frameworks of the walls, called the wings (kanats) are simultaneously spread. The size of the yurta depends on the number of the “wings” (kanats). An average yurta consists of six canats and there may be enough space for 20 people. Yurtas belonging to khans were usually built of 12-14 kanats and were supposed to let in very many people.
The second stage of setting the yurta is raising the shanirak. For this they use the bakan a long pole with a forked upper end. This procedure is the duty of a man: the head of the family or of the tribe.The third stage building is joining the lattices and the shanirak with bent perches. The inner parts of the walls were covered with chiys (kind of mats in which each straw is wound about with died wool designed in various patterns) to keep the house warm and to protect it from the wind. The door opening from outside was covered with a piece of thick felt called kiiz esik (house door). All the junction lines of the urta used to be covered with ornamented ribbons of carpets or of woven fabrics called the baus.
The yurta looks like a real felt house.
The Kazakh tradition of wedding is a long process which begins with match making. There are two types of match making. The bridegroom either sends his match-makers to his beloved’s parents or steals her from the family. In the first case the match-makers (usually the young man’s relatives) bring rich presents to the girl’s parents and ask for their consent to the marriage. In Kazakh it is called kuda tusu. After the consent is given, the bride’s parents claim the ransom (kalim) and announce the date of the wedding. Sometimes the right to chose is left to the girl.
The beautiful tradition of Betashar is a ceremony of opening the bride’s face. It comes from the times when people had no right to see women’s faces and often it was the first time when the young man could see his bride’s face. The bride, dressed in her best clothes, with a veil over her face was introduced to her bridegroom and his relatives. The Master of Ceremonies, usually a poet (akin), introduces all the guests to the bride and she is obliged to give a bow to each of them.
In the course of the wedding ceremony the bride usually stays behind a rich curtain which conceals her from the curious eyes.
CHILDBIRTH. The 40-days cycle
On the 40th day after the birth of the child, during the morning prayer (azan) the child is given his name. The name is usually given by the elder of the family or the mullah who after reading the sacred words from the Koran pronounces the name three times into the ear of the child. The lucky ones have been considered those who were born on the day of Nauriz (the vernal equinox). The central moment of the celebration is washing of the child. Women pour 40 spoons of water into a basin, throw silver coins and jewelry into the water and then wash the child in it. After the washing they cut the first grown nails and hair and give the silver to the women. They take the baby’s vest and wrap candies into it. Then they tie it to a dog’s neck and let it run. This rite is called it koilek (the dog’s vest). The children who manage to catch the dog and open the parcel eat the candies.
CUTTING OFF THE HOBBLES
When the child makes his first steps he undergoes another important ceremony which is called Cutting of the Hobbles (tusau kesu). They bind ropes around the child’s legs in the shape of 8. The hobbles are cut by one of the most honorable guests whose life is worth being an example to be followed. This custom has pagan roots. The people who inhabited the territory of Kazakhstan in ancient times were the worshippers of the supreme deity Tengry (the sky). In their understanding the world was divided into three parts: the underground world, the earthly world and the celestial world. As they believed, in the course of human life people came through all the three stages. A new-born child was believed to have come from the underground world. His ties with that world were considered to be great as it was calling the child to itself. They thought it accounted for the high death rate of babies in those times. But, as they believed, after the child began to walk the ties with the underground world became weaker and in this ceremony the help of a man from the earthly world was highly appreciated. That was the reason why this honor was granted to the spiritually and physically strongest people.
KAZAKH FOLK GAMES
Traditional equestrian sport such as kokpar, kiz kuu, etc have always been very popular with the Kazakhs. Nowadays they are also organized on National holidays and during important social events. Special attention has always been attached to baiga (horse-races). There are different types of traditional races. They are: Alaman-baiga – 30 km races, tok-baiga – 20 km races, zhorga zharis, ambler races for 2 kilometers.
There is another type of races called kiz kuu (catch up wit the girl).
It goes on like this. A beautiful girl starts the race first. In a short while all the young men who would like to kiss her start their races. The winner tries to kiss the girl on horseback but if he fails and the girl crosses the finish line first she tries to whip the young man while he is doing his best to avaid the blows.
Another type of horse games is kokpar tartu (tearing a goat).
