KAZAKH NOMADIC LIFE
Except for a few settled farmers, most Kazakhs have traditionally lived by animal husbandry, migrating to look for pasturage as the seasons change. In spring, summer and autumn, they live in collapsible round yurts and in winter build flat-roofed earthen huts in the pastures. In the yurt, living and storage spaces are separated. The yurt door usually opens to the east, the two flanks are for sleeping berths and the center is for storing goods and saddles; in front are placed cushions for visitors. Riding and hunting gear, cooking utensils, provisions and baby animals are kept on both sides of the door. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
The pastoral Kazakhs live off their animals. They produce a great variety of dairy products. For instance, Nai Ge Da (milk dough) Nai Pi Zi (milk skin) and cheese. Butter is made from cow's and sheep's milk. They usually eat mutton stewed in water without salt – a kind of meat eaten with the hands. By custom, they slaughter animals in late autumn and cure the meat by smoking it for the winter. In spring and summer, when the animals are putting on weight and producing lots of milk, the Kazakh herdsmen put fresh horse milk in shaba (barrels made of horse hide) and mix it regularly until it ferments into the cloudy, sour horse milk wine, a favorite summer beverage for the local people. The richer herdsmen drink tea boiled with cow's or camel's milk, salt and butter. Rice and wheat flour confections also come in a great variety: Nang (baked cake), rice cooked with minced mutton and eaten with the hands, dough fried in sheep's fat, and flour sheets cooked with mutton. Their diet contains few vegetables. *|*
The Kazakhs migrate between the high pastures in the summer and the river valleys in the winter. The distance between pastures and the river valleys is often less than 50 miles. During the summer they often set up their yurts in the open pastures and gather for circumcision ceremonies, weddings, funerals, festivals and family reunions that often feature horse races and young girl dancers in beaded costumes. During the winter the Kazakhs and their animals live in mud-brick structures and the animals survive off fodder and any grass they can find. In the spring the Kazahks take their sheep to the low pastures, where the ewes give birth, and later they move to the higher summer pastures. According to a Kazak saying, "the snow leads the sheep."
The sheep generally drop their lambs at a birthing place in the summer pastures. Located next to the yurt, the birthing place consists of three-sided shelter and low fence, both made of flat rocks. After the lambs are born they are often brought into the yurt for the first couple of nights so the don't suffer from the cold.
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources on Minorities in Northern China: Nationalities in Northeast China kepu.net.cn ; Muslims in China Islam in China islaminchina.wordpress.com ; Claude Pickens Collection harvard.edu/libraries ; Islam Awareness islamawareness.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Asia Times atimes.com Links in this Website: MINORITIES IN NORTHERN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MUSLIM MINORITIES IN NORTHERN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Uighurs: East Turkestan Information Center uygur.org/english ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Uighur Culture and History (lots of links) utoledo.edu ; Uyghur Photo site uyghur.50megs.com ; Turkic People site ozturkler.com ; Uighurs tripod.com the_uighurs.tripod.com ; otoUyghur News uyghurnews.com ; Uighur Photos smugmug.com ;Islam.net Islam.net ; Uyghur Human Rights Groups ; World Uyghur Congress uyghurcongress.org ; Uyghur American Association uyghuramerican.org ; Uyghur Human Rights Project uhrp.org ; Uighur Language Uighur Language. Com uighurlanguage.com ; Uighur Written Language omniglot.com ; Uighur Culture Crafts China Vista ; Dance China Vista ; Uyghur Music amc.org.uk ; London Uyghur Ensemble uyghurensemble.co.uk ; Uyghur Food Restaurant Food meshrep.com ; China Vista China Vista
Animal skin yurt Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Blog with stuff on Xinjiang china.notspecial.org ; About Xinjiang (Chinese government site) aboutxinjiang. ; History and Development of Xinjiang (Chinese government site) news.xinhuanet.com ; Uighurs and Xinjiang Council on Foreign Relations ; Muslims in China: Islam in China islaminchina.wordpress.com ; Claude Pickens Collection harvard.edu/libraries ; Islam Awareness islamawareness.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Asia Times atimes.com ; Xinjiang History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Great Game Info sras.org ; Great Game in Afghanistan atimes.com . Book on the Great Game: The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland by Karl E. Meyer (Century Foundation/Public Affairs, 2003). Separatism and Human Rights: Wikipedia article on Terrorism in China Wikipedia ; All Quiet on the Western Front? silkroadstudies.org Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Human Rights in Xinjiang Human Rights Watch article hrw.org ; Uyghur Human Rights Groups: U.S.-based Taklamakan Uighur Human Rights Association; German-based East Turkestan Information Center; Germany-based World Uyghur Congress; and Rebiya Kadeer’s Uyghur American Association: World Uyghur Congress uyghurcongress.org ; Uyghur American Association uyghuramerican.org ; Uyghur Human Rights Project uhrp.org Uighur and Xinjiang Experts: Dru Gladney of Pomona College; Nicolas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch; and James Miflor, a professor at Georgetown University.
