Kazakh dwellings

Kazakh culture and national traditions

Kystaulary (winter quarters or mud huts). Since Kazakhs in ancient times were dependent upon their cattle, they tried to find green pastures and convenient place; with water for their flocks. They also desired sunny place; without excess snow. If and when such a place was found in the Ural mountains - whether in the lowlands, the highlands or in the sand a family might build a mud hut. Let us describe them in son detail.

Oidagy kvstaular. Lowland mud huts were built near thick forests and rivers, bi they were only for summer residence. Such places were good for hunting and for grazing cattle, as the grass was usually nutritious and the forests full of game for hunting. So our ancestors built mud huts in lowlands taking when they were convenient. They were built by digging into the ground; providing two low rooms with a roof and windows near the top. Such mud huts were built on the bank of the river as water was thus very close. They were hard to locate, however, in the snow of winter unless you could see smoke rising on one's approach.

Kumdagy kvstaular - Mud huts in the sand. Some years when it was raining in the lowlands and mountains and it was very inconvenient for farming, kazakhs built mud huts in the sand in order to protect cattle from severe winter. Of course, it was difficult to transport wood for constructing a mud hut, so those mud huts were only for temporary living - especially in winter. They were also dug in the sand. Inside was spacious, clean and warm; and saxaul was used as firewood. It was great to warm your hands on an iron stove in winter. When saxaul wood was available, the hut was heated day and night. But it was boring, since it would likely be located far from other auls and families couldn't hear news or gossip from friends and family. So people who lived in mud huts awaited summer with patience to mingle with others.

Otardaqy kvstaular (remote mud huts). These were built in protected places from bad weather, but usually at the foot of the mountain or in a deep, protected gorge where it was a bit warmer in winter. All kazakh mud huts were "itarka" (huts where people lived temporarily). Grass in such remote places was thick and nutritious, so cattle could grow fat in a short period and cows would give much milk. Auls depending on livestock in such places couldn't communicate or trade with each other, so all necessary things to make it through the winter would have to be brought along.

Taudaqy kystaular (mud huts in the mountains). In comparison with the mud huts mentioned above were those which had many rooms. These huts would be built in ravines using stones, wood and mud. There might be separate rooms for married couples, for guests, for the aged and for children these, and they would sometimes occupy a whole ravine. In most cases wealthy people would live there. Near the houses one might see high curbstones made for tying horses. The Chinese called such places "mamagash." And there might be other buildings or hovels nearby for offspring.

Karaqai uiler (wooden huts). In early times there were huts made of logs, but these were few. Later, rich people used to built them near towns. Kazakhs from China often lived in such places.

Before having yurts nomads could live in booths or a small (moveable) houses. The walls of the booths were made of wooden poles covered with reed, hay or other light plants. Sometimes they covered booths with felt. Both booths and these small moveable house were very convenient for the nomads.

Kyiz ui (yurt)
For a long time the most convenient and the main shelter of kazakh nomads were yurts. From roughly built huts they managed to invent kyiz ui (yurt). It took a long time and the experience of many years to invent this new shelter. Kyiz ui was of two basic kinds: kalmyk yurt and Kazakh ui. The Kalmyk yurt was not very stable; it had straight uyks (sticks which formed the yurt roof) and it couldn't weather a storm. Kazakh yurts, on the other hand were stable and beautifully decorated. Wealthy Kazakhs had yurts made of four, six, eight, twelve or fourteen wings, and it would take a year to choose appropriate sticks. The sticks were long, and lifting the shantrak required a horse or a camel. Inside of these yurts were roomy and they contained much furniture.

Wooden and Leather Objects of the Yurt

Shanyrak - (wooden circle forming the smoke opening of a yurt).

The Kazakh yurt is the only shelter in the world which is built without any nails. The parts of the yurt like the shanyrak and the uyk, door were part of the framework. The most durable of them is the shanyrak, which was difficult to make it. The Shanyrak is symbolic of a home or family. Instead of speaking about somebody's home or house, Kazakhs used to refer to somebody s shanyrak.

The Shanyrak was made of even, uncracked willow wood grown in the forest. Wood was formed into a circle with the use of taspa, a tape lace of dressed leather for sewing. When the wood was fully dry, the Shanyrak would be very solid and durable. The edges of the wooden circle were even and round, not crooked or curved. A house builder would use a tez (a stand for bending the sticks forming the grate of a yurt) to join sticks to the circle. This required great accuracy, and the yurt's size depended on the number of sticks used.

