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Kyrgyzstan travel » Nomadís Life

Nomadís Life

Leaving behind the last remains of former great power by 1293 Kyrgyz for many years lived without their statehood. The attempts by Muhhammed-Kyrgyz (Tagai-biy) at the beginning of 16th century, by Kubat-biy and Azhi-biy in the middle of 18th century, by Ormon-khan and Alymbek-datka, in the middle of 19th century aimed in Kyrgyz's integration, failed. Living without statehood and domicile living and for preserving of independence and ethnic originality, the Kyrgyz were forced to strictly keep to principles and rules of tribalism living in Kyrgyzstan.

The tribal principles started its formation in the gregarious epoch of mankind. Struggling with nature, predators and alike, survivors were gregarious. With the time being, herds transformed into constant collectives, based on blood relations kins or clans. Some clans, sharing one territory and speaking the same language, formed a tribe.

Later on, turning from appropriating (fruits, and roots collections, hunting) to production house hold (agriculture, cattle-breeding) especially with adoption of sedentary way of life blood relatives were being changed by neighboring groups. Although in many agricultural relations of our planet, the skilful utilization and smart application and modernization of working tools resulted in rather advanced social organization of the Australian aborigines, the African Bushmen, stayed unchanged.



There was one exception from the common tendency of development, associated with nomadic cattle-breeding, one of sector of production households, albeit, in virtue of its specifics, holding society within the early class relationships. This was the context for the biggest part of the Kyrgyz population till the beginning of 1930s. In other words, tribal features in Kyrgyzstan, reserved among the Kyrgyz till modern times is a specific heritage of nomadic cattle-breeding. These virtues impeded to agriculture and nomadism and preserved preclass relations. Moreover, the lack of Kyrgyz statehood for many centuries, made independence projection and clan or tribe integrity purely descendant of tribal integrities.

All breeding nomads' history reveals that only few tribes including Kyrgyz, lacking statehood, but stubbornly adhering to the principles of tribal economy, succeeded to preserve their ethnic identity and integrity, whereas the other one Huns, Saki, Karluks, Tgorgesh, Polovets, who formed in tribes almost simultaneously with the Kyrgyz, or later, almost dissolved in other ethnic formations, or reappeared with other ethnic names (Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and others).

The Kyrgyz society's self-determination on one principles of tribalism, as researches have shown, spread over almost all the spheres of  life targeted at provision of well-being, originality independence and integrity of a tribe; regulation of economic , property family , inter-group, and interpersonal relations: upbringing of capable generation; family and tribe protection from greater threats and, of course, assets enlargement by «legitimate»  for those times method barymtoi (cattle-lifting from other tribes and families). The principles of tribalism and its rules maintained organization, direction, breeding and all other legal activities.


The system of tribe being

The basic until for the Kyrgyz society was a family - tutun (literally - smoke, i.e., those cooking independently') Next-uulu, `sons`, with common predecessor, often back to the 7th generation. Their number varied from several dozens to several hundreds of families. A union of several uulu - generation of sons formed uruk - clan of blood relatives with further set common predecessor. A tribe, uruu contained several uruk - clans.

Manufacturing and other economic activities of a clan in Kyrgyzstan was the basic source of life for the Kyrgyz lacking that unity, having common blood -relations, people would fail to perform their main functions and life for many centuries. Social scientist from the 1920s, and up to recent years, following obvious reasons, almost anonymously, «proved» the development of classes and tough exploitation within Kyrgyz society, already in the middle Ages.  Nevertheless, the analysis of earlier sources, not yet «backed» by the notorious classes approach, as well as an honest analysis  of other materials (including Communist party's documents of the first years of Soviet power) would confirm, that by the beginning  of the 20th century, the Kyrgyz property was only formally private and in reality - communal. In the first place this relates to the land acquisition.