Links in this Website: XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG EARLY HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG LATER HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG AND CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG SEPARATISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TERRORISM IN XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG RIOTS IN 2009 Factsanddetails.com/China ; UIGHURS Factsanddetails.com/China ; HORSEMEN AND SMALL MINORITIES IN XINJIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG, URUMQI Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG. KASHGAR Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG KARAKORUM HIGHWAY Factsanddetails.com/China .
PLACES IN XINJIANG : Xinjiang Tourism Administration, 16 South Hetan Rd, 830002 Urumqi, Xinjiang China, tel. (0)- 991-282-7912, fax: (0)- 991-282-4449. Web Sites : Wikipedia Wikipedia Government site Xinjiang.gov ; Photos and Qanats : Synaptic Synaptic Wikipedia article on qanats Wikipedia ; Turpan : Turpan Tourism Division, 41 Qingnian Rd, 838000 Turpan. Xinjiang China, tel. (0)- 995-523-706, fax: (0)- 995-522-768 ; Urumqi : Urumqi Tourism Bureau, 32 Guangming Rd, 830002 Urumqi, Xinjiang China, tel. (0)-991-283-2212, fax: (0)- 991-281-9357 Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; China Map Guide China Map Guide ; Getting There Sites : Urumqi is accessible by air and bus and lies at the end on the main east-west train line from Beijing. It is connected to Kashgar and other Xinjiang cities to southwest by a new train that began operating in the early 2000s.Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Tian Shan : Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Links in this Website: XINJIANG, URUMQI Factsanddetails.com/China
p> Kashgar Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ; Lonely Planet Lonely Planet ; China Vista China Vista ; Getting There: Kashgar is accessible by air and bus and connected to Urumqi and the rest of China by a new train that began operating in 2004. There are two daily trains between Kasghar and Urumqi that cover the 1,598 kilometer distance in about 24 hours, There are also flights on Xinjiang Airlines 757s every evening. Website: CNINFO.net Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet ; Links in this Website: XINJIANG. KASHGAR Factsanddetails.com/China ; XINJIANG KARAKORUM HIGHWAY Factsanddetails.com/China
Horsemen in Xinjiang
Horses in Yiling region of XinjiangThe Mongols, Turks, Huns, Tartars and Scythians are the best known of horsemen groups that have roamed the steppes of Central Asia and the ones that were most successfully expanding beyond their native realm and impacted the worlds they touched. The Mongols created the largest empire the world have ever known.
Horseman groups originated about 2,500 years ago and continue in various forms today. Throughout their long run they have maintained many of the customs, characteristics, martial arts and methods of organization that evolved millennia ago such spending living in yurt-style tents, drinking fermented mare’s milk, fighting from horseback and creating art forms that celebrate horses and animals of the steppe.
The home range of the early horsemen, the Eurasia steppe, is vast area of land that extends from the Carpathian mountains in Hungary to eastern Mongolia.
Nomads in Xinjiang
About 40,000 ethic Kazakh, Mongol and Kyrgyz nomads still roaming the grasslands. Authorities want them to settle down in permanent houses and are attempting to do this by fencing off grazing grounds and establishing permanent settlements. The Chinese see nomadism as inferior to farming and conventional livestock rearing.
In places where overgrazing is a problem fences have been put up and herders have been given plots of land to encourage to take good care of it. To reduce the number of animals the government is encouraging herders to cut the size of their flocks by 40 percent, relocate and stall-feed their animals. But herders are not so keen on these ideas. Animals have traditionally been a source of wealth and a kind of insurance for hard times.
Some nomads like the idea. They want a high standard of living. Those that participate in the Chinese program are given 13 hectares of land, a four-room concrete house. One former nomad rents out three fourths of his land to a farmer who grows wheat and vegetables and cotton. With the rest of the land he grows food for his 200 sheep, 100 cows and 70 horses. Detractors argue the program will spoil ethnic identity and destroy the grasslands through overgrazing.
Kazahks, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Uighurs
Kazahks, Kyrgyz, Mongols and Uighurs can easily communicate because their languages are so similar and often eat and party together. During social gatherings, women usually serve the meals but don't join the men while they are eating. They do join in for the after dinner sing and dancing.
Permanent Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Mongol and Uighur homes are made of mud bricks covered with smooth mud "plaster." Red and black carpets with geometric designs cover the walls and floors. Most homes have kangs, a raised platform with yet more rugs where family eats, relaxes and sleeps under a heap of quilts. Kangs are heated in the winter. Meals are usually cooked over an open fire on a mud brick stove formed in the corner of the house.
Nomadic Kazakhs and the Chinese Government
Today, many Kazakhs live in apartments but use yurts for ceremonies. Others live in stone or mud-brick houses---with carpets on the floor, kilims on the walls, blackened by soot from the wood strove---in the winter and live in yurts in the summer. The roofs of the yurts of wealthy Kazakhs are often elaborately embroidered. To earn money nomadic Kazakhs sell mutton, lamb, wool and sheepskin from their sheep. Chinese merchants provide them with clothes, consumer items, sweet and particularly alcohol.
