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Published: August 14th 2008
the eating yurt
where i love to spend the most time!
There is so much to digest about the Kyrgyz way of life and the culture so I thought I should shed some light on some of the customs and traditions that are still upheld here.
Kyrgyzstan is made up of about 80 different ethnic groups and two thirds of the population live in rural areas as nomads. Apparently there is double the amount of livestock here than there are people! Not a bad thing considering the word vegetarian does not exist in Kyrgyz vocab. Everyone eats meat here and it is normally mutton, with A LOT of fat. As they have to learn how to survive on their resources, they use sheep for just about everything from eating to building yurts with them!
Camping - Kyrgyz style
The art of building yurts is fascinating and shows how resourceful people can be. They are made out of layered felt, which is stretched around a wooden frame. The outer felt layer is waterproof sheep fat, and on the inside there is a tyndyk
(wheel) that supports the roof (which is depicted on the flag). The interior of yurts are often richly decorated with textiles, wall coverings,
and quilts. Floors are covered with bright carpets and more sheepskin rugs underneath mattresses to keep in the warmth during winter. Given that so much sheep fat is used to build a yurt, even my clothes starting smelling like sheep! The more elaborate the decorations, the "richer" the owners. A yurt can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days to build depending on how skilled you are and whether you know what you're doing! I am definitely a fan of the yurts, they sure beat our western tents given that they often have an inbuilt fireplace, a makeshift kitchen, and you can stand up in them!
Fun and Games
When you've just got nature and some animals to entertain yourself, the Kyrgyz have come up with some ways to have fun. Kyz-kumay
which translates as "Kiss the Girl" involves a man who chases a woman on horseback in an attempt to kiss her. The woman gets the faster hourse and a headstart, and if she wins, she gets to whip her suitor! Kokboru
is a battle on horses where mounted riders wrestle one another for
a young suitor
saddleless in a pair of cotton shorts!
the corpse of a headless goat.
Eagle hunting is also a tradition here and unfortunately I didn't get the opportunity to see this in action, but I've heard it's awesome. A skilled hunter and his bird go after rabbits, foxes and other wild animals. The capture and training of eagles takes about 3-4 years and requires following certain rituals.
One thing I was not looking forward to trying was the notorious Kumyz
that I had heard about. I don't know who would like the sound of drinking fermented mare's milk, but I knew I had to try it before leaving the country. I almost didn't get the chance as it is usually only available in Spring and early Summer. What a shame that would have been! ha. So it was inevitable that the time would come and luckily it only came once! The way that it is made is putting the mare's milk into a goat skin lined bucket and beating it with a stick, and then letting it to ferment for over a week. The answer is yes, it is as disgusting as it sounds!!! After taking half a sip
of the stuff, I almost vomited!!! I had to appear like I enjoyed it though, so took another sip only to find myself having to go outside and actually vomiting! The taste and smell was so rank, I would not wish my worst enemy to have to drink it! They say it tastes better everytime you drink it and you get used to it, but I definitely don't think I'll be acquiring a taste for it anytime soon! Maksim
is another national drink made from grains and it's also fermented. I couldn't ascertain how it was made or from what, but I couldn't decide if it was even worse than the Kumyz!!!
Needless to mention I'll be steering clear of the national drinks if I ever go back!
Beware of being kidnapped as a bride
Bride kidnapping has been illegal since 1991, however Kyrgyz people are not known to obey laws, especially when it comes to tradition! Basically, when a Kyrgyz boy's time comes to get married, he organises a kidnapping with his mates or relatives and it's usually done by car (or on horseback in the olden days) and the girl
is taken to the family home of the boy. Although the girl may try to refuse, the majority of the time she is convinced to stay. If she is really persistant she may be freed, but it all depends on the parents of both families and whether they consider it to be a potentially suitable marriage.
As we were walking through one of the bazaars, a few people asked whether I had Kyrgyz blood in me, and as a result everyone started joking around about how they had to keep an eye on me in case I suddenly disappeared!
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