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Culture and Traditions


Kazaks love to celebrate holidays and special occasions. During these times, Kazaks often dress in their traditional Kazak clothes. Villages or city neighborhoods will set up yurts nearby where they host elaborate meals. Kazaks will frequently go to visit friends and family, bearing gifts of flowers and candy. Games, horseracing, singing contests and dancing are also part of the traditions associated with celebrations.

a) Calendar of Holidays

The following public holidays are observed in Kazakhstan:

1-2 January New Year
8 March International Women's Day
22 March Nauryz (first day of the Muslim New Year)
1 May Day of Inter-ethnic Accord of the Peoples of Kazakhstan
9 May Victory Day
30 August Constitution Day
25 October Republic Day
16 December Independence Day

b) Nauriz : Holidays in Spring

It is the most ancient festivity of Oriental nations. In fact, it is a New Year's Eve according to the ancient Oriental calendar. It has yet another name "Ulys Kuni"("The first day of the New Year") or "Ulystyn uly kuni" ("The great day of the people"). Kazakhs say that the more you are in celebrating the Nauryz holiday, the greater success will attend you throughout the year. When the holiday comes, Kazakhs would put on festive clothes, pay visits to each other, exchange congratulations, best wishes of well-being and good luck in the coming year. Festivities are accompanied by universal merry-making, games, traditional horse-races, various amusements.

Traditionally they cook and roast and make all sorts of tasty meals during the holidays, for they should symbolize well-being and abundance in the coming year. The feast is usually timed to the noon; it is preceded and followed by a prayer in honor of the fore-fathers read by the mullah. In conclusion the eldest of those present gives his blessings (bata) so that year in year out prosperity be part and parcel of the family. When Kazakhs celebrate Nauryz, presence of the figure of "7" is indispensable. It embodies 7 days of the week - time units of universal eternity: in front of aksakals ("white beards" or old men) they would put 7 bowls with the drink of "Nauryz-kozhe", prepared of 7 grades of 7 types of cereals.

c) Kurban Bayram (Eid al-Adhaa)

Is a religious holiday among Muslims; Easter and Christmas among Christians. Traditionally they choose the best ship and cook different tasty meals. During this holiday people visit each other, tables (dastarkhan) are fool of food, everyone is welcome this day.


a) Berkutchi : Hunting with a golden eagle

Berkutchi is a tradition that has already been practiced for ten centuries. Kazakhs say that presenting a youngster with a fledgling of a hunting bird is tantamount to wishing him to be brave and strong young fellow.

Virtually training of a golden eagle is a rare and painstaking art. The bird just caught is being slowly trained to its master (a berkutchi). For the purpose the man doesn't get a wink of sleep for several nights with the bird being subjected to similar discomfort. The bird must take food (pieces of raw meat) from its master's hand only. When the eagles has got used to the hunter, its horse and its dog, it undergoes training: first It "hunts" stuffed foxes and only then proceeds with real hunting. Many songs and ballads were composed about these hunting birds and their masters.

b) National Games: Kyz Kuu and Kakpar

Kyz Kuu ("Overtake the girl") is the game where young boys and girls are participants. The girl on the horse does her best to gallop from the young man but as soon as the latter tries to overtake (approach) her she lashes him with a whip. If, up to a certain place, the young boy fails to overtake her she would "reward" him with whipping again. When the luckiest catch up with the girl, he snatches a headscarf out of her teeth. If he is successful he earns a kiss.

Kokpar ("Fighting for a goat's carcass") is the most popular Kazakh game. It takes its origin from an ancient tradition according to which, one who wants to get rid of evil, should sacrifice a goat. Up to 1,000 horsemen take part in the game. The game unfolds on an almost infinite steppe range. On the opposite ends of an immense field they arrange goals of teams - adversaries. It is into them that the symbolic carcass of the goat should be thrown, while the throw proper is preceded by a desperate flight between the teams to get hold of the carcass.


a) Wedding ceremony

In Kazakh traditions wedding lasts 40 days beginning with matchmaking. Either the fiancé sends matchmakers to his bride's parents, or he abducts his fiancée. In the first case the matchmakers, who are the fiancé's relatives, bring rich gifts to the bride's parents and ask their consent to the marriage. This negotiation is called the kudaga tusu. If the bride' parents agree, then they fix the kalym (ransom) for the bride and the wedding day.
Sometimes it is the bride who has the right to choose to accept the offer. Instead of direct refusal, the girl would give man some difficult and almost unrealizable task. A legend tells about such a case. Abylai Khan fell in love with a beautiful girl from a poor family. But she already had her intended - an ordinary warrior. As to not hurt Abylai Khan's feelings and bring his anger on her family, the girl requested Khan shoot an arrow beyond the mountain near a lake. The girl went to a rock in the middle of the lake to watch the competition. However hard Khan tried to shoot the arrow high in the sky, it would not rise beyond the mountain. Since then, the mountain is called Okzhetpes, which means "unachievable with an arrow". The girl had decided that if Khan fulfilled her task, she would jump from the rocky island onto the stones protruding out of the water. That is why the lake is called Zhumbaktas, which means "a riddle-stone".