A book «The Kyrgyz and Kara-Kyrgyz of Syrdaria oblast» published under the name General Governor N.I.Grodekov (real author A.N. Vneshnegorodski, who made researches in Auleata uezd (district), seconded by Governor Grodekov) says that «no one can borrow a pasture from an honored clan of the nomad Kyrgyz. One can ask: «I have no pasture, let me be your neighbour (konshulash). Having been refused, you cannot do anything about it» (Grodekov 1889 p111.)


Philosophy of life

Kyrgyz communal ownership for land was confirmed by one of the most highly educated persons of that time, a big specialist of Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz way of life Talyp Moldo (1849-1949). He wrote that the Kyrgyz did not  have either much of hay  harvesting then or developed agriculture, and admitted that: «in times of militancy («zhookerchilik balanda» time prior to affiliation with Russia D.D.) bearing in mind, that those, who will part from the relatives for an inch, will never see then again («karysh azhiragan karygancha korushpoit») and there fore people lived close to each other. Hence in land farming rich and poor lived together wandered together and settled at a new site, too. One clans land was divided for inner branches and ailes.  Land did not pass from father to a son as legacy though:  each family had a certain place, where it settled after each nomadic trip. Land division utilization was subject to ail, the decision of the authorities». (Kyrgyzdar 1993 p.527-528)

N.I.Grodekov in his book says that Kyrgyz property community is based on clan's origin. Closer relations make property disposal less controlled. Children take from the parents whatever they want. Theft in a family is called secret picking (korsoltpai olgan)... for the people in need aksakal (old authority) levies from the people (zhurtchuluk) even the latter are against of it» (Grodekov 1889).

This happened during burials, commemorations weddings and pertained to fiancée ransom, killer's fee, fines for injures and dept's coverage. Legal proceeding s among the Kyrgyz in the Kokand Khanate and in the beginning of Soviet years, were based on adal, not shariat, or Legal Code. According to adapt in some tribes, for instance, man killing was penalized up to 300 horses worth fine, a murder of a woman cost the offender 150 horses, men's eye injury -150, and woman's eye was 75 horse fine worth. Obviously, not all were solvent to pay such a fine. So adequate amount of stock was collected from all members of a branch or clan, and should they resist, clan, branch or ail suffered violent robbery (talon) with the mute accordance of other relatives. (Kyrgyzdar, 1993 p 528-529.)


Azhos, biys, manaps

Clans' supervision system in Kyrgyzstan was also aimed at provision of well-being, preserving of originality, independence and integrity of an ethnic formation. Tribal development stage shows, that in those times a tribe was ruled by a chieftain with the help of council of elders. Kyrgyz chieftains of different times were differently named. In ancient Enisei period of their history they called they «azho».  Till now the anarchy period is called by the Kyrgyz as «period of missing of the holding azho, who is keeping kozho» (Ai! - degen azho zhok. Koi'-degen kozho zhok»). Later chieftain was called «biy» (Tagay-biy, Kubat-biy, Azhi-biy, Usup-biy and other) In the 19th century biy was replaced by manap. 

N.I.Grodekov in his book says that Kyrgyz manaps were simply the best people, holding no more honours, than other authorities of the clan and manap is not a full legacy title:  if manap's son is angry or poor, he is no more a manap. Asan Djangeldin writes that «Manap is like Russian Duke None of them was from Gengiz-Khan family (his descendants -D.D.) Manaps were the best from commons (zhurtan ozup), bravest and lavish in wars, who gathered people and ruled them (el bashtagan), i.e. those, who stood out (ozu osup chykkan). They were not selected but if so, they would be chosen» (Grodekov 1889 p.6)


