Kazakh wedding
Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims. Their marriage and wedding customs have traditionally been in line with Islamic law and customs. In accordance with their nomadic clan traditions, there are strict taboos preventing marriages to relatives going back seven generations. Such taboo helps to prevent inbreeding and ensure the health of future offspring. Breaking of this taboo has traditionally been a very serious matter, resulting in banishment from a clan or even death. The first son was expected to get married first, followed by second son and so. Child marriages have traditionally been a common custom.

Citizens officially come of age in Kazakhstan at the age of 18. The country's law on marriage and family specify the marriage minimum age of 18 years for both for men and women. Marriages to Kazakhs of relatively equal status outside clan restriction are ideal. Sometimes marriages to other ethnic groups occurs, particularly between Kazakh men and Turkic-speaking women in the old days and between Kazakhs and other Soviet ethnic groups in the Soviet era. Marriages between Kazakh men and non-Muslim women have traditionally been discouraged. Marriages between Kazakh women and non-Muslim men, in the old days, was forbidden and is still not condoned.

The Kazakh people usually practiced monogamy, but in the old days, polygamy was practiced. There are a number of different marriage and wedding customs. The most common was arranged by relatives or by a matchmaker and sealed with the payment of a bride price called a “kalyn”, usually in the form of horses, sheep or cattle, and sometimes involving a hundred animals. In return the bride’s family was expected to provide a dowry, which often included a yurt. After the wedding, the newlywed couple went to live with the groom’s family. In accordance with Islamic law some men took four wives, sometimes marrying sisters, and widows were married to brothers of their deceased husbands. [Source:]

Child Marriages and Bride Kidnapping in Kazakhstan

In the old days, young teenage marriages were commonplace and some couples were betrothed to each other by their parents when they were infants in so-called cradle-betrothals. These were worked out by the father of the future groom and bride shortly after they were born.

Bridal kidnappings—a tradition practiced among nomadic horse people but frowned upon by Islam—was also practiced. Sometimes the kidnaping took place with the consent of the bride’s parents. Sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes the bride was taken without her consent. Afterwards the couple asked the bride’s parents for forgiveness and were duly forgiven. Bridal kidnaping continues. These days it is often an orchestrated even worked about by parents. After the bride is "kidnapped" the parents negotiate a bride price.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years, which can be reduced to 16 years in the case of pregnancy or mutual agreement. NGOs noted several cases of marriage under 18 years, especially in the south. Traditionally couples first married in mosques, and when the bride reached the legal age, the marriage would be registered officially. The government did not take any action to address this issue. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kazakhstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The criminal code has a prison sentence of eight to 10 years for kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility if in this action he/she did not commit another offense. Because of this law, a typical bride kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible for the act. Cases were typically not pursued, as families and victims usually withdrew their complaints, finding ways to resolve the problem privately. In 2013 only 17 percent of victims sought assistance from law enforcement agencies, while 51 percent counted on support from relatives. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to sort their situation out themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very bureaucratic process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation. The government did not take action to address this issue. *\

Kazakh Weddings

In the Soviet era, Soviet style weddings were the rule (See Russia). At so called “youth weddings” a city hall marriage ceremony was combined with a gathering of relatives, friends and acquaintances, at which refreshments are served from a common table. These days both Russian-style and traditional Kazakh-style weddings are practiced. In many cases the wedding celebration simply involves having a big feast with family and friend that ends with the delivery of the bride’s dowry.

The marriage and wedding process of the Kazakhs can be very complicated with most of the action taking place at the bride’s home, ideally four times. First, the man proposes, when his parents or a go-between bring gifts to the home of the female. If the female’s family agrees, they accept the gifts, entertain the messenger and agree on a date of engagement. Second is the engagement, the most important ceremony of the wedding process, representing the life-long bonds between the bride and groom. Activities include sending gifts, killing sheep and stamping over water. Third, sending betrothal gifts prepared by the female party for marriage. The numbers of clothes, skirts, quilts and towels should be odd numbers. And finally, forth, getting married. [Source: \=/]

Two ceremonies are held in the home of the groom. One is gifts showing. The male part should choose an auspicious day to show to the public what he has prepared for the bride. The second one is going to the bride's home to escort her back to the wedding and unveil the wedding veil. The size and elaborateness of the ceremonies varies, but in each ceremony, there are many entertainment activities held, such as banquets, singing and dancing. \=/

Kazakh Wedding Preliminaries

The marriage process formally began with a meeting with a matchmaker in which the size and terms of the bride price were worked out. In accordance with Kazakh traditions, after a partial payment of the brideprice was paid, the young man was allowed to meet with the bride in secret. After the entire brideprice was paid the date for the wedding was set.