b) Betashar

The beautiful custom of betashar- the ceremony of unveiling the bride's face - arose from the fact that in olden days the groom would rarely have seen his intended prior to the wedding. The bride in all her finery, her face veiled, is presented to the groom and his relatives. The master of ceremonies, usually an akyn (bard), introduces the bride to all the wedding guests. During the wedding the bride sits behind shymyldyk - a festive curtain which conceals her from strangers' glances. Any wedding is accompanied by contests and games. Young people compete in telling jokes. Aksakals ("white beards") listen to the akyns improvising on serious social issues. Jigits (horsemen) compete in wrestling, archery and horse racing. The idea behind all the revelry is the union of two hearts, two families and two clans. After the feast the newlyweds leave for their own yurt accompanied by a wedding song -zhar-zhar - about the joning of two halves into a single whole.

c) The birth of a baby

Without doubt this is a momentous occasion in any family. For forty days after the birth, no one but immediate family may see the mother and the baby. Interestingly, it is not for Kazakhs to celebrate the birthdays, only mushel zhas when the Oriental twelve-year cycle comes to an end and the year of the person's birth repeats.

d) 40 days

When a baby is forty days old, he is given a name at the morning call to the prayer (azan). The name is usually chosen by the eldest relative or the mullah. After reading allowed some sacred words from the Koran, the mullah pronounces the child's name three times into his ear. It has long been considered lucky to be born on Nauryz. The most important part of the ceremony is the washing of the baby. The women pour forty spoons of water into a bowl, throw some silver coins and ornaments into it, and bathe the baby in this water. After the bath the baby's head is shaven and his nails are cut, and the silver is distributed among all the women present. The vest, which the baby wore until his fortieth day, is filled with sweets, tied into a bundle and hung round a dog's neck. The sweets are grabbed by the children who manage to catch the dog and untie the bundle, while vest is taken by a childless woman - in a hope of having a baby.

e) Cutting the hobble

When a child is only just beginning to walk, he undergoes another ancient ritual - cutting the hobble. A hobble - a rope wound around the legs in a figure-of-eight - is tied around the child's legs. The child takes a few steps, then the hobble is cut by the most respected guest, one whose life is worthy example. By cutting the hobbles he blesses the baby to go through his own life more successfully.


"It seems to me all the Kazak steppes are singing" -- Zataevich (a famous Kazak author). Music is a very important part of Kazak life. Nowadays they know about more than 50 varieties of Kazakh musical instruments. Each of them produces specific sounds and requires particular manner of playing it. To manufacture musical instruments they use such materials as wood, reed, cane leather, bane, horn, horse's hair.

Dombra - an instrument most widespread among the people, manufactured of one piece of wood, commonly a two-string one. There actually exist two ways of playing a dombra: by striking the strings with the fingers and by "nibbling" them separately. Its sounds accompany competitions of improvising poets.

Kobyz - an ancient Kazakh bow two-string musical instrument manufactured in the form of a scoop out of on piece of wood. A legend about the kobyz says once, Genghis Khan ordered the spine of his favorite but stubborn son Dzhuchi to be broken. According to custom, anyone who told bad news to the master was condemned to death. When the corpse of Khan's son was found, no one dared to bring this awful news. People asked a respected singer akyn to help in the situation. Akyn took his kobyz and began playing. Sad were the kobyz' sounds. When Genghis Khan understood that his son is dead, the news brought the cruel warrior to tears.

Aitys - a competition of improvisators in performing songs, one of traditional manifestation of oral folk poetic arts. It is deeply rooted in ancient times and stems from in ritual and every-day songs, in chorus-like songs-dialogues exchanged by young boys. Not infrequently they raised quite topical issues of social life when staging aityses. An aitys is full of dynamics, it requires particular quickness and brightness, an uncommonly fine wit and improvisation skills. Akyns accompany their poetic contests with their playing a dombra or a kobyz. An aitys of akyns is essentially a topmost manifestation of improvisation skills. Usually it is staged at folk festivals, fairs and the like. Initiating the singing contest its participants - akyns - must be uncommonly quick in finding witty repartees to sudden questions, in instant countering the adversary's gibes and sneers. The brighter and wittier is the improvised fireworks of words produced by the akyn, the more chances for him to come victorious out of this battle.

From time immemorial Kazakhstan has been known for its singers - representatives of the folklore musical and poetic culture. They used to call them: Akyn - a poet, a singer and improvisator; Zhyrau - author and performer of epic things; Anshi or Olenshi - song-performers. There have been recorded plentiful specimens of poetic arts: terme, zyr, tolgau.

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