Kyrgyzstan's recorded history spans over 2,000 years, encompassing a variety of cultures and empires. Although geographically isolated by its highly mountainous terrain, which has helped preserve its ancient culture, Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations as part of the Silk Road and other commercial and cultural routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically fallen under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation-state only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
To the Turkic nomad, a horse is a prized possession, and horsemanship a much-prized skill. Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that among the most popular national pastimes, or sports are contests on horseback. Central Asian horses possess such qualities as lightness and good coordination (essential in the mountains). They are exceptionally hearty, will eat almost anything and are not susceptible to sudden changes of weather. They can endure long-distance marches with the rider. For these reasons Kyrgyz ponies were prized possessions even further a field in Russian and Europe in the past.
Yurta is a small dwelling, decorated with hand-made felt carpets and strips. Having its routes at ancient Turkic tribes yurta took all the best from many centuries’ experience of people. Kyrgyz tribes, occupied with nomadic cattle-breeding in mountains, worked out the best type of transportable dwelling that is easily disjointed, moved on pack animals and again set. Yurta consists of wooden construction and felt cover.
Latticed sliding walls (kerege) consist of separate links. They define sizes of yurta. From the external side kerege are covered with mats, made of cheegrass stalk. It lets air the dwelling and the same time keep it from wind and dust. Sphere roof of yurta is made of sharp-cut bend from one side poles – uuk. By one side, where bend is, they are fixed in the upper part of wall basis, by other side they are set to the wholes in tunduk – wooden circle at the top of yurta.
Yurta is covered by felts of different types. That are tunduk jabuu, tuunduk, uzuktor. Felt cover is connected with its frame by narrow woven and leather stripes. The cover of tunduk is moveable and the hole for smoke is easily opened in the morning and closed in the night with help of long lassos. The doorway is covered with felt or woven ornamented curtain. Yurta can be set in 1 hour.
Internal and external sides of yurta are rich decorated with different ornamented items made of felt, applications, braided patterned fringe, multicolored tassels (chachyk) and patterned braid (terenchek boo).
During the years not only yurta but its interior has changed. Right side of the yurta was considered women’s part (epchi jak). Here colored bags with felt applications, clothes, head-dresses, jewelry, needle work of mistress and pottery were kept. Place for food was separated with screen from ornamented mat (chygdak).
Place in the opposite of entrance was considered honorary (tor). At this part of the wall there was the row of trunks where rarely used patterned carpets were laid. The more carpets – the richer people living in the yurta. At the floor of the yurta only the best carpets – ala-kiyiz were put, then shirdaks, and on them – narrow quilts (toshok) or fur lays – koldolosh. Tor was the centre of yurta. It was place for the most honorary guests. “When you are the guest, don’t sit to tor”. If the person more honorary than you will come, than the master will tell you “Give place to him!”. And you will have to give place before all the guests. So when you are guest, take less honorary place. And the master of the house will come and tell: “Respected, please, go to tor”, then your authority will go up before everybody”). Before sitting guests they were put the kind of table-cloth – dostarkhan. In the middle of the yurta they burnt the fire and cooked the meals. It is called kolomto. Rich people cooked their dishes in special yurtas – ashkanas. Poor people lived in smoked small yurtas (boz ui, kara ui), where they kept not only their utilities (bed, pottery), but in the cold time of the year – new born calves and lambs.
In yurta people are always surrounded by comfortable carpets, woven and embroidered covers, blankets and pillows and other utilities often made by mistress herself. Materials that she needs are felt, fleecy cloths, fur, textile, cheegrass, the main graphic is color and ornament.
The coloring of Kyrgyz national cloths, carpets, embroideries is saturated and cheerful. It’s composed of strong, contrast colors, where warm colors – red and brown prevail. In the past masters used natural colors. Ornament has its origin from far Bronze epoch, but gradually it was improved and expanded. Its elements were taken from flora and fauna that were surrounding the nomadic people. The main motif of Kyrgyz ornament was curl “kochkor” – stylized ram’s horn. Sinuous line with rhythmically placed curls is named “kyal” – “dream”, “fantasy”. It also reminds the branch of flourishing tree.
Kyrgyzstan stood on the crossroads of the Silk Road, and the caravan routes which crossed the territory carried not only goods for trade, but also brought examples of various cultures: Turkish, Persian, Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Russian and European and these mingled with the culture and traditions of Central Asia. As a result Kyrgyz cuisine has absorbed elements from all of the cultures with which it came into contact, and although many dishes that you will find are common throughout Central Asia, it is sill possible to find examples that have preserved their original, national identity.
Meat is central to Kyrgyz cooking – the nomadic way of life did no allow for the growing of fruit and vegetables – although these can be found in abundance in modern Kyrgyzstan. One of the most essential features of Kyrgyz cuisine is that dishes should preserve their taste and appearance. Sauces are intended only to bring out the taste of the dish – not to change it.
Boorsok – pieces of dough, deep fried in boiling oil – is a traditional table “decoration”. They are produced in large quantities and spread over the derstokan or table at every major celebration.
Beshbarmak – perhaps the most typical Kyrgyz dish. The dish is meant to be eaten with the hands, not with a knife and fork! “Besh” means five and “Barmak” – finger. Beshbarmak is served when guests arrive and at almost any festive gathering. This meal consists of noodles, which are mixed with boiled meat but into tiny pieces and served with a medium spicy sauce. Bullion is then poured over the mixture.
Shashlyk and Kebabs – meat cubes on skewers cooked over the embers of burning twigs. Mutton is the meat usually used, but it is possible to find beef, chicken, liver and even pork shashlyk. The meat may simply be freshly sliced or may gave been marinated overnight. Be warned, if the meat is mutton, then almost certainly one of the pieces on the skewer will be pure fat…the dripping fat onto the burning embers is thought to enhance the taste. Shashlyk is usually served with a sprinkling of raw onion, vinegar and lepyoshki.
Plov – rice mixed with boiled, or fried meat, onions and carrots (and sometimes other ingredients such as raisins), all cooked in a semi-hemispherical metal bowl called a kazan over a fire. Plov is a favorite dish in the South and is served to honored guests – the meal is not considered over until it has been served.
Lagman – flat noodles cooked in a stew of tiny pieces of mutton, potatoes, carrots, onions and white radishes. A Russian version, minus the noodles called Shorpo, can often be found.
KOK BORU Inscribed in 2017 (12.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity UNESCO
Kok boru, a traditional horse game, is a synthesis of traditional practices, performances and the game itself. It is a traditional game played by two teams on horseback, where players try to manoeuvre with a goat’s carcass (replaced with a mould in modern-day games), or ‘ulak’, and score by putting it into the opponents’ goal. The community of bearers includes players united in higher league, semi-professional and amateur teams, as well as the general public. The most experienced players serve as referees, while another category consists of the ‘Kalystar’ (elders), who ensure the fairness of the game. The element is an expression of the cultural and historic tradition and spiritual identity of its practitioners and serves to unite communities regardless of social status, fostering a culture of teamwork, responsibility and respect. Knowledge related to the element is primarily transmitted naturally by means of demonstration, as well as during festive and social events, and the community concerned is actively involved in ensuring its viability through the transmission of knowledge and skills, research and the organization of training. The National Kok-Boru Federation, established in 1998, plays a key role in promoting and safeguarding the element through the development and organization of activities.