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About Kazakhstan / History / The brightest customs and traditions

All over the world every nation has its own customs and traditions. Nation’s way of life, its habits, and national peculiarities made influence on them. The most remarkable tradition of the past, which has come to our days, is hospitality that relates to norms common to all mankind and is considered a positive feature of the civilized society. The Kazakhs were always famous for their hospitality, an integral and the most important feature of steppes dwellers. A Kazakh aspired to perform five main ancestry’s precepts; one of them was to meet a guest as God’s messenger. It is proved by a proverb: "One of forty guests is Kadyr (the name of the prophet), one of thousand guests is Waly (the name of the prophet)". They tried to please the guest, laid a good table, and asked for his blessing. In the old days travellers, wandering from one aul to another, brought hot news, messages from relatives and friends, thus, helping to communicate with distant settlements. Seeing a guest off hosts bid farewell to him and prepared him food for the journey (sarkyt). The aspiration for meeting and treating a guest suitably proves high culture of steppe traditions. Hospitality was considered a holy obligation. If this tradition was violated, a guest had the right to complain to the hosts. Every traveller, starting on his journey, knew, that he would be given a cordial and hearty welcome in any place.

In most countries, including Kazakhstan, respect for the elders is a tradition. This good tradition of the nation is transmitted with other wonderful customs and features of people. Thus, since their childhood children are taught to be friendly, self-restrained and honest behaving toward the elders according to this tradition.


Suyinshi is a gift for good news.

Baygazy is a gift for new thing.

Korimdik is a gift for bride-show and bride dowry.

Asar is a tradition of mutual help of people. Calling of relatives, friends and neighbours for urgent work that can’t be done by one family. The helpers were tasty treated.

Erulik is a treating for new neighbours. Country people invited new settlers for “erulik” for their quick adaptation in new environment. New settlers usually didn’t have firewood and drinking water, so neighbours helped them. This custom characterizes other side of human relation to neighbours and has social and moral sense. This custom is used nowadays.

Zhilu is material help. Moral and financial help was made for people survived after natural disasters like fire or flood. Help was rendered not necessarily to relative and close people. Cattle, dwelling, clothes were given to survived people. “Zhilu” (from word “zhily” - warm) means human warm, kindness and sympathy.

Konil surau means an inquire after smb`s health. People say: “Recovery of sick is good deed of healthy”. To inquire after somebody’s health and help somebody is a duty of generosity and humanity. People, inquiring after sick man’s health tells him encouraging words and inspires with hope.

1. Customs, legends and ceremonies connected to child’s birth and upbringing.

Shildehana is a child’s birth celebration.

Kalzha is ceremonial treating of parturient woman in the first day of parturition. This is care about parturient woman and symbol of respect and kindness. This celebration is made nowadays usually on the 40th day after the child’s birth. The mother of parturient woman brings sheep, “kalta” or “korzhyn” with foodstuff and gifts for this celebration. The mutton meat is prepared, trimmings and “kalta” are given out. The presence of men is unacceptable. Their appearance may allegedly result in baldness. Joyful celebration is accompanied by songs, jokes and laughter.

Besikke salu, besik toy is a holiday arranged after the child’s putting to cradle (in 3-5 days after umbilical cord falling off).

Esim koyu, at koyu is a holiday of name giving to the child. This holiday is celebrated during “shildehana” or on the 3rd day after the child’s birth and child’s putting to cradle (“besik toy”). The ceremony is made by respected people, who bless newborn child.

Kyrkynan shygaru is a holiday, celebrated on the 40th day after the child’s birth. This is a ceremony of the child’s bathing in forty-spoons-water, first hair and nails cutting.

Tusau kesu are the child’s first steps. According to the Kazakh custom the oldest and the most respected man in aul is invited to “yurta”, where the child has made his first steps in order to cut strings by the knife tied around the child’s legs. Lately, this celebration is committed to the man (usually from relatives), who walks fast.

Sundetke otyrgyzu (circumcision). In this day parents of 5-7-year-old son invite venerable mullah, who makes circumcision. After that, the child’s parents generously reward him. On this occasion, many guests are invited and give presents to the child and his parents.