The presence of natural selection in the system of biy and manap rule in Kyrgyzstan was proven by manap hierarchy names: Chon manap (Chief manap), zhany manap (new manap), Chala manap (not real manap), as well as some historical facts. Hence in Osh outskirts, in the middle of the 18th century, Kubat-biy was the governing head of Kushchu tribe. In the second part of the 18th century, in the same region Azhi-biy was the reigning head of Adigene tribe.  Top biy for that area since the 20th of the 19th century became Alymbek Asan biy uulu.  He represented Adegene tribe, but was not direct ancestor of Azhy - biy's. Another example - famous Baitik batyr after his father death, a chief manap of the South- Kanai, spent his childhood and days of youth in alien tribe in Talas not in good times. Then he returned to Chui valley, his Motherland, when he proved to be a brave and loyal person to other chief - Sarybagysh manap, not his native Soltin manap of Zhantai. Only when he be­came famous for his generosity and braveness, noted by Zhangarach-the chief manap of Soltin tribe, he was often invited for council settings. With time Zhangarach asked Baitik to solve some (initially small) issues. Then, closer to Zhanga-rach's death, the priority of Baitik among other Soltin manaps became absolute.



In selection of Biys and Manaps an  important  role was played  by  a  number  of  relatives  and  stock-number, their most value. In the nomadic condi­tions, often aggravated by flues and epidemics, wars and assaults, hard winters and hungers (there was a saying - «Bai chirense bir kyshtyk» -«all pretence of a rich man is worth of a winter»), both factors were far from constant, because ow­ing to one or another reason, prosperous branch­es and clans of those days, could become poorer, smaller in size and sometimes they just disap­peared («tukum kuruh) - dying out), while others rose and got richer. In such conditions top biy and manap leadership went to the latter.

The authors of historical literature of recent times, inspired by the Marxist maxim, that «all former society history is a history of struggle of classes», almost unanimously and categorical­ly point out at class confrontation in the Kyrgyz society, at the cruelty and ruthlessness of biys and manaps to common people, illustrating their viewpoint with, as it seemed, reasonable examples.

Were there any examples of despotism, any other cruelties, anti-humanism (in modern view) from the clans' chiefs and tribal seniors in Kyrgyzstan? Of course there were, as abuse of power, as it ap­pears, is a common feature of any social forma­tion - even democratic Yusup Abdrahmanov in his work «Rebellion of 1916», refers to the fol­lowing facts: Ormon - the chief of Sarybagysh manap, for the late return of kogon (rope with loops for lamb tying), lost by his people during migration, fined a «guilty person» this way: two maidens (for the number of poles stuck in the ground and tied up to the ends of the rope) and a sheep for each loop i.e. in total about 300 sheep. Another Sarybagysh manap grabbed lands from Sayak tribe near the modern town of Balykchi, saying that the land was selected by his sons for pheasant gaming. Borom-bai-the manap of Buga, insisted on sending the Kyrgyz of Sayak tribe on rocky and inconvenient lands of Toruaygyr, Cholponata and Tashtak in Issyk-kul depression, cynically saying: «I have no mercy to the Sayaks and magpies» («sayak menen sagyzganga uval jok»). (Abdrahmanov, 1991. p. 238-239)



These and other known historical facts testify to the contradictions, injustice and cruelty in Kyrgyzstan and Kyrgyz society. However, carefully analyzing big inter-tribal and inter-clan clashes, one can conclude that they were of the «inter-class» character. Ormon's cruelty, who fined the «guilty person», his notorious gallows, pe­riodically used (or culprits and other acts, barbaric or modern times, performed by manaps, were aimed at provision of order appropriate ‘or the conditions of those times: they had to be very «instructive», and kept in memories for a long time, as there were no any adopted legislative canons, nor constantly operating structures providing social order. Yet, cruelty was not directed in most cases at representatives of one's own tribal and clan formations, or adja­cent relatives' branches, i.e. the closes rela­tives wore dealt with a different principle: «ui murdun sasyk debeit» («Cow will not reject its nose because it is snotty»).