The Communist government is trying to encourage nomadic Kazakhs to settle down. The Chinese are helping former nomads build brick and concrete homes with electricity, television and other modern amenities. Settled Kazakhs still raise sheep and slaughter them by hand with a knife.
The Kazakhs resisted attempts to by the Communists to make them live on sheep-raising communes. About 60,000 Kazakhs reportedly fled to the Soviet Union in 1962 and other crossed the border in India and Pakistan or were granted political asylum in Turkey. Torgass Pass between Xinjiang, China and Soviet Kazakstan was closed in 1971 and not reopened until 1983.
All Kazakhs belonged to definite clans before 1949. They and their area were divided into three hordes (ordas): the Great Horde, Middle Horde and Little Horde -- or the Right, Left and Western branches as the Qing government documents referred to them. The Middle Horde was the most powerful, with the largest number of people and most complete clan lineage. The Kazakhs in China mostly belonged to the Great and Middle Hordes. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
The clans were formally blood groups of different sizes. The smallest productive organization and nomadic community within the clan was the "Awul," people with the same grandfather or father; sometimes they included people without any blood ties, mostly dependent poor herdsmen from without. So, there was a sharp contrast of wealth in the "Awul" of three, five, a dozen or more families. Owing to wars, migration or other causes, such internal blood relations became very loose. *|*
The ruling group was composed of the nobility, tribal chiefs, herd owners and "Bis." The Bis generally came from a rich herdsman's family, were well-versed in the laws, customs and eloquence, and were generally regarded as qualified mediators. The ethnic group did not have any written law, but each clan had its own common law which protected private property, the privileges of the tribal chiefs, and tribal solidarity and unity. Whenever there were disputes over property, marriage or other matters, the "Bi" mediated and handled them in accordance with the clan law, generally practicing "punishment by nine," i.e., compensation of nine head of animals paid by the loser to the winner of the lawsuit. According to the Communist Chinese government: “The Kazakh clan organization was a combination of the feudal system of exploitation and the clan patriarchy. The ruling class plundered the people economically and enjoyed political privileges. The majority of the poor herdsmen were deprived of all rights whatsoever.” *|*
Kazakh Customs and Taboos
The Kazakhs are warm-hearted, sincere and hospitable. They entertain all guests, invited and uninvited alike, with the best things they have -- usually a prize sheep. At dinner, the host presents a dish of mutton with the sheep's head to the guest, who cuts a slice off the right cheek and puts it back on the plate as a gesture of appreciation. He then cuts off an ear and offers it to the youngest among those sitting round the dinner table. He then gives the sheep's head back to the host.[Source: China.org china.org *|*]
The etiquette of the Kazakhs is defined by nomadic lives and Islamic religion. According to Chinatravel.com: “They attach much importance to the birth of new life. After a baby is born, they will hold a three-day celebration, which is called the cradle ceremony. Kazakhs respect the old. They will politely offer tea or meal firstly to the older people. Usually the elder members of the family are firstly seated and then the rest will be seated cross-legged or on knees around the table. The best meat is served to the elderly. When guests come to visit, the host will entertain them with the best foods. For highly honored guests or relatives that haven’t net for years, mutton and horse are entertained. Before eating, the host will firstly bring water, kettle and washbasin for the guest to wash their hands, and then serve the plate with sheep head, rear leg and rib meat in front of the guest. The guest should firstly cut out and eat a piece of meat from the sheep cheek and then the left ear, and give the sheep head to the host. Then every one can start eating together. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
There are lots of taboos in Kazakhs. The following are the main taboos. 1) It is forbidden to eat port, any animals that are not slaughtered or blood of any animal. 2) Animals are usually killed by male. 3) Don’t hold and eat the entire Nang (a kind of crusty pancake) when having meals. 4) It is not allowed to be seated on the bed when in a yurt; instead people should be seated on the floor mat with legs crossed instead of extending the legs. 5) Young people should not drink alcohol in front of old people. 6) When eating or talking with others, it is forbidden to pick noses or ears, spit, or yawn. \=/
7) When visiting, it is provocative or inauspicious if the guest comes rushing to the gate on horse. The guest should slow their horses’ running while approaching the gate. 8) It is considered to be defiant if the guest enters the yurt with horsewhip. 9) The guest should not be seated on the right side of the heating stove, which is the seat of the host. 10) They shouldn’t place food on wooden cabinets or on any daily living goods. The guest should follow the host’s lead. 11) When having meals or drinking milk tea, it is not allowed to stamp on the table cloth or walk over the table. Do not leave until the table is cleaned. 12) If the guest has an emergency and needs to leave, he or she should not walk in front of the host, but rather walk behind people. 13) When the hostess is preparing meals, the guest should not enter the kitchen or the place where food is preparing. 14) The guest should not fiddle with dinnerware or food, nor should they open the pot cover. 15) The guest should drink up the horse milk, and if they don’t drink alcohol, they should at least sip a bit showing gratitude, otherwise, the host will be unhappy. 16) Before and after meals, the host will pour water for the guest to wash hands. Do not slosh after washing hands; wipe hands dry using towels and politely return it to the host. 17) When it too late and if the host asks the guest to stay for the night, do not refuse to use the bedclothes of the host, otherwise the host will lose face. \=/
The Kazakhs believe that Tuesdays and Fridays are inauspicious and they will not go out these days. They pay great attention to odd numbers, especially 7 and 9. The number 7 is the most respected number in their opinion. Number 7 has the most frequent appearance in the folk literary works of Kazakhs. For example, Kazakhs hold cradle and naming ceremonies on the 7th day after the baby is born. Intermarriage is forbidden within 7 generations, while two families who are connected by marriage should be 7 rivers apart from each other. \=/
Constructing a yurt Nomadic Kazakhs have traditionally lived in yurts, circular white felt tents with broad conical roofs and flaps which are opened to let smoke from cooking and heating fires escape. A typical yurt is furnished with chests, tables, cooking stuff and other possession. Rugs cover the floor and people either sit on rugs or on low stools. Yurts are easy to disassemble and transport from place to place.