2. Wedding customs and ceremonies.

During marriage, certain restrictions were observed. Thus, according to “adat” (customs and traditions) marriage between relatives was forbidden until seventh degree of relationship. In this connection, each Kazakh should know his family tree till seventh degree of relationship. During centuries genealogical history was carefully kept. This rule is strictly observed today, because ignorance of own origin is considered as ill breeding. According to legends, early marriage keeps youth from indecent deeds and supports birth and growth of healthy posterity. Therefore, the girls were married off in 13-14 years old and boys were married in 14-15 years old. Nowadays such early marriages are not used.

The whole process of marriage has several stages and each stage has customs and ceremonies. During “kudalyk” (matchmaking), the visit of matchmakers into the bride’s house is made, bride-money to the bride’s father are given, “shege shapan” (caftan) presentation of the bride’s father to main matchmaker after mutual consent and “shashu” ceremony is made. Earlier for this ceremony livestock production such as “kurt”, “irimshik”, fructs, sugar was prepared. Ceremonial treating “Kuyrik bauyr” made from liver and fat tail means matchmaking.

Kyz uzatu means bride’s seeing-off. Five-seven or more matchmakers arrive in the evening. The bride leaves home with matchmakers early in the morning. Girls and dzhigits sing “Zhar-zhar” song.

Kelin tusiru is celebration of the daughter-in-law meeting. People sing traditional song “Betashar” (song of wishes and desires). This song introduces bride to the bridegroom’s relatives. The Kazakhs prefer to arrange weddings in autumn or at the end of summer. During determination of the wedding terms, people pay attention not only to season of the year, but also to the month time (beginning of the month / new moon / middle of the month). Yurta of married couple is set behind the bride’s father yurta. At first bride enters into yurta. She crosses threshold by her right leg and kicks its left side. After that, the bridegroom enters and does the same. The other ceremony is mutual water drinking with sugar and salt, providing married couple with sweet life. Special attention in wedding is paid to ceremony of the bride’s unplaiting and dividing hair into two plaits, symbolizing the end of loneliness and beginning of married life. Treating of son-in-law by brisket meat symbolizes wealth, welfare and fertility.

The oldest traditional ceremony in the household life is "sogym" (winter meat provision, as a rule horse-flesh). It is necessary to note that “sogym” requires significant tangible costs (well-fed horse costs from USD 300.00 to 500.00). Nevertheless, the most of the Kazakh families not only in the countryside, but also in the cities keep this ceremony. Certainly, not everyone may buy whole horse, so it is used to purchase the horse by sharing the cost. Beginning of “sogym” falls together with the beginning of the first winter cold weather. It is accompanied by invitation of relatives and friends. Different parts of horse are served in different days and have various valuable and ritual value. “Sogym” invitation requires obligatory reverse invitation, so the Kazakhs visit each other during cold long winter and eat meat.


Tugan zherge aunatu.

The person living far from his birthplace (usually the man) is brought down in the ground after his arrival home. This ceremony means: “Don’t forget your birthplace, fulfill your filial duty. Birthplace is your mother, father and motherland. Let its all splendid features and peculiarities will be in you”. This ceremony has deep sense – we are all children of our birthplace.

Auzyna tukirtu.

The attitude of the Kazakhs to “batyrs” (warriors), popular “akyns” (singers), “biys” (rich men), orators and other outstanding people was always special. Each parent wanted his child to be like fame. According to tradition, such people were asked to make “auzyna tukiry” (“auyz” – mouth, “tukiru” – to spit out) so as the child could take over their best features. People believed that with the help of spittle the child would get genius and success.

Ashamayga mingizu.

This ceremony has great educational value and represents new stage in life of the boy. At the age of 6-7 years old, he is presented with a horse, then he is given “kamcha”, put on the horse and proclaimed as “dzhigit”. It ennobles the child and he has a feeling of responsibility. At the same time, the child is attached to work. During solemn moment, grandfather of the child blesses him and grandmother joyfully showers him with "shashu". Youth arrange “bayga”, adults arrange “toy”.


According to tradition after adults’ departure their children arranged youth parties called "bastangy". Guests wanted travelers were accompanied with luck and illness could not catch them. Parents did not forbid such parties.