All the statements about the cruel exploitation of commons by Biys and Manaps should be corrected in the light of objective realities of those days. The thing is that in nomadic cattle-breeding conditions, there were no big opportu­nities for the application of exploitation. It was no more than cattle-grazing, wood cutting and cooking. That is why hired labor was limitedly used, yet poorly paid. Same could be applied to Chygym (big payments for funerals, commemoratives, weddings and others).  In the traditional Kyrgyz society they collected (and are still collected for closes relatives) money for any case and for any member of a clan or branch, irre­spectively his or her social status. The truth is that in those limes «more thor­ough and lavish» facilities were collected for clan authorities, not just anticipating senior's grievance, but also for enlargement of his au­thority together with clan's.


Nomads' taxes

In the traditional Kyrgyz society Biy, Manaps and common members were closely and mutually related. Influence, authority and power of Biy or Manap in the environment of alikes, in intercian and inter-tribal relationships were much dependent on the economic power of a clan and its image consequently. Therefore Biys and Manaps always cared about the number and economic growth of internal order in a tribe to avoid poor reputation. In its turn, clan authority, protection of each of its member greatly depended on the political power and authority of a senior.

In other words, all members of a tribe were interested in the development of tribal power. It was caused by common living interests in Kyrgyzstan. Each could be protected and secure some help in his clan Customs, based on tribalism, not just ac­cepted and encouraged, but demanded a re­venge from the relatives for injustice or a crime committed against any clan member. On the oth­er hand, clan first, bore responsibility for any member's acts. Purifying oath (ant) was not laid onto culprit, but on more authoritative member of a clan. Penalty was subjected not personally, but at a clan. Failure to pay kun resulted in kill­ing any member of perpetrator's clan, not nec­essarily the murderer himself.

A need to preserve unity and integrity of a clan or tribe, required certain legends and tales, ideal genealogical trees-sanzhyra, to fortify the existence of such unity, and to rein­force the connections between its parts, some­times very far apart from their origin According to this scheme, each Kyrgyz imagined himself, his clan pedigree as a chain of men-predeces­sors, starting from the closest (berki ata) down to the furthest (arky ata) with the ancestor (tup ata) at the top.

Many specialists from N.I.Grodekov to S.M. Abramzon and later ones noted that genealogy tales expressed class ideology explained, that main tale tellers were the richest men and old­est representatives of clans. This is beyond crit­icism. First, genealogy scheme-sanzhyra is a product of pre-class social consciousness. Sec­ondly, the main burden to preserve integrity and well-being of kindred was carried by their au­thorities the eldest representatives. Knowledge of complicated relatives' schemes and other folk tales was included in their own "programm of their professional training and position's duties", which guaranteed correct solutions in the spirit of national traditions and wisdom. Thirdly, the eiders had more opportunities to get familiar with all subtleties of the kindred relations of close and distant Kyrgyz tribes, than common herdsmen.


Respect for forefathers

All nomads in Kyrgyzstan were obliged to know the names of their clan, branch names of direct ancestors back to the 7th generation: ata (fa­ther) chon ata (grandfather), bababuva (great-great-grandfather), kubary (5-th level ancestor), zhoto (6-th), zhete (7-th). Without it person could not identify him­self in one or another clan as «ak sook» («white bone») or «kara sook» («black bone») with all the following consequences. «White bone», «black bone» division among the Kyrgyz was nether property, nor estate-based. Direct an­cestors of the predecessor (tup ata) were «white bone», and the descendants of those who joined the clan later were considered «black bone». First, of course, was preferable in many cases. But the most critical was the knowledge, of gene­alogy, a specific passport or identity sign for a nomad outside his clan. The level of truth and reality in stranger's tale about his genealogy al­lowed others to make a conclusion about his generosity, and could prove the real intentions of a stranger. (Great-grand-fatner),

Provision of integrity and unity of a branch or clan were derived from inner family relations. Marriages were mostly between representatives of different tribes, in-tribal ones were accepted, but not closer than between the representatives of the 7th generation on father's side. Marriage be­tween closer relatives were not accepted for three reasons: first, divorces may cause prob­lems between parents of the divorced - close rel­atives, second, obedience from daughter-in-law, required in patriarchal relations' conditions, was men a very difficult objective; and third, long ex­perience had taught locals, that the blood-mix in closely related marriages spoils the off-springs: they are as a rule, small in number and ill (tu­kum ospoit), and pairs are weak (kem kubat) in sexual intercourses.