According to the historical records, Wusun people, the remote ancestors of the Kazakhs, dwelled in yurts. In 105 B.C., a Xijun princess, who married the King of Wusun people, Kunmo, wrote in Yellow Swan Song: "taking the sky as room and felt as wall, taking meat as food and jelly as thick liquid." The reference to felt walls is regarded as evidence that the Kazakhs have lived in yurts for more than 2000 years. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]
Kazakh yurts come in two types: big and small. The big yurt is made up of two parts, the lower part is in cylindrical shape, and the upper part is in round bow shape; the other type is the small yurt, which has a tapered shape. The walls of the yurts are made of felt, grass and woven materials. The frame is made of special red willow wood and resembles collapsible garden fencing. The woven walls are about 1.5 meters in height, and each wall piece is about 3.2 meters in width. Depending on the size, a yurts can be made up of 6 to 12 woven wall pieces. Yurts are is easy to put up, pull down and move. They are warm in winter and cool in summer. They are sturdy and durable: safe in gale-force winds and dry when it is rainy or snowy. ~
The umbrella-like roof is composed of round skylight centerpiece and vaulting poles. The the skylight centerpiece is about one meter in diameter and comprised of red willow wood bent into round shape and drilled with small holes to hold the vaulting poles. The upper ends of the vaulting poles are placed in the small hole, and wrapped up at the connecting point with unprocessed wet camel fur that is allowed to dry in the sun. Thin, semicircle-shaped pieces of wood are imbedded in the skylight centerpiece like a pot bottom facing the sky. The vaulting poles are about three meters in length, The upper part of the pole is perfectly straight, thin and smooth with an arrowhead at the end. The lower part of the vaulting pole has a curved shape. When the felt wall pieces are joined together and bound up into walls, the arrowheads of the vaulting poles are placed into the small holes in the skylight, and the curved parts at the lower end are bound to the crossing part of the woven walls. ~
When the frame of the yurt is finished, colored wattled walls are placed around the woven walls. The wattled walls are the grass curtains woven from achnatherum (needle grass) of the same length, width and size. The grass curtains surrounding the door sides of the yurt are made particular care: every piece of achnatherum is coiled with colored knitting wool, and symmetrical and harmonious patterns that are produced are quite beautiful. When the wattled walls are bound up, woolen felt is placed on the outside of the yurt, and fixed and connected with ropes. The roof and skylight are covered with felt. The skylight cover is movable and is tied with ropes that can be drawn to and fro. At ordinary times, it is open; at night or when it rains or snows, the cover is sealed. The yurt is about 1.40 meters in height. The entrance of the yurt is generally a wood board door with double leaves, carved with various patterns, often related to mountain, water and flowers. Outside it, a door curtain of woven achnatherum and a layer of colored felt. ~
Indoor decorations and furnishings generally set up in a very particular way in accordance with Kazakh customs and beliefs. Some wood boxes and cabinets filled with valuable articles or clothes are placed next to the walls in the part of the tent facing the door. Beddings are rolled up tidily on the sides of the cabinets an covered with colored cloth. The colored felt and cotton-padded cushions are spread around the stove for people to sit on and guests to use. ~
For More on Yurts, See Mongolians
Kazakh Food and Drink
The staples of the Kazak diet are boiled mutton, round, flat crusty bread called nan and tea mixed with sheep or horse milk. Mutton is often eaten in big chunks by hand. They also consume yogurt, milk dough, milk skin, cheese, butter and fermented horse’s milk. Hard bread is dipped into tea with goat's milk. to make it edible. Kazakh boiled mutton tastes pretty much the same as Mongolian boiled mutton.