Traditionally, sequence of the ceremonies and rituals related to a marriage is the following. Any wedding ceremony in the Kazakh society is anticipated by kudalyk (matchmaking). Before the wedding, matchmakers come to bride's house. Their task is to agree with the closest relatives of a girl on her marriage. During courtship, father of the bride receives gifts from the guests that serve as a deposit. If negotiations are successful, the father, in turn, presents a coat to the main matchmaker. This custom is called “Shege Sapa”. Preparation of "kuyruk bauyr" — a delicious dish made with the liver and broad tail fat — also testifies to the successful completion of courtship. [Source:, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

The next stage of the ceremony is sendoff of the bride Kyz uzatu. In the evening before the Kyz uzatu matchmakers come to the bride's house again. Number of visitors should not be even (5-7). Early in the morning, the bride with matchmakers is sent to the groom's house. Solemn ceremony of meeting the bride in the groom’s house is called kel?n tus?ru. The main element of kelin tisiru is a traditional performance of a song of instructions and wishes - Betashar.

Kazakh Wedding Ceremony

The formal wedding ceremony usually took place at the bride’s yurt and was overseen by a mullah. Afterwards party was held, songs were sung, everyone drank koumiss and the bride and the groom set off for the groom’s yurt in a procession with relatives and friends. The bride was masked with a veil and escorted to the house of the groom by the groom and his family.

In the groom's home the wedding party gathered around a fire and sung songs that detailed the duties of the future wife. Later the groom’s family used a stick to lift the bride’s veil and examine her face and gifts were presented by the guests. Sometime the marriage was sanctified when the couple took sips from the same cup and had sweets tossed at them. The use of fire in the wedding is a tradition that dates back to era of ancient horsemen like the Scythians, who used fire in many important ceremonies.

In the old days, when the Kazakhs practiced a nomadic lifestyle, the yurt of newlyweds was located behind the house of the groom’s parents. According to the tradition, the first threshold of the yurt was to be crossed by the bride, who made sure to do it with her right foot. During the wedding ceremony, the couple must drink together a bowl of water with dissolved sugar and salt. This ritual is considered as a guarantor of a happy family life.

Many Underage Girls in Kazakhstan Forced into Marriage

Nearly 5 percent of Kazakh girls under the age 18 are already married a 2012 study by Kazakhstan’s National Commission for Women, Family and Demographic Policy reported. "The study showed that approximately 5 percent of girls in Kazakhstan aged 15 to 18 are already married...The study conducted together with the Women's League of Creative Initiative... revealed facts of forced marriage, especially among underage girls, which is a penal offence," said Gulshara Abdykalikova, presidential advisor and head of the commission, said. [Source: Kyiv Post, October 19, 2012]

The Kyiv Post reported: “According to Abdykalikova, the highest rate of underage marriage is recorded in Akmola, Mangistau and South Kazakhstan regions, though the actual statistics are hard to come by, as many marriages are not legally registered. Abdykalikova noted that the Criminal Code does not sanction bride kidnapping, while the low legal literacy of young girls is also part of the problem. "It is obvious that early marriages are damaging: they strip girls of childhood, obstruct their development and education and endanger their health. Apart from that, they lead to frequent unplanned pregnancies and even suicide attempts. Regrettably, Kazakhstan has the third highest suicide rate after Lithuania and Korea," she said.

Presidential Candidate Promises Husbands for Kazakhstan's Single Women

A candidate in Kazakhstan's 2011 presidential election proposed solving Kazakhstan’s problem of too many unmarried women by marrying them off as second wives. Richard Orange wrote in The Telegraph, “Amantay Asilbek is bringing a little colour to the Central Asian republic's depressingly predictable poll with his traditional Kazakh dress, eccentric antics and colourful views. "In Kazakhstan, there are a lot of single women, and it is a national tragedy, because we lose potential mothers," Mr Asilbek said in an interview with Adam, a local magazine. "I think polygamy would solve this problem." [Source: Richard Orange, The Telegraph, February 18, 2011 ~|~]

“Mr Asilbek, 70, went on to say that he, himself, had considered a second wife. "Young girls often come to my home, dreaming of becoming my wives. But none of them could so far pass the 'quality test' of my current wife." The Kazakh air, he claimed, made men remain virile into old age. "From the earliest times in the Kazakh steppe, elder men were able to father children up until their eighties and nineties," he said. "That's because when they are close to nature, men do not lose their strength." ~|~

“Mr Asilbek's views bear a passing resemblance to those of Sacha Baron Cohen's creation Borat Sagdiyev, who frequently talked about his multiple wives in his TV series. In the 2006 hit film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Borat told a meeting of American feminists: "In Kazakhstan it is illegal for more than five woman to be in the same place, except for in brothel or in grave." ~|~

“Mr Asilbek, who campaigns on an Islamic and a nationalist platform, began his political life as a serious campaigner on nuclear and other issues. He first tried to run as president back in 1998, but was rejected. He successfully qualified to contest the election in 2005, but failed to win many votes. To the disappointment of Kazakhstan's apathetic electorate, however, his chances of staying in the campaign until the vote on April 3, are now looking slim. By December 20, he must turn up to take a gruelling test of proficiency in Kazakh language, a hurdle that has already tripped up three out of fifteen prospective candidates, and then collect at least 90,000 signatures. “ ~|~

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Last updated April 2016

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