Kyrgyz Traditions

Customs and Traditions in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan: Traditions and customsLong ago life amongst the nomadic Kyrgyz was extremely harsh and there was a high infant mortality rate.  As a result birth and childhood were associated with many beliefs, superstitions and rituals - many with "shamanistic" overtones.  Many of these have survived to the present day.

Usually, the Kyrgyz families had many children, as the head of family was responsible to continue his lineage - and hence boys were highly regarded as they would enable this to happen.  A man, who did not have a son, was a very unhappy person as his family line had to stop with him.  The Manas epos opens with the childless Djakyp's expressing grief because he has no son to carry on his name and care for him in his old age. 

If the wife of a nomad could not have children, (or she was just gave birth to girls), then he could marry a second wife, or even a third - although this is not practiced today.

There is a phrase amongst the Kyrgyz that says when a daughter is born, the family is not raising a child of their own, they are raising a child for someone else. If she is later “stolen” as a bride, the groom’s family may well call her parents with the news, “You no longer have a daughter – she is our daughter now”.  Her allegiances now switch from being to her natural family, to her husband and his.  Another interesting saying is: "The birth of a girl is an addition to the herd, the birth of a boy is an addition to the defenders".

Life was not necessarily easy for children.  They were expected to undertake tasks from an early age.  The girls would learn mainly domestic tasks, helping the older women, whilst the boys might be assigned to look after some of the livestock.  Idle, or lazy, children would be castigated and criticized. For example, it might be said: "hopeless Aybek's son is still a baby after ten years".

There are several aspects related to "growing up" in traditional Kyrgyz society: from the cradle to the grave, names given to children, family life and festivals (rites of passage), respect for elders and so forth.