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The Kazak ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

11:13, August 08, 2011

The horse-riding Kazak herdsmen are traditionally clad in loose, long-sleeved furs and garments made of animal skins. The garments vary among different localities and tribes. In winter, the men usually wear sheepskin shawls, and some wear overcoats padded with camel hair, with a belt decorated with metal patterns at the waist and a sword hanging at the right side. The trousers are mostly made of sheepskin. Women wear red dresses and in winter they don cotton-padded coats, buttoned down the front. Girls like to sport embroidered cloth leggings bedecked with silver coins and other silver ornaments, which jangle as they walk. Herdsmen in the Altay area wear square caps of baby-lamb skin or fox skin covered with bright-colored brocade, while those in Ili sport round animal-skin caps. Girls used to decorate their flower-patterned hats with owl feathers, which waved in the breeze. All the women wear white-cloth shawls, embroidered with red-and-yellow designs.

The Kazak family and marriage in history fully showed the characteristics of the patriarchal feudal system. The male patriarch enjoyed absolute authority at home; the wife was subordinate to the husband, and the children to the father. The women had no right to property. The marriage of the children and the distribution of property were all decided by the patriarch. When the man came of age and got married he received some property from his parents and began to live independently in his own yurt. Only the youngest brother eventually stayed with the family. Herdsmen with close blood relations formed an "Awul" (a nomadic clan). Rich herd owners or venerated elders were considered the "Awulbas" (chiefs of the community).

The Kazak people usually practiced monogamy, but in the old society, polygamy was quite common among the feudal lords and tribal chiefs, in accordance with their Islamic faith.

The feudal mercenary marriage system deprived young men and women of their independence in matrimonial affairs and high bride prices were charged. Hence richer people married up to four wives each and poor herdsmen were unable economically to establish a family. Among the latter, a system of "barter marriage" was practiced. Two families, for example, could exchange their daughters as each other's daughter-in-law without asking for betrothal gifts. This often gave rise to a large disparity in age of the matrimonial partners, let alone mutual affection.

The Kazaks are warm-hearted, sincere and hospitable. They entertain all guests, invited and uninvited alike, with the best things they have -- usually a prize sheep. At dinner, the host presents a dish of mutton with the sheep's head to the guest, who cuts a slice off the right cheek and puts it back on the plate as a gesture of appreciation. He then cuts off an ear and offers it to the youngest among those sitting round the dinner table. He then gives the sheep's head back to the host.

The Kazaks are Muslims. Though there are not many mosques in the pastures, Islam exercises a great influence upon their social life in all aspects. Their religious burdens used to be heavy. They had to deliver religious food grain and animal taxes in accordance with Islamic rules. If they wanted to invite mullahs for prayers on occasions of festivals, wedding, burial ceremonies or illnesses, they had to present given amounts of money or property.

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