Culture Links

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Libraries and literature

National games: Fantastic Central Asia. The following was previously on the Kazakhstan President's website.

  • KYZ KUU ("Overtake the girl") - young boys and girls are participants in this game. The girl on the horse does her best to gallop from the young man but as soon as the latter tries to overtake (approach) her she lashes him with a whip. If - up to a certain plece - the young boy fails to overtake her she would "reward" him with whipping again. If he is a success he earns a kiss.
  • AUDARYSPAK ("Wrestling on horseback") - this kind of national sports requires skills both in hand-to-hand fighting and in trick riding. In fact two men fight while on horseback. Wins the one that brings his adversary down of his horse.
  • KUMIS ALU ("Pick up the coin"). The essence of the game is that while galloping at full speed a young man should pick up a silver lingot oof the ground - such had been condition of the game in old days. Nowadays the lingot is replaced by a handkerchief. This contest particularly impressed Alexander the Great when he visited Central Asia. According to historians' evidence on watching kumis alu he exclaimed "That's a sort of training worthy of a warrior on horseback".
  • KOKPAR ("Fighting for a goat's carcass"). A most popular game. It stems from an ancient custom according to which one who wants to get rid of all evil, should sacrifice a goat. Not infrequently taking part in thegame are up to 1,000 horsemen. The game unfolds on an almost infinite steppe range. On the opposite ends of an immense field they arrange goals of teams - adversaries. It is into them that the symbolic carcass of the goat should be thrown, while the throw proper is preceded by a desperate flight betwenn the teams to get hold of the carcass.

The Silk Road Project, "an initiative aimed at exploring cross-cultural influences among and between the lands comprising the legendary Silk Road and the West, was launched in July 2001 with an ambitious program of concerts, festivals and educational outreach activities in North America, Europe and Asia. Led by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma in coordination with a distinguished team of scholars, musicians and artists from around the world, the Silk Road Project is designed to illuminate the historical contributions of the Silk Road, support innovative collaborations among artists from the East and West, and resituate classical music within a broader global context."


HeritageNet from UNESCO: history, nature, Central State Archive, Institute of Archaeology, Mountain Trekking, a video and the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan.

Cynthia Werner: research from an cultural anthropologist who focuses on Kazakhstan. Topics: marketing gifts, household networks, dynamics of feasting and gift exchange. 1/2016 the website is down. Here is her page as an associate professor at TAMU.

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Traditional dress

  • Kazakh man's costume, "next" is Kazakh woman's costume, then Kazakh man's winter cap, and Kazakh woman's summer cap. Site is very slow to load.
  • Costumer's Manifesto has lots of ethnic costume links; nothing specific to Kazakhstan or Central Asia, but still interesting. Lots of links to other costume sites.
  • The History of Costume does not list Kazakhstan, but includes some from other Central Asian countries, plates 112, 113 and 124.
  • Many of the sites listed on this website have pictures of people in traditional dress.
  • The following descriptions were previously on the Gateway to Kazakhstan site.

    Traditional Kazakh folk arts continue to be produced as an expression of cultural identity. Kazakhs are known for their handmade textiles, especially colorful felt and wool carpets. The carpets were traditionally used to decorate the floors and walls of yurtas, and they were considered a sign of wealth. Kazakhs also make embroidered clothes and silver jewelry.

    Kazakh national apparel encompassed national peculiarities of Kazakh people, its cultural traditions and esthetic tastes. Different fabrics, cuts and sowing techniques reflect life conditions and unique historical development. Quest for beauty that is always present in people's mind, is incorporated in artistic embroidery, fabric stickers and jewelry.

    Currently Kazakh national apparel is no longer worn every day. Unfortunately, several approaches of processing materials and fabric, home weaving and ancient embroidery were forgotten and very few craftsmen still practice their art. However, Kazakh national apparel preserved its meaning and importance, motives and ornaments are extensively used in applied art nowadays. In a course of several centuries Kazakh national clothes underwent very little changes, design of some pieces goes back several centuries.

