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Birth and Infancy

During the first 40 days following childbirth, a mother and her child may only be visited by their closest relatives. During this period, the child remains nameless. The reason for this originally pagan habit can be traced to the high rate of child mortality in nomads' yurts in days gone by. It was thought that newborn children were envoys from the underworld and that this world constantly called them to. After 40 days, one could be more or less certain that the child's attachment to the underworld was weakening, and so the child was given its name at the morning prayer on the 40th day.

Namegiving is performed either by the mullah or by the eldest person in the family. He reads loudly from the Koran and speaks the child's name into its ear three times. Thereupon the child is washed in a bowl with 40 spoonfuls of water, coins and silver jewellery. Among Kazakhs, silver has a magical, purifying significance. For the first time, the child's hair and nails are cut. After the cleansing, the silver is divided among the women in the company. Sweets are wrapped up in the infant's shirt, which is hung around the neck of a dog, which is then driven away. A merry chase ensues: the sweets are for the children who catch the dog. A woman who wishes to bear a child takes the shirt. This custom is called iy kopek - dog's shirt.

When a child takes its first steps, another beautiful old ritual is celebrated: cutting the bonds (tunas kisser). Two intertwined tapes, one black and one white, are tied in a figure of eight around the child's ankles. A guest especially invited by the family for the occasion then cuts the child's bonds from its ankles. This ritual is believed to strengthen the child's good fortune in life.

Some Kazakhs celebrate their anniversaries not simply each year, but in cycles of 12 years according to the Eastern calendar. This birthday is called mussel has and is celebrated with great pomp; after all, it has to count for another 12 years.