Famous Kyrgyz Traditions One Should Know Before Visiting Kyrgyzstan

While visiting any country, you will most probably witness some of the most famous traditions and customs people practice. If you want to take a journey to Central Asia, specifically Kyrgyzstan, this article may be of a great help because it discusses famous Kyrgyz traditions that one has to practice from the time he or she is born until he or she dies. By the time of your travel, you will already know what to expect and how to behave on very specific occasions.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country with a very rich baggage of culture and traditions. Its history of traditions dates back to the period when Turkic tribes moved and settled in Central Asia. Thus, Kyrgyz tribes were very much influenced by Turkic traditions, sharing significant cultural similarities. Kyrgyz people have always been practicing nomadic lifestyle over the centuries. It ingrained into the Kyrgyz ideology that even today many people still are nomads who live in mountains. That nomadic lifestyle was very strongly embedded into Kyrgyz culture that even communism during the Russian rule over the Kyrgyz Socialist Republic was impotent to abolish it.[1] A lot of customs were preserved from those times and are practiced today.

Childbirth Traditions

Childbirth is considered to be one of the most important events and, thus, various customs are performed before and after a baby is born. The first one is suiunchu, happy news about a baby birth that are told with the aim of getting a present. People who come and see a newborn baby have to give a korunduk, any present or money to the family of a baby.

One of the most famous traditions is a beishik toi, a celebration when a baby is born. Once a baby is given a name, the preparations for the celebrations start. Dozens of guests are invited, cattle is sacrificed, food is cooked, and people are entertained. The most interesting part of the celebration is a cradle custom. Parents of a baby’s mother should prepare specific bedding for a cradle which needs to be greased by butter and archa (juniper). After a cradle is prepared, a mother should take it and walk around a house. All of the guests give their blessings to a newborn baby and his or her mother. The tradition used to be performed many years ago, and today, unfortunately, it is being forgotten because only few people from rural areas preserve it.

Another famous tradition is tushoo kesuu, a ceremony when a baby starts making first steps. It is one of the oldest Kyrgyz customs. They invite many guests, mostly relatives and close friends. In return guests should bring presents to a baby. The main ritual is performed as follows: the baby’s legs are tied with white and black rope. The colors symbolize the struggle between two principles — good and evil. From ancient times Kyrgyz people believed that life consists of good and bad days; therefore, one should be ready for challenges for his or her childhood. Small kids, teenage children, adults, and even seniors have to compete in racing, and the one who comes to the finish line first needs to cut the rope with a specially prepared knife that is taken by the winner. Once the rope is cut, a baby is supposed to be walked by a winner. The purpose of this race is to prepare a baby to learn to walk faster. To show gratitude the hosts give various presents to guests.[2] Presents vary from small toys to cattle.

Tushoo kesuu custom. Source: http://www.open.kg/about-kyrgyzstan/culture/mores/302-pererezanie-put-tushoo-kesuu-i-obryad-obrezaniya-sunnot-toy.html

Circumcision is among the oldest Kyrgyz Muslim traditions. When a baby boy turns three, five, or seven, he certainly needs to go thought this custom. According to Islamic precepts, the age of a boy should be an odd number. Visiting guests usually come to see a boy and give him either money or presents, the most valuable present is a horse. This custom is considered to be a sacred duty because a boy transits from one age condition to another.

A baby boy after circumcision. Source: http://www.open.kg/about-kyrgyzstan/culture/mores/302-pererezanie-put-tushoo-kesuu-i-obryad-obrezaniya-sunnot-toy.html

Wedding Traditions

Engagement and wedding traditions of Kyrgyz people are among the most important lifetime events. Since the family is the highest priority in Kyrgyz culture, a wedding automatically becomes significant not only for a groom and bride, but for the extended family as well. There are two types of weddings in Kyrgyzstan: traditional and modern. The former is simpler that involves less financial spending and guests, but is more concentrated on following rituals and customs. Very often this form of wedding is practiced in rural areas of the country, villages. The latter is more sophisticated with the involvement of more money.

Kyrgyz newlyweds. Source: http://www.svadba-top.ru/svadebnie-tradicii/kirgizskaya-svadba.html

Traditional weddings include prearranged marriages and ala kachuu (bride kidnapping). However, they are not popular today because they lost their authenticity. Historically, the former custom was very popular when future couple was not even born. Specifically, two families in a very good friendship relationship used to agree on marrying their children to each other in order to tie their friendship even better. In this case they usually solemnly vowed to intermarry forever. They did so by performing very traditional customs such as touching the bow arm with teeth, exchanging saliva, and sucking blood from fingers, to name few. If a future couple is not able to marry due to life circumstances, then they vowed to stay lifetime friends.[3] The latter, kyz ala kachuu or bride kidnapping was very popular in past. Two loving people agreed on marrying each other, and a groom always had a consent of a bride before bride kidnapping her. The tradition was as well popular if bride’s parents were against the marriage. After the bride is kidnapped, she cannot leave the house of the groom. In this case bride’s parents had no other choice, but to accept the marriage. However, today the tradition is very much distorted and often a lot of women are forcefully kidnapped. Although the practice is illegal and leads to criminal liabilities, it is still practiced.

