Lands of Nomads
The culture of Kyrgyz people has evolved over the centuries and up to the present time has kept its uniqueness and clearly expressed elements of the nomadic way of life. Hospitality, kindness and openness are the main qualities of the nation.
Arriving in Kyrgyzstan, you will be able to get to know the material and spiritual culture of people, to get acquainted with their customs and traditions and learn some facts of their history. In the folklore, the national games, the works of local craftsmen, traditional clothes, cuisine and dwelling you’ll be able to notice the extraordinary spirit and originality.
The Epic of Manas is a great masterpiece of folklore of Kyrgyz people. It is the longest epic poem in the world. In one of its iterations it consists of more than 500 000 lines. In 1995 people of Kyrgyzstan celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of the Epic of Manas.
At all times the main occupation of Kyrgyz people was cattle breeding. They bred mostly sheep, horses, yaks and camels. To provide cattle with grazing they had to roam from one place to another. In summer nomads ascend to alpine summer pastures “jailoo”. When winter came went down into the valley, on the winter pastures “kyshtoo”.
Roaming to jailoo has always been a significant holiday for Kyrgyz people. They put on festive, fine clothing and led caravans to a new place. Camels and horses were covered with beautiful colored carpets with bright patterns. The most beautiful girl in expensive jewelry rode in front of the caravan. If the caravan route lay through any settlement, its residents greeted the nomads with great hospitality, offered some refreshments to them and wished a happy journey. The family that roamed into the jailoo first, traditionally cooked meals for the following families.
Features of the nomadic lifestyle of Kyrgyz people have been reflected in their national clothes. First, the clothes had to be light and comfortable, so that a nomad could comfortably ride on horseback. Second, the clothes had to be strong, but uncomplicated, so that it could be home-made. Third, it must reliably protect people from the cold, that is important in a mountain climate. The main materials for making clothes were coarse wool, felt, fur and leather. The noble families could afford expensive clothes made of fabrics from the towns of the Great Silk Road.
The outerwear is called “chapan”. The chapan is a kind of padded coat made of a strong and warm woolen fabric, with buttons and high collar. In winter nomads wore sheepskin coat named “ton” and fur coats “ichiks” made of fox fur, wolf or lynx. The main traditional shoes are boots decorated with colorful ornaments, with long tops and narrow toes.
National cuisine in Kyrgyzstan is especially rich and diverse. It has been developed throughout the history of Kyrgyz people and collected the most delicious dishes and beverages from the period of nomadic life, and dishes of neighboring nations in the region as well.
As the nomadic lifestyle required a lot of strength and energy, the national dishes of Kyrgyz people had extraordinary nutritional and caloric content. Their main ingredients were meat, milk, flour and cereals.
Most traditional dishes don’t do without meat. Kyrgyz people like to eat lamb, beef, yak meat, and especially horse meat. The most famous dish is the Kyrgyz beshbarmak. It is boiled chopped lamb with onions and noodles, poured with broth. The name of this dish is translated from Kyrgyz as "five fingers", and it is traditionally eaten with the fingers.
Moving from one place to another is inherent in nomadic way of life. Therefore, it is important to have a dwelling that is easy to assemble, disassemble and carry on pack animals. Yurt became such dwelling for Kyrgyz people.
The basis of the wooden frame of a yurt is composed of several elements. The setting of a yurt begins with the doorway “bosogo”, usually facing south or south-east. The walls are a grid of birch poles called “kerege”. The base of a dome is also assembled of poles called “uuk”, then goes a rim called “tyundyuk”. Tyundyuk is used for entry of sunlight into the yurt as well as for going out of smoke. Tyundyuk is one of the most recognizable symbols of Kyrgyzstan, which is represented on the flag of the country. Outside yurt is covered with woven straw called “chiy” and thick felt “kiyiz”. The doorway is also covered with felt, or there stand double doors instead.
Since ancient time music played an important role in the life of Kyrgyz people. Any holiday in the village did not do without music, and young and old people gathered to listen to wonderful tunes of master musicians. Kyrgyz people, like any nation, have their traditional musical instruments, reflecting the unique national character.
The most widely used instrument is komuz. It is made by skilled craftsmen from a single piece of wood (usually juniper, apricot or walnut). Its length does not exceed 80-90 cm. Komuz has three strings. It is usually played while sitting: A musician is keeping the instrument in a horizontal position, the left hand is holding the strings on the neck, and fingers of the right hand are running over them. Komuz can be tuned up in different ways. Musicians can play cheerful and sonorous melodies and lyrical motives, taking the soul as well. Another well-known musical symbol of Kyrgyz people is temir-komuz.
National entertainment occupies a prominent place in the life of Kyrgyz people. Various ethno-games and competitions are extremely popular. They are also one of the most important elements of nomadic culture, as they helped to develop the necessary skills and qualities of nomads: riding skill, strength, agility, endurance and accuracy.
The most popular game is a horse race. At a funeral or on holidays horse races were held over long distances. This competition is called at-chabysh. Only horses of great endurance can take part in it, so that they would overcome a distance of up to 100 km. The competition called “jorgo-salysh” is similar to al-chabysh, but the style of ridinh in it is amble (when a horse's hooves are raised and lowered to the ground in pairs).
The game ulak-tartysh is extremely popular now.
Arts and crafts of Kyrgyz people has evolved over the centuries. It was formed based on the needs of people’s everyday life, and the nomadic way of life influenced it much. Among the major forms of arts and crafts felt art, weaving, patterned embroidery, making of mat, leather products, jewelry, and wood carving.