    Female apparel is fancy because any woman wanted to distinguish her clothes with unique embroidery and decorations. Clothes of young women and girls were covered with national ornaments. Red color symbolizing life and sun was very popular. Set of female clothes included ishkoilek (undershirt), a pair of dambals (pants), a dress and beshmet or kamzol (jacket) without sleeves. Kazakh garment was loose and straight, without emphasized waist line.

    Kazakh bride wears a white long silk dress embroidered with gold or silver. Red velvet beshmet (vest) is worn on top of the dress. Its sleeves and the front are decorated with similar embroidery and ornament. The dress and beshmet together with saukele (hat) make up a beautiful ensemble homogeneous in artistic style. Saukele is high, cone-shaped red velvet hat decorated with precious stones, corrals, and zhaktau (pendants). The number of zhaktau determined the social status of a bride. Some saukele were made by craftsman in a span of a year.

    The name "saukele" has an Iranian origin "kulokh" - hat, which goes back to the period of saks (V-VI centuries A. D.), who played a significant role in the enthogenesis of the Kazakh nation.

    National male suit consisted of shalbar (pants), which were made of suede, cotton, or wool and a shirt with embroidery and decorations. Kazakh men used to wear a button gown made of homemade cloth shekpen, which also served as a coat when necessary. A masterpiece of embroidery art is shapan, a fancy long jacket. Shapan has a large embroidery on the back in a form of one or two round circles symbolizing the Sun.

    Takiya or kepesh (a small hat) is an important piece of apparel that was worn by every Kazakh man. Researchers believe that in the old times takiya used to be an underhat for a helmet. Another type of a hat, tymak, indispensable in the wintertime, provides a special protection for ears against cold. It is still commonly used among cattle breeders, its modification is in fashion among young people.

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Performing and Visual Arts

The following description of a yurt was previously on the Gateway to Kazakhstan site. Go to the Connecting page (on this website) for sources to purchase or make one.

The traditional Kazakh dwelling is called yurta, which is a transportable tent covered with felt and consisting of a flexible framework made of willow wood. The open top keeps smoke out of yurta; temperature and draft can be controlled by a flap that increases or decreases the size of the opening, as well as by the yurta cover, which can have two or more layers of felt.

A properly constructed yurta is cool in summer and warm in winter, and can be disassembled or set up in less than an hour. The interior of the yurta has ritual significance. Thus, the right side of the yurta is generally reserved for men and the left side for women; there's special room for preparing meals, a place to do repair works and keep horse gear, etc. Right in the center of the yurta one finds a hearth with a cauldron ("kazan"). The place at the hearth is considered honorable and is meant for particularly respectable and distinguished guests.

The main decoration of the yurta is colorful felted carpets ("tekemets"). The walls are decorated by woolen ribbons, strips, and other hand-made ornaments.

Simplicity of design and manufacture, easy and quick assembly and use of natural materials made yurta an ideal dwelling of the nomads. Even now you may encounter a yurta in the steppe. Although yurtas are less used for their original purpose, they are preserved as a symbol of the Kazakh culture. Yurtas are also frequently used as a decorative motif in restaurants, theaters and other public buildings. Yurtas are usually erected during Kazakh national holidays.

Culture from the KazAlliance website. This website is no longer online; this is a cached version of the page and only a few of the links work.

Nationalities Question in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan put out by the Institute of Developing Economies in Japan in 2000. A very indepth look at the issues of nationality, language and ethnicity in central Asia and the FSU. All in PDF, but divided into chapters so they are not large files.

Since Russian culture exists throughout Kazakhstan, I thought I would list a few sources for this as well.

  • Russian Crafts: customs, holidays, traditions, and more.
  • Women in Russia offers a detailed look at culture, daily life, and traditions. WARNING: this is on a Russian Brides website; there is nothing visually offensive.
  • Russian Legacy: art, cuisine, history, humor, language, music, poetry, shops and restaurants in the US.
  • Tradestone Gallery: Russian Fairy Tales.

Kazakh Forum is in English, Russian and Kazakh.

Soros Center for Contemporary Art in Almaty. In Russian and English. 1/2016 site gone

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Pictures and online exhibitions


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Page last updated on 9 January 2016.

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