Nomads' life

Bringing up a healthy generation, strong enough to preserve purity and multiplication of wealth resources of a tribe, its honesty and dignity was a tribal concern in Kyrgyzstan. The saying was «Kyz tuulsa-kyrk baital, uul tuulsa-soul karmaar» («girl's birth - addition to herd, boy's - addition lo defenders»). From their childhood, children were accustomed to socially useful labour, idle ones were condemned: «Orozoidun balasy ongo chyksa di zliash imysh» («hopeless Orozoi's son is still a baby after ten years»).

In case of man's death, his wife, children and property were cared for by a branch   Widow married to one of the younger relatives of a man, who then adopted his children. Should he had not got any close relatives, she married a distant one. In this case his properly was left to closer relatives and the widow's new husband paid them «zhesir doo»(«Tegin tabuu, uirun tabuu»-«finding of sources of his own herd). Return to her parents was only possible when a dead man had not any close relatives at all. Even then children, brought up m maternal side, kept the member­ship of father's tribe   In case of child's murder, kun was demanded and paid lo father's tribe, not mother's.  At the adult ago a boy grown up in alien tribes should return to his father's

To increase the number of descendants and the size of the tribe, adoption of children was widely practiced - «enchilesh bata», «tonsuz bata»-(«baby with rights of legacy, «off-the-womb baby»). Adoption might have  taken place even at adult age. It was enough to bring adopted child's face to the breast of the adopting man's wife in presence of witnesses, with a path to be their honest son. Adopting parent took whole responsibility for his son: paid fines, kun and got the same for him, like for his own child. Rights and duties of adopted child were similar like step-brothers, but unlike them he could return to his natives at any time.

Biy and Manaps of big tribes and clans, chasing for supremacy, influence and territory with other tribal congregations tried to seduce and «provide» authorities over smaller, often impressed sub-clans and branches, who did not enter the main clan of their enemy.

Main property well-being of a tribe was a collective care for its integrity and enlargement. Main property was living stock, mobile in migrations, hostile assaults, or trophy, taken from en­emy, during successful campaign. Relatives and their property protection was the main objective for the men, trained for that from their young age. Man, lacking technique in riding and personal braveness deserved shame. Each of them should be armed, cuirassed and possessing a horse, to be in time at the collection site, after hearing:  «Attan!» Zhoo keldi! («Boots and saddle! Enemy is near) to fight with dignity.

Closely related families formed all. All ails of a clan or tribe, avoiding robberies and captures by enemies, migrated together. Day of migration was defined by Biy or Chief Manap, to be reported to eldest representatives of all ails. Nothing and none could re-date migration (neither poor weather, nor anything else). To postpone migration for a day could be allowed for an ail only for funerals. Even this excuse was not often used. Normally, they took a corpse to bury him/her midway, during a short stop-over. To protect the nomads, there were special detachments assigned. On a new place can settled in a line ail by ail, stretching for several kilometers. (Kyrgyzdar, 1993. p. 530)

To define cattle ownership, tamga (brand-mark) and en label) were used. Brand was unified for the whole clan. Tamga of Kyrgyz tribes was divided by shape into orok tamga (sikle shape), ai tamga (crescent), kylych tamga (sabre), kaychy tamga (crossed), kyishik tamga  (crooked).