Kazakhs make butter and various types of curds and cheese from sheep’s milk. Kurt, a kind of dried cheese, made from sour milk, has traditionally been a staple of the Kazakh diet. It is consumed in large amounts in the winter when there is no milk. Other common milk products include yogurt, milk dough, and milk skin.
The favorite dish for many Kazakhs is boiled lamb. It s commonly called bes barmak (“five fingers”), because Kazakhs and other Central Asia people like to eat it in large chunks with their hands. Most of the slaughtering takes place in the fall and the meat is cured by smoking it to make it last. Sausage made from horse meat is another important winter food because it keeps well in the winter.
Horse penis and sheep head are delicacies. Honored guest are offered a specially prepared the sheep head. Eating sheep’s head has a long history in Kazakhstan. It is often served at special meals, with the venerated guest or and older man carving it up. The ears have traditionally gone to children so they listen better. The palate is served to teachers to make them gentle with students.
Chinese Kazakhs mainly live on wheat-based food, beef, mutton, horse meat, cream, butter, dried milk, milk tofu and crisp cheese. Usually they would like to make flour into fried pastry, pancakes, pastry slices and noodles with soup. Many kinds of food are made of meat, butter, milk, rice and flour. Their drinks are mainly milk, ewe’s milk and Manaizi. They especially prefer Manaizi, is a kind of fermented horse milk. Tea enjoys an important position in their daily diet. They mainly consume brick tea and Fucha (a kind of fungus growing tea). Milk tea is made by adding milk into tea. Tea with goat's milk is popular. Kazakhs dip hard bread into to make it edible. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Kazakhs are big drinkers despite of the Muslim prohibition on alcohol. In Kazakhstan men mostly drink vodka. Straight. Cognac is considered a ladies drink. Kazakhstan makes its own version. Alcohol is regarded as the glue of friendship. Toasts are features of big events and declining a drink is considered rude. An evening is not considered complete until many bottles have been finished.
Kazakhs drink Koumiss. Kazakhs like to say that koumiss makes your eyes sharper, your feet stronger and your soul younger, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz also like to drink bozo, a frothy drink made from boiled and fermented millet or other grain. Kazakhs, Turkmen and Karakalpak nomad like to drink shubat, fermented camel's milk. Camel’s milk can be fermented because it has a high sugar content.
Generally made in the summer, koumiss is the traditional beverage the Kyrgyz, Mongols and Kazakhs. To make it: 1) fresh horse milk or camel milk is stored in leather churns; 2) yeast is added; 3) then the mixture is stirred continuously, heated and fermented fore three or four days until it is ready to drink. Koumiss contains a little alcohol and it is very hard to get drunk off it. Kazakhs and Kyrgyz regard it as a healthy drink: full of protein, minerals, vitamins and sugar. They have been fond of it since ancient times. ~
Traditional Kazakh clothes are closely linked with the nomadic lifestyle and have traditionally been made from woven sheep or camel wool, thin felts, skins and furs. Silk, cotton and other materials were obtained through trade with Central Asia, China and Russia. Horse-riding Kazakh herdsmen have traditionally worn in loose, long-sleeved furs and garments made of animal skins. The garments vary among different localities and tribe.
Nomadic Kazakhs dress in boots and goatskin cloaks. Men often wear fur hats or caps similar to those worn by rural Turks. Women cover their head in the traditional Muslim fashion. Many traditional clothes are similar to those of Mongols, Tatars and other horsemen. The poor have traditionally made clothes from home-woven sheep or camel wool. The rich used finer cloth, often brightly-colored heavy cloth, velvet, or silk. Most Kazakhs, especially urban ones, dress in Western cloths. In rural areas you are sometimes more likely to see traditional clothes, especially among older people. Traditional clothes are often worn as expression of Kazakh pride.
In winter, the men usually wear sheepskin shawls, and some wear overcoats padded with camel hair, with a belt decorated with metal patterns at the waist and a sword hanging at the right side. The trousers are mostly made of sheepskin. Women wear red dresses and in winter they don cotton-padded coats, buttoned down the front. Girls like to sport embroidered cloth leggings bedecked with silver coins and other silver ornaments, which jangle as they walk. Herdsmen in the Altay area wear square caps of baby-lamb skin or fox skin covered with bright-colored brocade, while those in Ili sport round animal-skin caps. Girls used to decorate their flower-patterned hats with owl feathers, which waved in the breeze. All the women wear white-cloth shawls, embroidered with red-and-yellow designs. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]
Kazakh Men’s Clothes
Traditional clothes for men consist of and an undershirt and pants, which are sometimes worn alone in the summer. In the winter they wear a long beru kavka or beshemt (knee-length, long-sleeve quilted coat, narrow at the top, wide at the bottom) or a shapan (a robe with long sleeves, tapered from the shoulders to the fingers, with a stand up collar and worn with a belt).
Depending on the weather men can wear one to several layers of shapans. When it gets really cold they wear coats made from sheepskin, often lined with the skins or fur of lambs, ferrets, marten or fox, along with outer trousers made of skins adorned with ornaments, especially among the rich.