In order to have yurt of good shape it was important to stick uyks precisely to the sockets of a circle. Not doing so would make the yurt crooked, for the lattice work had to line up precisely with the sticks descending from the Shanyrak.

Kerege - (lattice work). Kazakhs covered kerege with tundik (felt covering the smoke opening of the yurt) , and tuirlik (a thicker felt covering the lower part of yurt). This made the yurt strong enough to lift. To lift a shanyrak or uyk would indicate just how sturdy the yurt would have to be. The Kerege itself was also prepared beforehand. It was made by bending sticks on a frame. The Kerege was made of even willow tree branches made fancy in the orchard before cutting by patterning both sides. Holes of the Kerege were bound with a strap, which made it strong but able to be tied in a bundle for folding.

Upon setting up the yurt, women had to carefully measure where a stick would match a socket. Straps of the connected kerege were called "kok" by Kazakhs. This exclusive tape lace of dressed leather for sewing so strong that you could hardly cut it with a knife. The binding of the Kerege which joined it to the kok was called "kokteu." The sewing of the kok to the Kerege involved a small wooden stick for sewing felt together, called "saganak."

Uyk - these sticks were used for adjoining kerege and objects on it kerege lifting irge(narrow detached felting for covering the lower part of the lattice of the yurt) the top of sticks attached to kerege would be hunchbacked, those attached to shanyrak were a bit different. The top of it attached to shanyrak was called kalam( penholder)When uyk was covered with a felt it looked like an oval egg, and when it was raining , it couldn't stay too long and all in all ovalness was comfortable. If uyks were coordinated well, it looked beautiful outside, so again every uyk must find its socket. Uyk was also made of poplar and willow branches.

Esik (door) - There are two doors to the yurt. The first (inside) door was made of wood, and the second (outside) door was made of felt with the top bound directly to the shanyrak. These two doors kept the yurt warm and strong. The wooden door was convenient for opening and closing; three sides of the door had holes through which it could be bound to the bars of the kerege and to the tops of uyks under the wooden door with kur (a wool strip or band used for fastening the seam of the garter). The upper side of the door, the threshold, two jambs called door to a corral. Usually the wooden door was made of a plank or stakes. In calm weather Kazakhs would roll up the felt to make coming and going easier. Inside, the yurt was divided into tor (place of honour), near the back? and thresh, near the front. The right thresh would be occupied by elders and infants,- the left one for the young.

Zhelbakan (post) - Sometimes Kazakhs called Zhelbakan a strong pole, because in stormy weather it too could protect the yurt from falling down. It was always kept on the ready. This pole was also used for lifting the shanyrak and for dismantling the yurt. In early times they didn't use poles for hanging linen or meat, so the pole was specially measured according to the height of the shanyrak. It was made from a single straight and strong tree. In stormy weather when the wind might blow off felts and threaten the frame, adding the zhelbakan to the structure of the yurt by fastening the kerege to it protected the yurt's integrity. Meanwhile, the long pieces of bifurcated wood used for opening the felt covering the smoke-opening of the yurt was called the sirik, and it too might be used for extra support during bad weather.

Salma kazyk (a stake) - this post would be driven into the ground on the west side of the yurt with two short ropes from the front of the yurt tied to them. When kazakhs heard the word "enemy" they would tighten it to keep the yurt from being knocked down. This stake was thick and the top of it was like a cudgel. The stake was tilted backwards to aid in keeping the rope taught.

Uyk kazyk - Uyk is another type of stake hammered at kerege intersections. Unlike the above mentioned stake, this was long and thin, driven into the earth as a way to back the kerege and make it stronger. It would also make the yurt structure stronger to use the Uyk kazyk at both sides of the door for without a stable kerege, dishes to be stored on the frame could fall and break.

Kuiz uige kerekti agash zhabdyktar - Necessary wooden objects of the yurt The Making of wooden objects for the yurt wasn't the house-builders business, but if the owner asked him to make them, he would. Here are some necessary objects of the yurt: a mortar, a tub, different types of scoops, a ladle, a tripod to support a boiler, a trunk, a kebezhe (a wooden box for food supplies), a pestle, and the syryk (the bifurcated post discussed above).

Painted Objects Of The Yurt Made Of Wool Or Matted Reed

From the previous chapters you've heard about some yurt objects. Let's describe them in detail.