Kazakh national holidays and games.

In conditions of struggle for independence and severe nomadic life, the Kazakh people had an original system of physical training. The bases of it were national sport and outdoor games. Competitions promoted development of force, dexterity and endurance, bravery and courage training. Especially horseracing was popular. Horse was the basis of nomadic life and personified beauty, purity and speed. Many holidays and celebrations were accompanied by games and horse competitions.

Berkutchi is hunting with “berkut” (golden eagle).

This tradition exists already during ten centuries. People said that to present adolescent with nestling of hunting bird meant wishing him to be brave and strong dzhigit. “Berkut” training is a big art. Caught bird is accustomed to the owner step by step. For this purpose, “berkutchi” and “berkut” don’t sleep several nights. The bird should take feed (crude meat) only from the owner’s hands. When the bird will get used to the hunter, his horse and dog, it will be trained to hunt for stuffed foxes and only after that, the real hunting begins. Dzhigits became courageous, strong and dexterous in steppe conditions participating for example in such games, as:

Alaman bayga.

Horserace for long and overlong distances is carried out on the cross-country with various natural obstacles. The winner is not a man having quick horse, but a man, who can carry out correct competition, quickly estimate situation, prepare horse for horserace and allocate its power on the distance.


This is one of the popular and widely used Kazakh horse kinds of sport. This is horserace for long and middle distances, cross race. There are class distances for 7, 12 and 16 km. Bayga for 7 km. is an obligatory distance in horse competitions in the stud.

Berkut-salu, kus-salu.

Hunting with hunting birds has several kinds. The most widely used is hunting with “berkut” (golden eagle). Hunters select flat area, where they let off wild animals, including wolf. The winner is a man, whose “berkut” first has caught prey.

Zhamby atu.

This is target-bow-shooting. There were many sharpshooters, because accuracy together with strength, deftness and courage was an integral quality of real dzhigit. Bow shooting has several kinds: upright shooting, horseback shooting and horserace shooting. Recently the most popular was upright shooting. “Zhamby” (silver disc) was a target hung up on thin rope (made from horsehair) to the crossbar of high column. The most rational way was rope aiming. It was necessary to break it by exact hit and hanging disc would fall down. Modern competitions are carried out in accordance with rules, established by Republic Sport Committee. These rules provide for horseracing with javelin throwing (instead of bow shooting).

Zhayau zharys.

Cross-country running was included into the program of sport holiday for a long time. It was very popular before revolution between poorest inhabitants, who could`t arrange competition with expensive gifts. This is similar with cross.

Zhorga zharys.

Amblers competitions. This is kind of horserace for horses, having special step, softness, rhythm in race. During amble the horse’s right first leg and right back leg are simultaneously came out. During competitions, good amblers never go into usual race. Amblers are fined for each break of this rule and after third break, they are removed from competition. It is adopted, that in competitions of amblers horsewomen in national dress take part. Classification of the distance is 2-3 km. for women and 4-6 km. for men.


This is horseracing struggle, horsemen struggle for goat taking-over. “Kokpar-kokbori” means the Kazakh grey wolf. The wolf was the bitterest enemy for nomads and if somebody could kill it, he should bring the wolf’s head to the progenitor as a symbol of heroism. The day of the wolf’s killing was an original holiday. Everyone tried to take the wolf`s carcass to aul and struggle with each other for it. Sometimes the wolf’s carcass was replaced by headless goat. Nowadays we have only the name of “grey wolf” game, but its form and rules changed in accordance with social and economical conditions of life. Nowadays “Kokpar” is one of the best horse sports game and none of any holidays is held without it. The game has two variants. The most widely used is “zhalpy-tartys”, when many horsemen take part in this game and everyone struggles for the animal’s carcass. The other variant is “Doda tartys”. The group of people, consisting of certain number of horsemen struggles with each other. Since 1958 “kokpar” competition has been carried out on the racecourse of hippodrome. The game duration was 5 or 15 min. Till 1958 “kokpar” has been carried out during holidays on the stripping without established rules. “Kokpar” has been included on the first All-Union horse sports competitions as one of the main kinds of the program competitions.

