While visiting any country, you will most probably witness some of the most famous traditions and customs people practice. If you want to take a journey to Central Asia, specifically Kyrgyzstan, this article may be of a great help because it discusses famous Kyrgyz traditions that one has to practice from the time he or she is born until he or she dies. By the time of your travel, you will already know what to expect and how to behave on very specific occasions.
Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country with a very rich baggage of culture and traditions. Its history of traditions dates back to the period when Turkic tribes moved and settled in Central Asia. Thus, Kyrgyz tribes were very much influenced by Turkic traditions, sharing significant cultural similarities. Kyrgyz people have always been practicing nomadic lifestyle over the centuries. It ingrained into the Kyrgyz ideology that even today many people still are nomads who live in mountains. That nomadic lifestyle was very strongly embedded into Kyrgyz culture that even communism during the Russian rule over the Kyrgyz Socialist Republic was impotent to abolish it. A lot of customs were preserved from those times and are practiced today.
The entrance to the Kyrgyz yurt, or akoi, usually faces east and has a door made of pine or birch wood. Floors are lined with felt and covered by shrydaks and sometimes yak skins. They often have a cast iron stove in the middle used for heat, cooking and warming up tea. People stand-up or sit on carpets. Buckets and plastic bottles hang from the walls. Sometimes there are small cabinet used for storing utensils abd dishes. Some town dwellers still keep yurts outside their homes.
The exterior of the Kyrgyz yurt is made with several felt layers fastened by ropes. The inside is divided into two parts. The right side, is the “women’s side’ (the eptchi zhak). This is the place for kitchen utensils and dish-washing. Thread, needles, needle-work, knitting and all sorts of females articles are kept in bags on this side. The left side is the “male side” (er zhak). Here one can find saddlery, kumchas (whips), knives for hunting and tools used for cattle-breeding, handicrafts and hunting. There also is an ample supply of carpets, juk blankets, pillows, heaped-up on special places of rest.
Michael Finkel wrote in National Geographic: “Until you step into a Kyrgyz yurt. Move aside the heavy felt door. And suddenly everything changes. The outside world disappears, and you’ve walked into a Kyrgyz wonderland. The blankets and carpets and wall hangings and ceiling coverings are all decorated with ornate designs—paisley, flowered, spangled, psychedelic, kaleidoscopic. This is where the family eats and sleeps and escapes, in this ecstatic explosion of color. [Source: Michael Finkel, National Geographic, February 2013]
“In the center of the yurt is either an open fire or an iron stove. There’s no wood in Kyrgyz country. Instead they burn yak dung, which actually emits a sweet odor. Always, there is a teapot on the boil. Usually several. Tea is the staple of the Kyrgyz; they drink it with yak milk and salt, and they drink it constantly. “I drink 120 cups a day,” Er Ali Bai told me. He probably wasn’t exaggerating much.”
The most important element of etiquette is respect. Respect is given to elders and authority figures. Verbal respect is given by using the polite pronoun and endings, and by using the titles eje (older sister) and baikay or aga (older brother). People always use these polite forms, even with close friends and relatives.
Respect also is shown physically. Men and women alike will give up their seats to elders on public transportation. A person’s position at a table also shows his or her status. Men and women usually sit on opposite sides of a table, with the eldest and most respected at the head of the table, farthest from the door.
Bread is considered sacred by the Kyrgyz and must never be placed on the ground or left upside down. It is never thrown away, and leftovers are fed to animals.
At the end of a meal, a quick prayer may be said. This is from the Qur’an, but it honors the ancestors. The hands are held out, palms up, and then everyone at the table cover their face in unison while saying omen.