While around 40% of the population of Kazakhstan lives in rural areas, this is overwhelmingly in settled, not nomadic, communities, although some pastoralists do still move animals seasonally. Nonetheless, the traditions and artefacts of nomadism lie at the heart of Kazakh culture. The yurt, hunting with eagles, and a dish of beshbarmak are invoked frequently in the symbolism of the post-independence state, whether by government sources or advertisements on television. Epic poetry, recounted by akyns, and accompanied by dombra playing, remains popular, and some young Kazakh pop bands are experimenting with the use of traditional Kazakh instruments and musical styles alongside Western ones. Horsemeat remains a revered part of the Kazakh diet, even if the urban elite has also developed a decided fondness for sushi. Traditional chunky silver jewellery is in vogue among young Kazakhs keen to explore their ethnic identity.
Following independence, there has been an attempt by the authorities to further promote Kazakh cultural traditions, though with some awareness of the need to also balance this with the cultures of the other ethnic groups present in Kazakhstan. Traditional horse-based sports are a good example, where at race tracks across the country you may find, especially on public holidays, performances of some of the games dating back to Kazakh nomadism alongside Western-style horse races. One of the most popular is kokpar, whose rules are basically about horsemen grabbing the carcass of a headless goat and scoring a goal with it. The rules of the game have however been modernised: there is even a federation governing the sport.
Rather than the scrums of old, there is a marked pitch and four players from each side are on the field at any one time. Unlike kokpar, kyz kuu ('catch the girl') is regarded more as a piece of fun than serious sport: on the outward leg of this two-horse race, whose participants usually wear traditional Kazakh costumes, boy chases girl, aiming to kiss her if he catches her. On the return journey girl chases boy, her objective being to give him a good thrashing with her horse whip. Another horse based sport enjoying a revival is alaman baiga, a long-distance horse race, which originated with the need of the nomadic Kazakhs to promote endurance in horses. The jockeys are by tradition small boys.
The way in which Kazakh traditions have often been preserved, sometimes revived, but also adapted for changing times (in which they sit alongside practices drawn from other cultures), is seen clearly in contemporary Kazakh weddings. These remain major events, taking place across several days, with a reception given by the family of the bride preceding the wedding proper, whose components include civil registration, possibly a religious ceremony, and a drive around town to the main monuments of the city accompanied by noisy honking of car horns, bottles of sweet Soviet 'champagne' or vodka, and the inevitable video camera. A reception hosted by the groom's family rounds off the proceedings.
A typical wedding of a middle-class urban Kazakh family will include many elements familiar internationally: the bride in a white wedding dress, fireworks, and embarrassing disco dancing from the bride's father. But it will also incorporate a number of modern takes on Kazakh traditions. One of the most important is betashar, a ceremony of the revealing of the bride's face to the relatives of the groom, accompanied by gifts from the latter. Shasliu, the showering of the wedding couple with sweets and coins for prosperity, is another popular element of the wedding. The elaborate traditional procedures associated with matchmaking have largely died out, although parents do frequently retain an influence in the choice of spouse, and the payment of a bride price, kalym, is still usual.