Tundik - usually wealthy people made this from white wool, the poor made them from brown and simpler wools. Yurts covered with white felt looked like white swans on the lake; those with brown felt like brown swans. Of course, the white ones were considered fancier. White felts which comprised the Tundik were square and each corner had long bands which performed four different functions. First, it was used to cover yurt at night to keep it warm; in the morning it was opened to let in sunlight, like a window. Three bands were always tied, leaving one free. If the smoke came out crooked, another end would be untied to increase the size of the opening in the shanyrak. If this didn't help, they would open the hole wider with the syryk. Because the Tundik was high and most moveable, it would quickly wear out. So, Kazakhs always had to be making new ones.

Tundik bau (bands of the tundik). Above we mentioned about four bands outside, but there were four inner bands too. They were used in windy weather for tying to the shanyrak, but at other times were used for decoration since they were often painted different rainbow colors or fringed with colorful woolen yarns. The needlework involved was often highly decorative.

Kyiz esik - Felted (or woolen) door. Above we told you about the wooden door, now we are going to describe the woolen door. The top of the woolen door was from quilted felt, and the inside was knitted with mats. Shi, or mats of shaggy grass, were also used to cover the latticed part of the yurt. They looked like a rug; besides in sunny weather it could be opened. It was also convenient in rainy weather, because rain would penetrate the felt but dripped down harmlessly via the mats and onto the ground. This allowed the felt to dry quickly. Sometimes they were called water runners.

Tuyrlyk - /uyrlyk was one of the expensive objects of the yurt, because even though it was relatively easy to construct, it took lots of wool to make it, Kazakhs cut it according to the size of the yurt. When children were given their own yurts, they would also provide enough wool for making a tuyrlyk. Wealthy people decorated both outside and inside, and they fringed the inside and tied silk bands. They'd make ornaments from red, yellow, and green velvets. Dodege (loops) were also sewn onto the upper felt piece of the yurt. In the summer, rich men hated the sun penetrating through the shanyrak, so to avoid that he'd cover the tuyrlyk with a white cloth. The white yurt could be seen from far away, and the accurately cut tuirlik would match the yurt. Sometimes their edges were sewed together with leather to protect from ripping. Tuyiryk bau (the band of a tuyrlyk). This band was very long, and required the skills of someone with previous experience. Bound incorrectly, it would slip (or roll down). Since this band was inside the yurt, women tried to decorate it as beautifully as possible. Beautifully decorated bands made the inside of the yurt cozy and nice.

Uzik (the large, thick felt covering yurt). The uzik would entirely cover the kerege or frame of the yurt. This required accurately bound outside bands. The upper uzik was covered with tuirlik and reached all the way down to the ground. In rainy weather it became wet because of water penetration. The outside was bound with rope, enabling people to tie up their horses; otherwise they might run away. All this stress led to uzik quickly wearing out.

Baskur - was the main ornamental ribbon decorating the interior of the yurt, so women did their best to make it beautiful, Baskur was outside of the kerege and mats, and it was very wide. Usually they were knitted with different yams, making them appear even better than a rug. You know that rugs are made of imported things like cotton, but the baskur would be cleverly made of pure local wool by skillful Kazakh women. They would dye or paint the baskur with natural paints, so would retain their color, and in ancient times their dyes were of very high quality. The baskur performed several different functions: they supported the kerege, make the yurt appear nice, and helped keep it warm. Some poor people couldn't afford them, so they just used ropes which were still structurally necessary.

Termebau - was used to decorate the yurt. It was knitted using different colored threads, and the women bound the uyk, kerege uzik, shanyrak, and tuirlik with it. Women would select colourful threads and also knit these especially for ornaments and as presents to married couples.

Beldeu bau - was a thick rope was used for binding the kerege. Thick ropes were used because any guest could tie his horse to it, which required a strong rope. Some hosts wouldn't allow people to tie their horses, instead driving a separate stake into the ground for such a purpose. When they moved to another place, they'd wrap the stake in uzik.

Salma - is a special rope for binding the yurt in windy weather, to be bound near tuyrlyk.

Kosharkan - This is a rope used during nomadic travels. It was used during the move to another place for binding household objects to a camel. The rest of time it would be with burau (in case overturned luggage needed to be righted). The burau was made of wood, and kept with the kolka (this is a felt attached to the camel's neck) that a rope might not cut it.

Kindik bau (navel band). This was a rope which would be bound to a stake in the middle of the yurt if the storm or wind would sway the shanyrak. Some families would not require a stake because in stormy weather one strong person could stand in the middle of the yurt and could pull down on the rope.

