Nomadic tradition

Kyrguz culture

At all times the main occupation of Kyrgyz people was cattle breeding. They bred mostly sheep, horses, yaks and camels. To provide cattle with grazing they had to roam from one place to another. In summer nomads ascend to alpine summer pastures “jailoo”. When winter came went down into the valley, on the winter pastures “kyshtoo”.

Roaming to jailoo has always been a significant holiday for Kyrgyz people. They put on festive, fine clothing and led caravans to a new place. Camels and horses were covered with beautiful colored carpets with bright patterns. The most beautiful girl in expensive jewelry rode in front of the caravan. If the caravan route lay through any settlement, its residents greeted the nomads with great hospitality, offered some refreshments to them and wished a happy journey. The family that roamed into the jailoo first, traditionally cooked meals for the following families.

In autumn, when roaming back, Kyrgyz people ran some magic rites to return there the following season. To the pit of the pegs, to which foals were tied, nomads poured ayran or kumys to ingratiate spirits.

Nomads looked after their cattle very carefully. During the day only men were traditionally involved in the process of graze. At night this function was passed to young women. Looking after their livestock, they sang a special song (“bekbekey”), which scared off predators and evil spirits away from the flock. The birth of a calf, lamb, camel or colt had always been a great joy for the owner.

Another important occupation of nomadic people was hunting. Adroit hunters had a lot of special tools for moving in the highlands. They hunted mainly for wolves, deer, mountain goats. Hunters actively used hunting birds such as eagles, falcons and hawks. Kyrgyz hunters also used dogs of a special breed Taigans for battues.

The elements of the traditional nomadic way of life even having passed through the centuries, preserved in the Kyrgyz people’s life to the present day. On jailoo, around the beautiful untouched nature you’ll be able to see the yurts of locals and great flocks of cattle.


Traditional Clothes

Features of the nomadic lifestyle of Kyrgyz people have been reflected in their national clothes. First, the clothes had to be light and comfortable, so that a nomad could comfortably ride on horseback. Second, the clothes had to be strong, but uncomplicated, so that it could be home-made. Third, it must reliably protect people from the cold, that is important in a mountain climate. The main materials for making clothes were coarse wool, felt, fur and leather. The noble families could afford expensive clothes made of fabrics from the towns of the Great Silk Road.

The outerwear is called “chapan”. The chapan is a kind of padded coat made of a strong and warm woolen fabric, with buttons and high collar. In winter nomads wore sheepskin coat named “ton” and fur coats “ichiks” made ​​of fox fur, wolf or lynx. The main traditional shoes are boots decorated with colorful ornaments, with long tops and narrow toes.

Men wore wide trousers made ​​of leather or suede, embroidered with colored threads (“chalbar”, “kandagay”), shirts (“keynek”) and felt robe (“kementay”). Noble and rich people wore jewelry. A male attribute of wealth in the clothing was a wide leather belt (kemer), decorated with various silver incuts.

The traditional women's clothing consisted of long white shirts or dresses (“keynek”) and long pantaloons. Young women wore sleeveless jackets of colored velvet (“chyptama”). Married women wore skirts with fur and patterned embroidery (“beldemchi”).

Headwear always played a special role in Kyrgyz traditional clothing. Ak kalpak is a white felt hat worn by men. It is one of the important symbols of Kyrgyz people. The hat in the shape of a turban made of fine white muslin is called “elechek”. Traditionally it is worn by married women


The Yurt

Moving from one place to another is inherent in nomadic way of life. Therefore, it is important to have a dwelling that is easy to assemble, disassemble and carry on pack animals. Yurt became such dwelling for Kyrgyz people.

The basis of the wooden frame of a yurt is composed of several elements. The setting of a yurt begins with the doorway“bosogo”, usually facing south or south-east. The walls are a grid of birch poles called “kerege”.  The base of a dome is also assembled of poles called “uuk”, then goes a rim called “tyundyuk”. Tyundyuk is used for entry of sunlight into the yurt as well as for going out of smoke. Tyundyuk is one of the most recognizable symbols of Kyrgyzstan, which is represented on the flag of the country. Outside yurt is covered with woven straw called “chiy” and thick felt “kiyiz”. The doorway is also covered with felt, or there stand double doors instead.

In the center of the yurt there is a hearth called “kolomto”. The back of the yurt is called “dzhyuk”. There you can usually see chests and folded blankets, pillows and carpets. Between kolomto and dzhyuk there is the place of honor called “ter”, where sits the head of the family or the most distinguished guests.

The right side of the yurt (“epchi jak”) is the female half, which holds stocks of food, dishes, various items needed in the household. The left side of the yurt is called “er jak”, the male half. There are a saddle, harness, weapons, animal skins. The floor and walls of a yurt are decorated with beautiful patterned rugs called “shyrdaks”.


Since ancient time music played an important role in the life of Kyrgyz people. Any holiday in the village did not do without music, and young and old people gathered to listen to wonderful tunes of master musicians. Kyrgyz people, like any nation, have their traditional musical instruments, reflecting the unique national character.

The most widely used instrument is komuz. It is made by skilled craftsmen from a single piece of wood (usually juniper, apricot or walnut). Its length does not exceed 80-90 cm. Komuz has three strings. It is usually played while sitting: A musician is keeping the instrument in a horizontal position, the left hand is holding the strings on the neck, and fingers of the right hand are running over them. Komuz can be tuned up in different ways. Musicians can play cheerful and sonorous melodies and lyrical motives, taking the soul as well.

