Although in reality nomad society was more 'communistic' than any Soviet model, the Kazakhs were traditionalists who adhered to a strict clan-based, hierarchical system. It was considered shameful for a Kazakh not to know seven generations of ancestors. Grandmothers - apais - traditionally passed down the family history to their grandchildren through stories. The bonds between families were sacrosanct, the young looked up to and admired their elders, and children were taught to respect parents and honour women. Within the family, the oldest son took responsibility for the well-being of his younger brothers, while the youngest son remained in the house where he was born to care for his parents, even after marriage and starting his own family.
The Soviets saw the traditional Kazakh nomadic way of life as random wandering about the steppe, when in reality it had always been carefully structured. The nomads' large herds of cattle required vast areas of steppe upon which to graze, but these areas were also highly regulated by traditional laws. The various clans knew exactly who held rights over what land, and where the borders began and ended. It was forbidden for one clan to cross into land belonging to another.
In Search of Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins
A contemporary Kazakh writer (Shakhimardam Kusaoinov) has referred to the identifiable concentric circles of the Kazakh social pattern as 'birthmarks on the face', which makes each face 'unrepeatable'. The circles are commonly described in the Kazakh language, in order of enlargement, as ru, taipa, аnd juz, which may be translated approximately as the circle of clan kinship, the circle of tribal allegiance, and the circle of tribal union. There is of course the further circle ultimate consanguinity, of Kazakh-hood.
A palaeoanthropologist may trace down millennia the expansion of the smaller units of ru into the nomadic taipa; and in turn into the broad genetic union of juz, which was to result in the triune structure of the modern state comprised of the Great (Uly Juz), the Middle Juz (Orda Juz) he Junior Juz (Kishi Juz). The territory of the Great Juz is southern and south-eastern Kazakhstan: the Middle Juz, central, northern and north-eastern Kazakhstan; and the Junior Juz, western Kazakhstan. Evolution of the tripartite structure can be readily explained by the varied formulae of nomadic life and transhumance in the varied geographic and climatic zones of Kazakhstan's vast territory. The divisions into Juzes has benefited the defence of a people across their collective homeland. This lightly partitioned unity is the key to the ethnic confidence of the Kazakhs. The Juzes have a unifying function and have nothing to do with ethnic divisions within Kazakh ethnicity.
Certainly, in the course of history, hostile forces have sought to distort these foundations of Kazakh society, and wilfully to exploit such distortion with - usually - the intention to 'divide and rule'. They have attempted to characterise this or that ru, or tiapa or juz, with this or that disparaging characteristic of, say, exclusivity and self-serving brotherhood.
The truth has always been that the achievements of the Kazakh people have never derived from inward-looking affiliations but the inter-action of the component parts inspired by a strong sense of purpose, diligence, and respect for professional skills. All these qualities are leavened by broader national characteristics of humour, fortitude, and an instinctive comradeship, circumscribed by the common language and the common heritage. The juz structure, no less than the national, has been likened to a vessel without which identitv would be sunk into the ocean of universal humanity. But the uniqueness of Kazakh-hood is not the aim, so much as the starting point, for national confidence.
Here is a young diplomat, educated in Russia, speaking of his Kazakh allegiance: I am a representative of the Lesser Juz. I am aware of three sub-divisions within the juz and how each of those three breaks down into smaller groupings, and I have grown up to be aware of the last seven generations of my family. My wife, however, comes from the Middle Juz. We met and liked one another. My first question to her when we met was as to which juz she sprung from. When I learned she was from the Middle Juz, I was relieved. If she were from my own juz, I would then have to have enquired as to which taipa, and if it had been the same as mine I would then have had to ask her about her ru, and if she and I had been related, we might well never have got married.'
A Kazakh proverb runs, 'All Kazakhs are birds of one nest'. But each person's knowledge of their own ancestry, the 'jeti ata', seven ancestors, serves as a kind оf network in the generality of society. Each child grows up with an awareness of a ring of kinship deriving from seven generations, Rings overlap and intersect with other rings. Containing such a sense of Kinship, this union of relatives becomes a factor within society that knits it and strengthens the entire fabric of the ethnos. Knowledge of the seven generation ancestry governed relations among people of such kin, and in the past it had influence on the routes of the nomadic grazing groups. It grew to be a mechanism of not only psychological adaptation within society but also to some degree physical, on the ground, across the huge pasturelands. It was strengthened and in a measure inspired by a verbal tradition which carried (and carries) from one generation to the next tales of heroic deeds of the batyrs (warriors), of truces, betrayals and the like. Every man felt himsell to be a branch of a genealogical tree - which of course became linked with other neighbouring trees and branches.
A young women becoming betrothed to a young man who had no relatives within her seven-generation span of kinship brought into her new family a new characteristic, a new lilt of speech, a new argot, new songs and legends, perhaps new norms ol upright conduct of a different region, which in turn opened the way to greater and always meaningful bonding.
There is a superstition among Kazakhs that a woman's hand, offering food, must be in some manner decorated. A guest, being offered food, will always throw a sharp glance, checking upon those decorations which, if they were not present, would be thought as of making the hand in some way impure, without the inner constraints and disciplines of an ancestral allegiance.
However true it is that, over the last century and a half, there have been national endeavours to diminish - even eliminate - the role of awareness of the inner kinships, the Kazakh people have instinctively - and valuably - clung to their sense of genealogy, and have honoured ancestry and their own elders among any given ru.