A belt is an essential part of the traditional costume. It can be worn over the shapan or trousers and was often decorated with silver plates and precious stones. Kazakh horsemen wear high-heeled boots made of strong, sewn-together skins and goatskin cloaks. They traditionally have trucked their cloak and coats into the their leather riding trousers.
The traditional winter headgear of Kazakhs is the tymak, a pointed fur cap with earflaps of lamb’s wool or even sable fur, with a felt base covered by heavy cloth. The traditional summer headgear of Kazakhs is the kalpak, a hat made with thin white felt with bent-back era flaps. In the Soviet era these hats fell out of favor as many Kazakhs began wearing factory-made Russian style hats. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, traditional Kazakhs style hats are back in favor again and have become symbols of Kazakh pride.
Traditionally men have always covered their heads. They also wear fur hats or caps similar to those worn by rural Turks, scull caps or bashlyks (a pointed cap with flaps over the ears and neck). In some places they wear turbans. Even at night men often wear a tyibeteika (Central Asia embroidered skullcap).
In China, male Kazakhs like wearing clothes and trousers, which are made of cotton, fleece, corduroy and gabardine. Dark colors, such as black and coffee, are popular. In winter, Kazakhs are mainly dressed in fur coats and chaps which are made of materials such as sheepskin, wolf skin, fox skin and skins of other animals. For the convenience of getting on and off the horse, trousers are made of sheepskin into baggy-shaped crotches. The trousers are baggy and durable. The shirts are usually made into turtle neck with decorative borders embroidered on it. They wear a short coat outside of the waist jacket which covers the shirt. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Kazakh Women’s Clothes
Traditional clothes for Kazakh women include trousers, like those worn by the men, and a shirt as undergarments. Sometimes instead of a shirt, they wear a long, cotton tunic-shaped dress. This dress is often white. Older women was usually wear black or a dark color. Young women often wear bright red ones. Unmarried women have traditionally worn stripes of green, orange and white. Beginning in the mid 19th century women began wearing this dress taken in at the waist and attached a wide lower part at the gathers. Sometimes the lower part is adorned with embroidery and covered with braids and silk ribbons. Often there are three or four rows of frills at the hem.
Over the dress women wear a knee-length sleeve tunic, with an open, stand-up collar and a clasp at the belt and sleeveless a beshmet (see men above) made from thick cotton, wool, silk or velvet. Red, green and raspberry velvet beshmets were particularly prized. A woman’s beshmet s sometimes has a stand up collar, and is worn with a brightly-colored decorated velvet waistcoat and lots of jewelry. In the winter Kazakh women have traditionally worn robes or sheepskin overcoats. Traditional footwear consists of leather boots that are identical whether worn on the right foot or left. The toes are slightly turned up. These days many women favor light, low-heeled shoes.
Kazakh women, especially rich ones, are fond of wearing silver jewelry, including bracelets. earrings and breast pedants. Some have religious significance. In the past women were sometimes regarded as unclean if they didn’t wear any jewelry on their arms. As with the men no traditional costume is complete without an elaborately decorated belt.
In China, Kazakh females like to wear in different styles, according to their ages. Young girls like wearing one-piece dresses with wide lower hems and beautiful embroidered flowers on the sleeves; then wear a tight waistcoat with beautiful embroidered images and colorful decorations. \=/
Kazakh Women’s Headgear
Kazakh women traditionally have worn a great variety of headgear, that were often indicators of age, marital status family position and clan. The traditional hat is conical in shape and trimmed with fur and adorned with crane plumes or owl feathers, which are believed to protect the wearer. These days many women wear head coverings in accordance with Muslim traditions. Those that don’t are looked down upon by the older generation. Often the head covering is no more than a babushka- style headscarf.
Married women have traditionally worn a long white headscarf which is folded across the front of the head with the ends left hanging down the back. Younger women have traditionally worn an embroidered round velvet hat with a feather on the back. The most expressive form of this hat, the saukele, was worn by young women. Resembling something worn by a wizard, they are tall (70 centimeters) cones of felt, covered with expensive fabric and richly embroidered and decorated with hanging pendants, balls of fur, precious stones and pieces of coral. They often had ribbons and kerchiefs attached to the back. The ones owned by rich families were quite valuable and were passed down from generation to generation.
A year after they get married women are allowed to wear a kimeshek, the head covering of a married woman. It is a kind of cowl that covers the head, shoulders, breast and back in a traditional Muslim fashion. Those worn by young and middle aged women are often elaborately decorated. Those worn by elderly women are more plain. Different clans wear different variations with different cuts, embroidery patterns and dimensions of the sections worn over the back. Traditionally, women wore the kimesheck at home and covered it with a white turban when they went out.
