Placed along the Great Silk Road, Kyrgyzstan developed into a junction of trade and cultural traditions between China, Iran, India, Arabian Sea and the Western world, and, consequently, a home for over 80 ethnicities.
Kyrgyz handicrafts have been made through the ages and are bound up with the necessities and the nomadic lifestyle of the Kyrgyz people. A life in an unspoiled wilderness, its snow-covered mountain tops, fast-flowing rivers and flower-covered valleys, has created the character and delicate artistic taste of the Kyrgyz people. Handicraft can't be separated from the private life of people, because of their daily needs and spiritual demands. The aspirations of the Kyrgyz people for beauty led them to create different kinds of handicrafts, such as, felt carpets with patterns and commodities of felt; patterned, woven mats of steppe plants - Chee, wrapped around by colorful woolen yarn, patterned weavings, embroidery (leather, felt, wool, silk and cotton cloth, kurak - a panel of stuffed pieces of cloth, different leather goods, woodcarving, artistic processing of metal, hand weaving of wool and silk (belts, braids, fringe, laces). Furthermore, the Kyrgyz masters have developed a special technique of silver jewelry production and preserved it till nowadays.
The Kyrgyz culture has been greatly influenced by the nomadic heritage. It is reflected in the way a household was run, in customs, and rites. People decorated their homes with items that were both beautiful and practical. The masterpiece of folk creation is the Kyrgyz yurta (yourt, yurt, tent), which was easy to assemble and transport from place to place.
The great "Manas" epos plays a starring role in the culture of the Kyrgyz people. The epic hero Manas is a people’s hero personifying power, freedom and unity of the Kyrgyz people. Oral legends of Manas were delivered from a generation to generation for centuries and finally have developed into an epos containing over 500 000 poetic lines. The "Manas" epos is considered the largest epic work in the world. Furthermore, the "Manas" epos serves a Code of traditional laws and provisions regulating the day-to-day life of the Kyrgyz people. Some provisions of the epos have grounded basis for developing of a national unity ideology in modern Kyrgyzstan.
The traditions order the Kyrgyzs to treat and give presents to any guest coming into a house. If a Kyrgyz did not offer a guest some food, it would be considered a severe insult. And vice versa, if a guest refused the food, even a cup of tea, he would strongly offend the host. This tradition has become so prevalent that is followed by representatives of other ethnic group living in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Some other ancient traditions which are kept popular in modern Kyrgyzstan – a celebration of a child birth named "Jentek-toy" or another joyful event "Tushoo Kesoo" ("Circumcision of fetters") – a celebration of a child’s birth anniversary. A Kyrgyz holiday of spring and renovation – “Nooruz” – is celebrated by the entire people of Kyrgyzstan despite their ethnic and religious background.
Kyrgyz culture has been greatly influenced by their nomadic heritage. It is reflected in the way a household was run, in customs and rites. People decorated their homes with items that were both beautiful and practical. The masterpiece of folk creation is the Kyrgyz yurta (yourt, yurt, tent), which was easy to assemble and transport from place to place.
The Yurta is a small dwelling, decorated with hand-made felt carpets and strips. Having its roots in ancient Turkic tribes, the yurta took all the best from many centuries' experience of nomadic people.
Kyrgyz National Costumes
The mountains exert a strong influence over every aspect of Kyrgyz life. That is true also about their traditional national costume.Even though the country experiences a continental climate, that means summers can be very hot with temperatures rising into the forties, nomadic life in the high mountain meadows (jailoo) meant that temperatures could change dramatically during the course of the day - and nighttime temperatures could fall well below zero.
Kyrgyz National Games
Horsemanship is a much-revered skill in Kyrgyzstan; due to the horse’s endurance and good co-ordination in the rugged landscapes, they are traditionally well-loved companions. In keeping with the Kyrgyz love of horses, and their importance in their lives and culture, they feature prominently in their national sports. These popular and unusual games feature at special events and give great pleasure and amusement to the local people.
Two teams of expert horsemen snatch a goat in a cross country racing match. A very widespread game amongst the Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tajik, and Uzbek. The name "kok-boru" mean, "gray wolf”. In fact this original game is very ancient. It is appeared in those remote times when herds of cattle grazed in the steppes and mountains all year round without a shelter or top dressing exposed to the attacks of wolves. Having no firearms the shepherds could not deal with wolves on the spot. Brave djigits (young men) chased after the wolves until the beasts of pray ran off their feet, then began beating them with slicks and lashes, trying to snatch it away from each other. Later "kok-boru" was replaced by "ulak tartysh''.
Hunting with the golden eagle is an ancient tradition that dates back to the Mongol conquest of Central Asia around the 12th and 13th centuries, when a fine eagle and good horse cost the same price and both lent prestige to their owner.
Although the practice is gradually disappearing in this area, hunting with birds (especially with eagles) is still practiced in certain regions of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Westerners tend to think of this as falconry Ц and although hunting with hawks and falcons does take place, it is looked down upon by those who hunt with eagles as a pastime for children and dilettantes.
The most important place in Kyrgyz art belongs to instrumental music. All inhabitants of a nomad group - from children to the elderly would gather together in order to listen the master instrumentalist's play. The most fascinating and interesting holidays were the times of the music competitions. Also, an instrumental ensemble was an essential element of military campaigns.
The main feature of the distinctive style of Kyrgyz music is the images it conjures in the mind. There is a very wide picturesque range: from heroics with dramatic (epic) effects, to the beauty of natural scenery (mountains, trees and streams) and domestic themes.
When a man dies, before he is buried, according to the shariat (law of Koran), his body must be washed. At first three closest persons of a family must wash the body. It is called "mayram suuga aluu" - the last purifying washing. Then seven representatives from that person's relatives wash the body. This rite is called "suuga aluu" - washing the body. They make gloves of white cloth, tie round their mouth with kerchief and wearing them wash the body. While they wash it, a Muslim priest cuts out clothes - "kepin" and sews them together with white needles by hands. This white cloth must be prepared by the person himself or by his/her children and consists of 15-22 meters.
Wedding ceremonies of Kyrgyz people are the most interesting. We would like to tell you about Kyrgyz nuptial tradition, which exists today and the difference between an old tradition and the present. So imagine a young couple that cannot envision their life living separately. At first they should notify their parents and relatives about their final decision. Of course, wedding ceremonies are different in all the seven regions of our Republic. Yet their bases are the same everywhere. Tradition of kidnapping the bride is the most interesting.
When a child is born, a ceremonial feast "beshike saluu" is celebrated. The child's parents slaughter a sheep, lay a table with many different dishes on it and invite their relatives and neighbors to dinner. After the people had dinner and have blessed the new born child, the cradle, especially prepared for the child is brought before the elderly women who are in charge of laying the baby into the cradle. These women are very respected and wise. The parents make a wish for their child's future: they desire the child to become as respected and wise s they are. First, the women burn up the juniper and make "alastoo" with it. They move the burning juniper around the cradle to drive away evil spirits from the cradle. Second, the cradle is buttered so that the child can have a smooth future and live satisfied. Then all the ancestors for the cradle are placed in it. At last, the cradlesong is sung. The child is laid into the cradle.