10 FAMILY LIFEWomen in Kyrgyz society still perform the bulk of household chores. Women in the cities are encouraged to be professionals as well as mothers. Both men and women may marry more than one spouse. Kyrgyz families are large, with an average of four to six children. In the capital city of Bishkek, families are slightly smaller. In the countryside, it is common for three generations to live together. As many as ten to twelve people may share a home during the cold months. It is very important to the Kyrgyz to know about ancestors. Some people are able to recount their ancestors as far back as seven generations or 200 years.
11 CLOTHINGTraditional everyday clothes were made of wool, felt, and fur. Ornate silks were, and still are, used for special occasions and ceremonies. By the 1990s, cotton denim and other fabrics had become popular for everyday wear.
Headgear figures prominently in Kyrgyz culture. During the Soviet era, women were prohibited from wearing their large traditional hats, which were a symbol of Kyrgyz culture. There is also a traditional hat proudly worn by men as a symbol of Kyrgyz culture, the ak-kalpak (white hat).
12 FOODBecause many Kyrgyz live in areas with little rain, the variety of crops grown depends on irrigation from the mountains. Sugar beets and cereal grains are the main crops. Livestock are an important source of food, with sheep, goats, cattle, and horses most common. Pigs, bees, and rabbits are also raised.
Examples of traditional Kyrgyz food include manti (mutton dumplings), irikat (a type of pasta salad made with noodles, carrots, and radishes), and koumiss (fermented mare's milk).
A great Kyrgyz delicacy reserved especially for guests is a combination plate of fresh sliced sheep liver and slices of sheep tail fat. It is often boiled and salted and tastes far more delicious than it sounds.
At the breakfast table, one often finds bountiful amounts of yogurt, heavy cream, butter, and honey served with bread and tea. Dairy products are an essential part of Kyrgyz life.
13 EDUCATIONParents tend to favor a broad education for their children. It is often not possible for parents to send their children to universities and technical schools because education is not free in independent Kyrgyzstan. When Kyrgyzstan was part of the former Soviet Union (1917-91), university education was free.
14 CULTURAL HERITAGEThe kyiak and komuz are traditional musical instruments used by the Kyrgyz. The kyiak resembles a violin and is played with a bow but has only two strings. The three-stringed komuz is the favorite folk instrument among the Kyrgyz.
The Kyrgyz have several titles of honor that are given to various musical performers. A jïrchiï is a singer-poet, whereas an akin is a professional poet and musician-composer. The jïrchiï is primarily a performer of known music, while the akin is a composer who plays original compositions as well as traditional music.
A special performer called a manaschï performs the famous saga of Manas (see Folklore section). There are also several types of Kyrgyz songs, such as maktoo (eulogies), sanat and nasiyat (songs with a moral), and kordoo (social protest tunes).
15 EMPLOYMENTWork hours vary. Most often work runs from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Mills and factories operate on a relay system, with shifts set up by the management. Retail shops are usually open from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM, with an afternoon lunch period. Department stores, bookstores, and other shops usually open according to the hours set by government offices. Bazaars (street markets) are open from 6:00 AM until 7:00 or 8:00 PM.
16 SPORTSEquestrian sports (sports with horses) are very popular among the Kyrgyz. Racing and wrestling on horseback are especially enjoyed. Wrestling on horseback for a goat's carcass, called ulak tartysh or kok boru, is a common game among the Kyrgyz. (Kok boru means "gray wolf.") The game may have its origin in ancient times, when herds of cattle grazed in the steppes (plains) and mountains and were exposed to the threat of attack by wolves. Shepherds would chase after a wolf on horseback and beat it with sticks and whips, and then try to snatch the dead carcass away from each other for fun.
Kok boru was later replaced with ulak tartysh, played with a goat's carcass on a field measuring about 328 yards by 164 yards (300 meters by 150 meters). The two goals are at opposite ends of the field. A goat carcass, usually weighing 60 to 90 pounds (30 to 40 kilograms), is placed in the center of the field. Each game lasts fifteen minutes. The object is to seize the goat carcass while on horseback and get it to the goal of the other team. Players may pick up the carcass from any place within the limits of the field, take it from opponents, pass or toss it to teammates, carry it on the horse's side, or suspend it between the horse's legs.
Falconry (the sport of hunting with trained falcons) while on horseback is another part of Kyrgyz culture that has been practiced for centuries. In addition to falcons, golden eagles are also trained for the sport. Jumby atmai is a game that involves shooting at a target while galloping on horseback. Tyin enmei is a contest to pick up coins from the ground while riding at full speed on horseback.
17 RECREATIONThe capital city, Bishkek, has large parks, public gardens, shady avenues, and botanical gardens enjoyed by people traveling on foot. Opera, ballet, and national folklore groups are also popular forms of entertainment. The most popular form of relaxation for city dwellers is to spend a weekend at a country cottage. Tens of thousands of these cottages are located on the outskirts of Bishkek.
18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIESThe Kyrgyz are best known for crafting utensils, clothes, equipment, and other items used in everyday life and making them beautiful. Many articles are made of felt: carpets (shirdak and alakiyiz), bags for keeping dishes (alk-kup), and woven patterned strips of carpet sewn together into bags or rugs (bashtyk). Ornate leather dishes called keter are also made.
« 1 2 »