Kyrgyz wisdom

Lacking the written language, the basic principles of social behavior were tersely and figuratively formulated as sayings, adages, proverbs, going from one generation to anoth­er, polished by social practices and time in Kyrgyzstan. Be­ing the gist of national wisdom, they dealt with all social activities. Adages, like «El mazar, elden chykkan azar» («people are sacred, you are nothing without people»). «Erden ashmak bar, eiden ashmak jok» («You can overtake the bravest. You can not overtake people»). «Elin jardy bolso, jeke baityk kurusun» («personal wealth is cursed, when people are poor») etc., aimed at forging unity and integrity of clan and tribe, while the others, like «Jakshy biy juruttun kamyn jeyt, zhaman biy malyn jeyt» (Good biy thinks of the people, bad biy spends their wealth). Tuura biyde tuugan jok tuuganduu biyde yiman jok» (« Honest biy has no relatives, that biy's relative is good conscience) etc., dealt with social management. Most of proverbs and adages devoted protection of tribeŠ clan, motherland: «Er jigit el chetinde, joo betinde» (Young man should protect people facing enemy). «Er jigit enden tuulat joodon elet» - («Young man taxes life from mother and death - from enemy»). «Jazdykta elgen zhamanat, zhoodan elgen saltanat» («death on a pillow is a shame in the battle­field-honour) etc. there was a lot of other sailings and proverbs, dealing with common activ­ities, matrimonial and casual relations friendship generosity etc. i.e. all spheres of social and personal lives of nomads in tribal conditions.


Famous people

The history of all nations that surpassed trib­al relationships in their development, reveals that the man conditions of stepping ahead off tribal principles of regulations of social relationships are first, assuming sedentary and agricultural way of life which results in higher effectiveness of economy production, significant lowering of family dependence from tribal help tribal community is thereby replaced with neighboring community, second - formation of a slate, which assumes functions of population protection from external threat, legal regulation of internal, economic social, political, daily, casual and many other relations. These were the conditions, lack­ing in many Kyrgyz tribes and clans in the period of youth of Kurmanzhan-datka and her husband Alymbek-datka as personalities.

Having started conquering the Kyrgyz in 1762 the Kokand Khanate by 1832 had al­most completed it. Mostly, it was caused by as F. Gelwald wrote, «tacking any lies, or state and communal institutions in the Kara-Kyrgyz society. Their multiple tribes are far away from each other, being at swords points, even a tribe, branching  for  subdivisions  had  inner quarrels.  All their militants were involved in never-ending internal fight». For example, in 1821. after heavy battles, with the help of some  Southern   Kyrgyz tribes, the Kokand Khanate subjugated the Kotmen-Tyube Sayaks. In the  same  year Kokand  Khan  Omar sent Seid Beknazar, the Head of Kyrgyz tribe-Kutlug and hakim (mayor) of Kasan against the Saiybagysh  tribe    Boknazar's  campaign anywhere was accompanied by robberies and  massacres of the Kyrgyz, in compliance with Khan's  order   "to kill all Sarybagysh, being merciful to no one of  that evil tribe" (Hrestomatia., 1997 p.198). In 1825, Madali - Khan was informed about new unrest between Solto and Sarybgysh tribes and sent four thou­sand soldiers there. Soltio in full and  Sarybagysh in part, obeyed, starting to pay feuds lo Kokand Pishpek and Tokmak fortresses wore built in the Chiu valley. In 1831-1032 in­ternal clashes between Sayak, Saiybagysh and Bugu helped Kokand lo overtake Issyk-Kul lake and the adjacent lands.

As we can see, tribalism in Kyrgyzstan was marked with intra - tribal, and even, intra - clan unity which already had a negative effect. Obviously, small tribal and clan interests in many cases contradicted with general national interests as the latest, ethnic communities appeared to change tribal and clan groups.

Whereas, the Kyrgyzstan's inclusion in the Kokand Khanate may have looked as one of the conditions to overcome tribal and clan re­lations (the assumption of statehood), there were no radical changes in the functions and role of the Kyrgyz tribalism First. Kokand pol­icy was limited to the collection of fees and the cultivation of Islam on the conquered lands, ignoring the basics of communal conditions and relations. Secondly Kokand did not play the function of a state for the Kyrgyz, as it did not protect them from other enemies. In 1825, Tailyak baatyr stayed alone against the Chinese Empire, being a subordinate of the Kokand Khanate.

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