This thrilling struggle on horsebacks for the carcass of a goat won’t leave calm an excitable person. The game begins when one of the horsemen goes far ahead of the rest with a goat skin or the headless carcass of a goat in his hand. After that, a group of horsemen rushes forward to tear it from his hands. The winner should not only have the fastest horse but be a smart enough rider to stay on horseback during all the fight, besides, he must be strong enough to snatch the goatskin from the hands of any other, very experienced to escape from the pursuers and cross the finish line first.
The Kazakhs traditionally begin their calendar year on the 21-22 of March. This holiday is called Nauriz, which in Persian means The new day. People begin preparations for this day in advance. They do the general washing and cleaning and make new clothes. On the eve of Nauriz young people make fires and jump over them, walk with burning torches. Women gather for cooking the Nauris-kozhe, a special kind of soup consisting of seven components: water, salt, meat, wheat, rice, millet, milk and while cooking and stirring the soup they sing songs and pronounce wishes. At sunrise people gather for the first meal and eat the Nauriz-kozhe and wish each other long and happy lives. After that, they pay visits to their relatives where they are met with richly served tables. Then follow horse races and equestrian games. At meals the oldest people are offered bull’s heads, people sing songs and organize poets’ (akins’) competitions. The youngest build swings (altibakan) and play till late at night.
Speaking about the Kazakh national customs and traditions people usually begin with hospitality as the most prominent features of those people of the steps (kind of local prairies).A guest for the Kazakhs is a special person to whom great attention and homage are rendered and here a richly served table stands first in the list. Traditional Kazakh food is based on meat and milk and includes beshbarmak, kazi, karta, shuzhuk, zhal, zhaya, baursaks, kurt, kozhe, irimshik, airan.
To cook it, you must put 3 or 4 kilograms of best meat with fat (mutton, beef, horse-flesh) into a big saucepan and pour water into it enough to cover the meat and put on the cooker to boil. The dough is prepared of 250 grams of flour, an egg, salt and water. The thick dough is rolled out 1mm thick and cut into squares 10x10 cm. 20 minutes before the meat is ready 5 or 6 potatoes are dropped into the broth. When the meat is ready it is cut into medium size pieces and put on a big dish. Then the potatoes are taken out and placed on the same dish around the meat. About 200 grams of thick broth with fat is pored into a separate bowl for preparing the gravy. Then, the squares of dough are dropped into the broth and boiled. The dough, when it is ready is also placed on the dish and the gravy prepared of the 200grams of the broth mixed with black pepper and 3 big onions cut in semi-circles is pored all over the dish. The dish is served hot.
Is cooked of sheep’s or cow’s kidneys, liver, lungs and meat cut in 1x1x1 cm cubes. These components are not mixed but prepared in separate plates. Onions and 5 or 6 potatoes are cut in 1x1x1cm cubes. The lungs are fried in 50 or 80 grams of fat during 5-7 minutes first then kidneys, heart and meat are added. In 20 minutes onions, potatoes and liver are added and constantly stirred while being fried so that every piece would be cooked thoroughly. Salt and pepper are added to one’s taste. The dish is cooked in kazan, kind of big cast iron kettle. Served right from the fire.
Are kneaded of leavened dough prepared just like for bread. Sometimes the baursaks are made in the shape of balls, sometimes in the shape of quadrangles.
Are sometimes cooked of leavened, sometimes of unleavened dough. The dough is rolled into flat circles (10 cm in diameter) and the minced meat with onions and sometimes with pumpkins is wrapped inside by joining the edges on the top.
The Kazakhs have rather many ways of preparing food from milk. The first in this list should be mentioned KUMIZ which has been almost worshiped by the nomads since the Scythian times. Kumiz is a kind of fermented horse milk, foaming, astringent and sour. The more kumiz is kept, the more alcohol it gains. In general, the Kazakhs use four types of milk for food: from sheep, cows, camels and horses, separately as well as in mixtures. Though, fresh milk is mostly used in tea, there are various milk products such as skimmed cream, airan, katik, fermented like yogurt, suzbe and irimshik (kinds of curdles). The latter, being salted, pressed and dried are called CURT which can be kept for years. It can be used as it is or strewn into broth or hot water.