Kumis alu.

This is kind of sport. On the horse’s full speed the horseman bent downwards and quickly one by one lifted coins tied up into the kerchiefs. Penal time is set off for each unsuccessful try. The man who would manage during one lap to take a plenty of kerchiefs with coins is the winner.

Kyz kuu.

National horseracing game is carried out on the racecourse of hippodrome. The game distance is 300-400 m. Two movable flags are set on the start in 10 meters from each other. The girl starts at the first flag. Crossing of the flags line by the girl gives the right to dzhigit to catch her. It is necessary to let through all pairs in one side consistently one by one for convenience. Then at the same order the girl is given the right to catch dzhigit. The main point of the game is to catch the girl. If dzhigit catches the girl, he becomes the winner and may kiss her. If the girl catches dzhigit, she becomes the winner and may hit him by “kamcha”.


This is horses struggle. The main point is to throw the competitor from the saddle. The mature men with good physical strength, deftness, endurance and ability of horseracing have taken part. Usually such men take part in competitions on behalf of the whole aul and clan.

Kazaksha kures.

“Kazaksha kures” was the most popular fighting among people. The variety of this game has other nationalities of Central Asia. Originally, all kinds of fighting were generated by the necessity of hand-to-hand fighting. “Kazaksha kures” was carried out during all holidays between well-known strong men. The fighters knew various fighting technique, including back heels and undercuts, throws with falling, turnings with spurt. Distinguishing feature of “Kazaksha kures” is lack of fighting in parterre. The fighting is carried out only uprightly.


Together with youth games, children's games have been widely spread as well. The most favorite among them was game called “alchiki” (“asyky”). These are painted sheep's and hoofed bones. The antiquity of this game is confirmed by archeological data on the whole territory of Kazakhstan. The prize of this game was “alchiki”, money and other. The favorable game among intellectual games was “togyz kumalak”. This is table game. Quadrangular wooden board with 18 long holes (“otau”) was used for this game. In the interval between rows two round holes are cut (“kazan”). Each player (two persons) has 81 balls, 9 balls are put into the holes. The moves are made by turns. The winner is a man, who takes away from the holes of the competitor the most quantity of balls. This game was very popular. The players could play even without board. They dug holes in the ground and played. The game is called “togyz kumalak” (nine), because the basis of 81 (9x9) and 162 (2x9x9) is figure 9, which Turks considered as a holy figure.

Ak suek.

“Ak suek” (white bone) is an entertaining youth game, which was carried out in moon night with participation of youth from neighboring aul. White bone is used as a tool, so the game has such name. Participants form two groups with their leaders and representative of one of them in accordance with a lot throws the bone as far as possible. The others at this moment turn away. Then according to alarm, everyone go to seek “ak suek”. The man, having found the bone first imperceptibly informs his group and using them as a cover tries to get an initial position. If he safely reaches the place, representatives of the defeated team entertain winners, more often by song. During big holidays and celebrations the winners in fighting, horseracing and “akyns” (singers) are presented with “bayga”. The level of the holiday or celebration can be determined according to “bayga” size. The most important “bayga” is designated to main fighter or fast horse. Especially during races, the most quantity of “bayga”, cattle and property is appointed.

“Bayga” is presented with the first horse at the amount of 10, 15, 20 coins. The next one gets 75 coins, then 50 coins and 25 coins. So the amount is decreased. The winners of horseracing do not take away the reward. This is custom of generosity and courage. Therefore, the basic part of “bayga” is given to dead men, “aksakals” (old men). The other part is allocated between friends. The fighters get big “bayga” as well. They are presented with camels, covered by carpets, “akyns” (singers) are presented with “chapan” (hat) and horses. It is known, that the commemoration is arranged in honor of the oldest in clan. Many people till 15000 men were gathered in spite of their class. One eyewitness told: “Traveling hundred miles for good “toy” (holiday) doesn’t mean anything. Treating and pleasure compensate everything”. Celebration was lasted from 3 till 7 days depending on material state of the organizers. Various games, competitions were carried out every day. The last day was ended by great horseracing as a glory of commemoration.

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