In China, unmarried women like wearing hats such as Takeya, Bie’erke and Tete’er. The hat Takeya is made of colorful satin with wide lower edges. The hat has embroidered images of flowers, trailing beads and a feather of owl stuck on the top. The hat Bie’erke is a round hat made of otter skin. It looks like Takeya, but it has scarf of various colors tied on it in summer. The hat Tete’er is a square headwear with various embroidered images. It is usually folded and tied on the head. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Kazakh Horse Racing
Horse racing is a traditional entertainment and sports activity that is deeply loved by Kazakhs. Traditionally it has been held at large weddings as the main entertainment event. Once the horse racing ends, the celebration is over. Kazakh horse racing comes in two forms: fine horse racing and galloping horse racing. The fine horse racing is a test of skill, comparing the galloping speed, durability and galloping technique. The participating horses are generally adult horses that are five year old or older. The riders are adults. When racing, the riders have to display outstanding riding skills. They not only need to make the horses gallop steadily, but they must also make animals maintain a graceful, galloping movement. Galloping horse racing is a race of speed and endurance. There are classifications for adult horses, one-year-old horses and studs. The participating riders are generally boys 12 to 13 years old. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
The time and place of major horse races is announced way in advance. The participants make preparations two to three years in advance and train specially ofr a specific event. The Kazakhs attach great importance to raising and training racing horses. They believe that in addition to proper breeding, horse types, blood relationship, body form and posture, the key for the horse to become a champion lies in its training and the skills of the horse trainer. There are professionals that choose and train horses.
Participating riders wear red and white clothes. The hair and tail of the racing horses must be woven or bound with colored cloth strips. In this way the tail does not get in the way of the galloping horse and the colored cloth helps to identify individual horses and riders. The racing distance is generally 20 to 30 kilometers, sometimes the track is in straight line, and sometimes it has turns, around the grassland. Winners bring honor to their whole clan and tribe. When a rider finishes the race, it rider shouts the slogans of his own clan and tribe. At this time, all the people of same tribe echo the slogan together.
Kazakh "Snatching Sheep"
Snatching sheep is a fierce team sport played on horseback by Kazakh. Also played by the Kyrgyz and Afghani, it integrates sports and entertainment and is a test of strength, courage and riding skills. Generally held on a flat, open grassland, the sport is often the featured event of a festival or an event such as a arge wedding. The equivalent of a ball is a sheep or goat or a sheep or goat stuffed with sand. The object of the game is to escape with the stuffed sheep. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
Participants in a snatching sheep competition belong to two teams. The competition begin when each team send one its riders to snatch the “ball.” The rider who gets to the stuffed sheep first grabs the hind legs, and with both hands and presses it onto the saddle. Members of the other team try grab the sheep's forelegs and pulls the sheep away from the rider who is holding it. Sometimes the struggle for the ball can be quite fierce and riders have been seriously injured and even died. It requires the systematic cooperation, human strength and horse strength to excel in this sport, with the strongest person and the strongest team snatching and holding the sheep and scoring goals. ~
In some competitions there are several rounds of individual sheep snatching with a competitor from each team trying to be the first to grab and control the stuffed sheep. After this is the real event when both teams go after a single stuffed sheep—and a mad free-for-all begins. The riders rush up in a crowd trying to grab the sheep. The person that takes the sheep whips his horse and gallops off, other riders take off after him as quickly as possible. When they catch up with him, a fierce tussle for the sheep begin. When they are locked together, sometimes several hundred riders surround the rider with the sheep, pushing and squeezing from left to right and front to back. Once a rider has full possession of the sheep, the riders on his team set up screens for and try to protect him as he whips his horse and gallops off. Riders on the other team run after him or block him, and try to wrestle the sheep away. If a rider manages to escape with the sheep and riders of the other team can not catch him, the rider's team win the competition. In some places, the game cannot come to an end until the sheep is thrown to an appointed yurt. That evening, the host of the yurt happily entertains everyone at a party at his yurt. The Kazakh people believe that the mutton of this sheep can help them to cure sickness and meet good luck.
There is another type of snatching sheep which involves a single rider. First, the prepared sheep is left on the arena. Two riders, each representing their team, begin to snatch the sheep from each other on the horseback. The person with the greater strength and appropriate skills usually wins. The snatchers cannot gallop, they can only snatch within the arena, which is as large as two to three basketball courts. This competition depends on the number of participants, and is generally run as a single elimination tournament.