Modern weddings are more popular in Kyrgyzstan today. Even though they are called modern, they still include practicing traditional customs. For example, nike kyiuu, Muslim legalization of marriage, takes place sometime before the wedding. Frankly speaking, moldo (mullah) comes and reads a prayer and asks a couple whether they are certain about their decisions to marry each other.

Before an actual wedding there is kyz uzatuu, a custom when bride’s family and relatives say goodbye to her by holding a toi (feast). Most of the times, after the toi, she is taken to the groom’s house to start her new life there.

Actual wedding consists of two parts: fun part with friends and younger relatives and toi in the evening. Young people enjoy driving around a city in a procession of decorated cars, visiting famous sites, and taking pictures and saying toasts. Afterwards, the couple and all of the guests arrive to the restaurant to celebrate. It includes eating, drinking, saying toasts and wishes, and dancing.[4]

Funeral Traditions

Almost all of the funeral customs of Kyrgyz people have experienced a great influence of pre-Islamic or Islamic traditions. When one dies cattle is sacrificed and distributed to those who come to a funeral. The most significant part of the funeral ceremony is respect for a deceased. When a young person dies, a red flag is put on the top of a yurt, when adult dies, people put black flag, and finally, if a senior dies, the flag is white. It was a ritual sign for those who were coming to a funeral. Today people usually inform each other about someone’s demise through phone calls or visits. Therefore, the old tradition with a flag is not practiced by everyone.[5] The notification of death, kabar aituu or suuk kabar, is very responsible and difficult news to share. Therefore, not everyone can do it. When close people feel that a person is dying, they invite moldo (mullah) who tells yiman (prayer), blesses, and lets one rest in peace. Then the body of the deceased is placed in a yurt. Women cry inside of the yurt and do koshok aituu, folklore singing that is sung when one dies. Incoming women should enter the yurt and express their condolences, konul aituu. Men cry outside of the yurt. Everyone should wear a traditional hat on that day, women wear jooluk (scarf) and men wear kalpak and tebetei (traditional male hats). Incoming people should come into a house and drink tea. Therefore, dastorkon, a table is laid from the beginning of the funeral. On the third day before the burial, the body of the deceased is washed by close people. Then, it is wrapped in a cloth that is called kepin. After this custom, it is believed that the deceased is ready to rest in peace. While moldo reads janaza (prayer), the deceased’s son, brother, or uncle shall repeat after him: “Atamdyn (apamdyn, baikemdin) karyzy bolso menden algyla, alasasy bolso kechtim.” It means that if the deceased had debts, his sons or brothers have to repay it. If someone borrowed from the deceased, the debt should be forgiven. Afterwards, soektu uzatuu begins, when the body is taken to the cemetery. According to Islamic traditions, only men can accompany the body to the cemetery. Women go to the yurt and continue crying there. After the body is buried, men start okuruu, lamenation while returning from the cemetery. At the end of the funeral kuran (prayer) is read again. It is believed that it helps the deceased in another world.[6]

Men crying outside of the yurt.Source: http://limon.kg/news:15171

If you happen to visit or witness any of the abovementioned occasions you will already be aware of what to expect. Reading about it is not as exciting as actually experiencing them. Therefore, start packing your bags and booking your tickets because exploring Central Asian traditions is a life-time experience.

[1] “Celestial Mountains Travel Encyclopedia of Kyrgyzstan, People, A Traditional Culture of Kyrgyzstan,” accessed August 25, 2016, http://celestial.com.kg/articles/people/Culture/A-Traditional-Culture-of-Kyrgyzstan_48.htm

[2] “Open Kyrgyzstan, Culture, Kyrgyz Traditions,” accessed November 12, 2015, http://www.open.kg/about-kyrgyzstan/culture/mores/302-pererezanie-put-tushoo-kesuu-i-obryad-obrezaniya-sunnot-toy.html

[3] Rites and customs of Kyrgyz people, accessed September 23, 2016 http://www.kyrgyzstantravel.info/culture/rites.htm

[4] Pocket Culture, Traditional and modern: two Kyrgyz weddings, accessed August 25 http://pocketcultures.com/2011/08/03/weddings-in-kyrgyzstan/

[5] Traditions and Customs of Kyrgyz people, accessed August 25, 2016, http://www.kyrgyzstantravel.net/culture/rites-ru.htm

[6] Funeral Traditions of the Kyrgyz, accessed August 25,2016, http://limon.kg/news:15171

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