Ot kyiz - This was a special felt which was put on the ground and covered everything inside the yurt except underneath the stove. After measuring the yurt, women constructed the Ot kyiz which was warm and allowed children to roam upon the floor freely. Usually women used black wool for the felt; sometimes they decorated with ornament the place of honor and, or they would create a tapestry. In cold weather you'd sit on a blanket near the stove, wrapped in a wolf's or wild mountain goat's fur, which was real paradise.

Dodeqe - was a decorated piece of square cloth on the outside of the yurt for decorative purposes. It was often ornamented with red velvet or with red satin by families with fewer resources. A dodege was not "required," and some yurts did not have one at all.

Zheldime - This was a multicolored rope. In case uyks were not. attached to the socket precisely, it would be used for extra strength as a binding. If it was needed it would hang on the kerege.

Kazan kap (kazan case) - This was an especially made case for kazan so that its soot didn't spoil things like furniture or felts in traveling. It was used only for the kazan, and also provided extra protection from breaking.

Sandyk kap (case for trunk) - This was usually made from felt and covered with a cloth. In nomadic wandering it would protect the trunk from damage. Women especially decorated this with expensive cloth and embroidery on the outside of the case.

Tutkysh - are a type of mittens, made of felt, and connected with a cord. They were used for holding hot kettles and kazans or to change a boiler on a tripod so your hand won't get burned or soiled. This was a very necessary and important thing in the yurt, and it was kept on mats.

Ayak kap (dish bag). - Women would keep washed dishes in the Ayak kap. It was embroided and very clean, and every women needed them. Otherwise their dishes would quickly become dirty. Also, were one to drop a spoon in a grass, it would be difficult to find; and of course no one wanted the family dog to lick a dish. So items like this were kept in the dish bag. There was a proverb among the Kazakhs: "because of the disorderly and dirty woman the dogs used to walk near mats."

Kereqe kap (kerege case) - During nomadic wanderings, Kazakhs would carefully take out uyks and bind them in two places (from the top and end) and would put into the oval case and tied. It was called kerege kap.

Uvk kap (uyk case) looked like the kerege case and was made of the same fabric. Only the women who were good at householding had those cases.

Shym shi (rough, shaggy grass) - These were necessary things in the yurt. Men would select such grasses, and women would peal, cut, and interweave them with colorful threads. For this, a stone would hold down the shyn shi while different ornaments were threaded to them. In old times kazakh women without any education could weave wonderful ornaments. Shym shi was used as a decoration and it kept the yurt warm.

As shi - This was a simple mat. While laying a table and preparing meat, as shi might be as a shelter. Women sometimes shared and ate (less important) meat while working on a meal for guests.

Kok - Kok was made of dressed leather and used as a tape for sewing. Every wooden thing would be fastened with it. No other material could be compared with kok, for it was a very important and necessary thing for yurts. Everything fastened with it was rendered durable.

Ore - Ore was a shed or shelf (on four posts) for drying kurt. Before putting kurts were placed there, however/ it was covered with specially woven mats. After this the women dried kurts and irimshik (we 11 talk later about this); sometimes they'd dry meat there too. Every Kazakh yurt had ore, and they would place it near the yurt, because a steppe bird could steal from it or cattle could knock it over.

Vessels made of leather

Saba is a large leather bag for processing and storing kumiss. Saba also remains symbolic as a sign of Kazakh generosity and abundance. Wealthy people who had many horses competed with each other in making saba by shape.

Suiretpe is a large wineskin, or a big leather bag for kumiss.

Mes was a bag made from a whole skin of a goat or sheep.

Torsyk is a leather bag. When kazakhs went on a trip they'd bind it to a saddle bag; a little one was called zhantorsyk.

Konek - a leather pail for the milking of mares.

Kauqa - a bucket used to take water in the well. For preserving kumiss, Kazakhs made dishes from horsed skin. For that they'd first shave the hair off the skin, then they sewed it based on a traditional pattern. To hold the shape they'd first fill the vessel with earth or sand while they dried it, then they'd smoke it. Kazakhs still enjoy beverages fermented stored first in smoke treated containers.

Talys - was a small bag made of calf skin. There men put a hammer, tape, saddle bag, whetstone and other necessary things. It was tanned and thin and kept under the trunk.

Shonshik - This is a small vessel made of goat's skin. Inside was kept a file, an awl and other small things. It was also to be found under the trunk.