Trans Eurasia travel

Your virtual guide to Eurasia! Let's travel together!


Thus, Kazakhstan has instinctively built a society upon the sense of family, the nuclear family and the broader, extending family, where a sense of warmth and solidarity is paramount.

It is illustrated at the family dining table - dastarkhan - carrying a tradition called batas (willing good) by which the right to lead the conversation at table is accorded to the eldest one present. In the traditional household there was a complex system of family regulations and everyday constraints, called tyiym sozder - of which present day Kazakhs are still aware: that they should 'not spill milk', 'not spit into the fire', 'not prop the head in the hands' ... and many another.

Kazakhs, in common with many other people, have been familiar with the manner of life of the patriarchal family, but in their case a patriarchy which was governed and coloured by the circumstances of the nomadic way of life. After the father died, the widow would be married off within the family; likewise, no single woman was left excluded. Such practices ensured there was always a new pair of hands to play its part within the family and household structure, and none was left to the mercy of fate.

Since the nineteenth century Kazakh society has been underpinned by the 'nuclear' family because even the relatively narrower family structure has continued to preserve the most ancient tradition in the field of marriage relationships.

One such tradition has been the coining of a nickname by, say, a daughter-in-law for a mother-in-law or father-in-law - a sobriquet characterising an aspect of the personality, like momyn aga (silent brother) or erke bala (little imp). These verbal intimacies are nonetheless strictly curtailed lest they result in any incestuous deviation within a family.

The traditional forms of marriage in Kazakh society certainly persisted right up to the imposition of Marxist ideology in the early 1920s. Up to that period, marriages were commonly arranged by the families concerned - even the betrothal of babies not yet born. Even today, advertisements are sometimes taken out in Kazakh newspapers providing a prospectus of suitable candidates, male or female, for a traditional pattern of wooing - bsik kuda - leading to marriage.

The recall of the old taipa traditions is known as sybaga. The sybaga requires, for example, the prosperous wing of any family to share the meat and milk of its herd of cattle in rich times with other less successful parts of the kinship's structure. Sybaga is evoked by presenting to the most respected and honoured of guests the best of what can be provided at table. The rules of how such a ritual dish is served strictly apply right down to the present day. For the most respected of guests, the head of the slaughtered sheep is traditionally prepared, marking the respect in which the guest is held; and the liver and the fat of the tail of the animal is offered to the in-laws (brothers-, sisters-, mothers- and fathers-in-law); friends are offered the rump of the animal; girls allocated the hearts and the fat for their presumed goodness and blessedness; the children - for their sprightliness - the kidneys.

By ancient tradition, Kazakhs have presumed the spirits of the dead to be visiting their surviving relatives each day for the period of forty days after death. For that reason, Kazakh families are still disinclined to switch the lights off, or to go visiting, during the period, and they keep their dining tables draped with tablecloths and laden with votive food, not least the little pastry balls called bursak. By the same token of sound and ancient tradition the relationships of the husband's family (ata jurt) and the wife's family (nagasby jurt) are strictly governed.