Girls Chasing Guys on Horseback
Kazakh sports and entertainment activities on horseback are generally held on wedding days and festivals. One of the biggest crowd pleasers is the girl chasing a young fellow on horseback event. The event begins when a pair of male and female riders ride bridle to bridle to the appointed point. When going there, the young fellow can amuse and make fun of the girl, even kissing and hugging her. According to custom, no matter what he does the girl can not get angry. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
When reaching the appointed place, the young fellow whips his horse and gallops off, with the girl in hot pursuit. When the girl catches the young fellow, she can wave her whip around his head, and even can beat him to retaliate for his teasing, and the young fellow cannot strike back. However, generally the girl will not really beat him, especially if the girl likes the young fellow. Often she only raises her whip and lowers it lightly. But, if she does not like the young fellow, and the young fellow ruthlessly teased and mocked her, the girl can caste courtesy aside and violently whip the guy. In the past, this activity was a means in which Kazakh youths locked in to arranged marriages by parents, could escape them. Many young people who got to know each other on horseback, sprouted love, and finally got married. Nowadays, it mostly a spectator sports, with many married people participating in it. ~
There are many interesting legends as to how "the girl chasing after the young fellow" game originated. According to one legend: Long long ago, the heads of two Kazakh tribes became relatives by the marriage of their son and daughter. On the wedding day, the groom’s feather lead an entourage to welcome the bride and bragged that his son’s horse was a winged steed chosen from many good horses. When the father of the bride heard this, to show off his own horse and his daughter's riding skill, he said: "My daughter will run in opposite direction to your destination, if your young fellow can catch up with my daughter, they can get married today, otherwise, it will be negotiated later." The bridegroom was eager to get married, so he was unwilling to be outshone and agreed the challenge conditions. The two youths got on their horses at once, the girl whipped her horse and galloped off, with the young fellow in pursuit. When he caught up with the girl and went ahead of her, the girl said the young fellow could run first, and she would chase after him. ~
Training and Raising Falcons the Kazakh Way
The Kazakhs have a tradition of teaching tamed falcons and eagles to hunt. Ancient hunters had no guns or other modern hunting tools, so they usually used hunting dogs or tamed falcons to capture animals. The key of falcon hunting is the training and taming the falcons. After hunters captured wild falcons, they put all their energy into carefully feeding and taking care of them. They made leather head covers and blinders for them, and flew them and trained them every day. When fully trained falcons used their sharp claws to capture foxes, rabbits, various birds and small animals—even wolves and Mongolian gazelles. Kazakhs are most famous for hunting with golden eagles, but they have also been known to train northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, saker falcons, and others. The famed eagle hunters are found in western Mongolia, not China or Kazakhstan. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
Before taming them, the Kazakhs fed good meat to the falcons, and let them become plump and strong as quickly as possible. But at this time, the fat on the falcon made it relatively weak; and the bird could not become strong until the fat was turned into muscle. To do this the hunters reduced the amount of fat of the falcons. They not only did not feed the birds, but also “washed their stomach.” Then they used hot water to bathe the falcon, and let it sweat all over. In the evening, the falcon was placed on a thick rope that was specially used to tame it. The falcon could not stand steadily, and the hunter used a stick to steadily beat a rope under it. The rope shook unceasingly, and the falcon could not sleep. This was called "torturing the falcon". When the falcon was so tired it couldn’t stand it anymore, it fell to the ground. At this time, the hunter used clean water to wash the falcon's head, and let it drink some tea or salted water. Under these conditions, the falcon became very thin only in a few days, and lose their spirit.~
At this time, the hunter began taming the falcon. He placed in special blinders on the head of the falcon, and did not let it see anything, and then fed it some rabbits, pigeons, little birds and other animals' meat. This helped to eliminate the bird’s fear and hostility to man. Then, the hunting training began. One falcon has sixteen sections of tail feathers. It takes off, brakes, glides, and captures animals through the coordination of these sixteen tail feather sections. At the time of training, these sixteen sections of feather were bound up one by one. The string around feathers could not be too tight or too loose: the falcon could not fly if it was too tight, and it would flee if it were too loose. ~
On the training ground, some rabbits and pigeons were tied with ropes. When everything was ready, the hunter would take the blinders off the falcon and let it fly to capture the animals and eat until had enough. In the next step of training, the hunter did not let the falcon eat the animals after it captured them, and did this repeatedly for many times, until finally letting the bird eat. After a certain time, several pieces of feather would be loosened, and then all of them would be loosened. Half a month later, the falcon would be completely tamed. When testing the result of taming, the hunter placed some meat in the house and induced the falcon to eat. If the falcon came to eat, he succeeded and could use the falcon to hunt. When feeding the falcon, the hunter only gave it lean meat and would not let it have enough to be full. This was because "the satisfied falcon would not capture bags". When not hunting, the falcon's blinders and feet blocks were kept on. This was called "not setting free the falcon until the hunting objectives emerge". ~
When hunting, the hunter carried the falcon with his left hand, whipped his horse with his right hand and galloped very fast, with hunting dogs running excitedly behind him, keeping a close watch on the objective animals. After choosing an appropriate place, the hunter quickly removed the falcon's blinders, and took off the feet block. Blowing a whistle, the hunter let the hungry and agitated falcon fly up like a sparrow, and quickly swoop down on its astonished prey. It didn’t matter whether the prey animal was flying in the sky or running on the ground, the sharp eyes and great strength of the agile falcon allowed it to capture their prey alive in a short moment. A good falcon could capture several hundred animals every year. No wonder, the Kazakhs say, “you can hardly exchange a good falcon with a good horse.” ~
Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015