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Death, Mourning & Remembrance

In 1867 Alfred Brehm wrote of Kazakh funerals: "Every family is ready to make the greatest sacrifices to celebrate a splendid party in the honour and memory of a deceased family member; everyone, including the poorest, seeks to adorn the tomb of his dead loved ones to the best of his ability, and everyone would consider it contemptible not to give the greatest honour to the dead."

All friends and relatives are invited after the death of a family member. Only men take part in the funeral; women perform the lamentation of the dead and prepare the funeral meal, which takes place seven days after the deceased's death. The funeral takes place at a befit, a cemetery far from the deceased's dwelling place. After having been washed, the body is wrapped in a shroud that he bought himself during his life. Thus covered, he is brought to the grave on a camel, a horse-or these days, in a car. He is laid in a grave, which is no more than chest-deep, in a vault facing Mecca. The tomb is not closed, but simply covered with planks or stones. The body dries out within a few weeks in this remarkably hygienic manner of burial.

The women lament the deceased for a whole year. After exactly a year, the friends and relatives meet again for a grand memorial feast, which marks the end of the mourning period when "normal" life resumes. Mourning clothes are exchanged for normal dress. In days of old, the dead man's horse used to be slaughtered for the occasion and its meat divided among the poor.

Remembrance of the dead is held more sacred among Kazakhs than anything else. A Kazakh sees the place where his ancestors are buried as his home forever. It is an unwritten law that each Kazakh knows his ancestors' names back at least seven generations.