Another well-known musical symbol of Kyrgyz people is temir-komuz, an oral stringed musical instrument of arched shape. The fact that it is made of metal reflects its title (temir in translation from Kyrgyz menas “iron”). The sound emitted by this musical instrument is unusual, but it is very soft and charming. Women and children often play the temir-komuz.

Kyl-kyak is a bow musical instrument with two strings. It is made of juniper or apricot tree wood, strings and bow are made of the finest horse hair. Musicians play on kyl-kyak, holding it upright on the lap and moving the bow. The sound of this music is quite specific. It’s hollow, but in some ways resembles the tone of the human voice.

Chopo-chor is a kind of wind instrument made ​​of clay. It was popular mainly in the southern agricultural regions of the country. It is an elongated tube with openings which are periodically covered with fingers during the process of playing it.

National drum is called dobulbash. It has a diameter of about 30 cm, and covered with camel skin on the top. It gives very sonorous rhythmic sound that can be helpfull during military campaigns or magic rituals.

As you can see, all national instruments are made of materials and items that are available in a nomadic household. This gives musical instruments unique flavor and spirit of nomadic freedom.

Ethno Games

National entertainment occupies a prominent place in the life of Kyrgyz people. Various ethno-games and competitions are extremely popular. They are also one of the most important elements of nomadic culture, as they helped to develop the necessary skills and qualities of nomads: riding skill, strength, agility, endurance and accuracy.

The most popular game is a horse race. At a funeral or on holidays horse races were held over long distances. This competition is called at-chabysh. Only horses of great endurance can take part in it, so that they would overcome a distance of up to 100 km. The competition called “jorgo-salysh” is similar to al-chabysh, but the style of riding in it is amble (when a horse's hooves are raised and lowered to the ground in pairs).

The game ulak-tartysh is extremely popular now. It is a struggle of riders for a goat carcass. The game is played by two teams consisting of 2-3 men, on a wide area. The main purpose is to shoot the "goat carcass" (“ulak”), weighing about 40 kg, in the opposing team's goal. The game is very active and really exciting. Participants throw to each other, capture it from the opponents, pick it up from the floor and deftly ride a horse with it.

The romantic game kyz kuumai is translated as "catch the girl". It involves a young man and a girl. The essence of the game is that the girl is given the best horse and a certain handicap in the distance, and the guy on a usual horse should catch up to her and kiss or touch her lightly with his headdress.

The extraordinary sights are also such games as oodarysh (a struggle between two riders on horseback), tyiyn enmey (raising skill coin from the ground at full gallop), and jamby atmai (shooting a gun at a target at full gallop).

A favorite competition of athletes has always been a kind of belt wrestling kyuresh. Its main purpose is to make an opponent fall down without removing the hands from his belt. Both adults and children like play alchiks (“ordo”).

A kind of singing competitions aitysh is really unique. It attracts a large number of spectators who have the ability to evaluate the skill of folk poets “akyns”.

No holiday celebration is complete without a teeter made ​​of wood and rope called “selkinchek”. Two persons usually teeter together, a boy and a girl. In the places where the teeter is set, there is always a lot of young people and you can hear their ringing voices and laughter.

Thus, ethno-games often take place during major holidays. They can attract a large number of participants and spectators from all over the village.

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafts of Kyrgyz people has evolved over the centuries. It was formed based on the needs of people’s everyday life, and the nomadic way of life influenced it much. Among the major forms of arts and crafts felt art, weaving, patterned embroidery, making of mat, leather products, jewelry, and wood carving.

The art of making felt products is closely related to the dwelling of the nomads, the yurt. Carpets of felt, decorated with ornaments, are called “shyrdaks”. Shyrdak is a very important element in the decoration of a yurt. It is usually located on the floor. Felts for shyrdaks are made ​​from sheep wool, which is tightly rolled and painted in bright colors. Felt is made from pieces of ornament, then they are sewn together to form a beautiful carpet.  Shyrdak’s length is usually four meters. width is about two meters. The great meaning in the applied arts has the carpet “ala kiyiz” (kyrg. "motley felt"). It differs from shyrdak that felt pices are not sewn, but they are rolled to each other.

The art of making mats is also popular among craftsmen. Mats are made from woven straw called “chiy” and threads of colored wool. The mats are widely used in everyday life. They are important components of the yurt, and they are layed under felt carpets to protect them from moisture.

Embroidery also can be noted as significant craft of Kyrgyz people. Often only women involved in it. They skillfully embroider patterns and ornaments on fabrics, leather and felt. Kyrgyz masters magnificently embroider wall pictures “tush-kiyiz”. Such pictures’ center is usually plain, without patterns, while the sides are framed by the wonderful color ornaments. Pattern embroidery is also common for traditional bags “ayak-kap” and hanging shelves “tekche”.

Leather products made by local artisans can be noted as unique items. They are not just clothes and shoes, but also vessels  (“sabaa”, “chanach”, “kookor”), framing for chests, cases and horse equipment.

Wooden products are made of different tupes, for example, elm, juniper, poplar and cherry trees. These products are dinnerware, chests and boxes, racks and cases, special chess and backgammon, musical instruments.

The skills of goldsmiths called “zerger-usta” are highly appreciated. For Kyrgyz people silver metal is sacred, it is not only a decoration, but also a ward off for evil spirits. Silver rings (“shakek”), bracelets (“bilerik”), pectorals (“soyko”, “jel-byurooch”), silver decoration for braids (“chach ushtuk”) are extremely popular among Kyrgyz women.

You can get acquainted with Kyrgyz arts and crafts and even purchase some of the items in many towns and villages by visiting handicraft centers, workshops, exhibitions or special shops.

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