Kyrgyzstan Wedding Traditions
Of all the important events in the life of a Kyrgyz, the wedding is the most significant. Getting married in Kyrgyzstan involves a prolonged celebration, which culminates in the wedding ceremony yet continues even after the wedding is over. In Kyrgyzstan wedding traditions, elements of culture and religious belief are closely intertwined, as evidenced by the heavy influence of national customs and rites.
Wedding traditions in Kyrgyzstan involve several major events:
Zholugushuu (Meeting of the in-laws)
Wedding preparations in Kyrgyzstan begin at an official meeting of the parents of the bride and groom, during which the two parties discuss the details of the upcoming celebration. This meeting is fundamental, since the new in-laws not only have to agree upon all the preparations, but make a good impression on each other in the process.
The parents of the bride and groom, as a rule, should meet in neutral territory without their son or daughter present.
When the parents meet for the first time, moments of misunderstanding can occur. To avoid the potential for misunderstanding and ‘losing face’, Kyrgyz society has an unwritten code of behavior for this encounter.
There is pressure and expectation for the wedding ceremonies to be spectacular, as they will serve as an expression of mutual respect between the two families.
Saiko saluu (Official engagement)
The next step is the rite of saiko saluu, or official engagement, which involves not just the bride and groom, but their entire families.
The groom’s family pays a special visit to the bride and her family, but the bride is hidden from the groom’s sight. The future mother-in-law puts gold earrings on her daughter-in-law (saiko saluu), after which the parents of the bride and groom can officially call one another kudygai (in-laws).
This is followed by a large feast hosted by the bride’s family, with many Kyrgyzstan foods served to the guests. These preparations should be carried out meticulously, as the groom and his family should be received with great respect and honor. It’s very important for the newly engaged couple to receive words of blessing from their relatives and elders at this time. These words are often pronounced over the couple in their absence.
Kyz Uzatuu (Farewell to the bride)
Traditional Kyrgyzstan lifestyle dictates that a girl should remain at home with her parents until she gets married. When the bride leaves her childhood home to go to her husband’s house, she will bring an abundance of new material goods with her (sep), which signifies the wealth of her family. In the past, wealthy Kyrgyz families would send cattle, horses, camels and even slaves with their daughter. Nowadays, the bride’s sep consists of furniture, carpets, household appliances, clothes and accessories.
Essential items to be sent with the bride include two blankets, two pillows, mattresses and special chests imprinted with traditional ornamentation. These chests will hold the bride’s scarfs, dishes and other valuable new items.
Jung Toy (Wedding Celebration)
On a solemn day, the groom and his friends will arrive in fanfare to the bride’s home. According to custom, before entering the house, the groom must pay ‘ransom money’, which will again be demanded from him before entering the bride's room, and a third time for kissing her later in the celebrations.
Then follows the official nike ceremony, the recitation of wedding vows according to Islamic tradition. After all of these traditions have been observed, the newlyweds go to the registry office and finally to the wedding hall, where hundreds of guests, a lavish feast and an extravagant celebration await them.
Chachaly (Welcoming the bride)
After the wedding is over and the newlyweds come home, the bride will be showered with sweets at the front door, signifying the relatives’ wishes for their long and happy life together. Guests and neighbors then collect these sweets off the ground, believing that if you bring them home, wealth and good news will come to your house.
Koshogo (Bride’s curtain)
After the bride arrives to her new home, her 3-day rite of passage begins. According to custom, the bride will sit behind a special curtain, and guests who come to the house will give her their blessings in exchange for her respectful bows to them.
The bride’s curtain is usually taken from another young woman who has already proven herself to be a good daughter-in-law. Kyrgyz mothers believe that if you use the curtain of a respected daughter-in-law, the new bride will also become a good, loving and obedient wife for their sons.
Kelin Koruu (Seeing the bride)
The last official tradition to be upheld before the newlyweds begin a new life is kelin koruu. Over the course of a few weeks the newlyweds visit all relatives on the groom’s side, in which they’re given gifts and well wishes. This also gives the relatives a chance to observe the new bride’s manners and social capabilities.
Even today, in traditional Kyrgyz families there are long-held rules of conduct that the new daughter-in-law must unquestioningly follow. These include 8 distinct prohibitions:
Prohibition 1: Throughout her entire married life, the daughter-in-law is strictly forbidden to refer to her husband's parents by name, to look them directly in the eye or to turn her back on them.
Prohibition 2: She is forbidden to sit at the table with her father-in-law.
Prohibition 3: Cups of tea must be served only with the right hand, while pressing the left to the heart. A full cup of tea must never be poured, but only half.
Prohibition 4: Short skirts or shorts must never be worn in the presence of the husband’s parents or relatives.
Prohibition 5: While in the house, the daughter-in-law should always keep her head covered.
Prohibition 6: She should never argue or raise her voice to her husband, his parents or the older relatives.
Prohibition 7: Unwashed dishes should never be left overnight.
Prohibition 8: She must never welcome guests while standing on the doorstep.
While there is a strict hierarchy in Kyrgyz families, with the new daughter-in-law at the very bottom, others in the household are still obliged to be kind to her, take care of her needs, and act politely towards her. Ideally, both sides should always try to show equal respect towards each other.
Peculiar Wedding Traditions in Kyrgyzstan
The groom and his relatives bring a goat to the bride’s house, where the animal is killed. Its lungs are removed and the engaged couple are beaten with these lungs. Kyrgyz people believe that in this way evil spirits will be driven from the bride and groom and they can live together without quarreling or strife.
According to Kyrgyzstan wedding traditions, the bride should be chaste before the wedding. A white sheet is provided on which the newlyweds spend their first wedding night, and the sheet should be shown to relatives the next morning, as proof of her innocence.
Sut aki (payment for milk)
Kyrgyzstan traditions also include sut aki, or a payment to the bride’s mother. Customarily, the groom's side must pay the mother of the bride an amount equal to the cost of one cow and present one sheep or horse as a gift. Today, gold jewelry or money is usually given in place of animals.
Kyz ala kachuu
Kyz ala kachuu, or "theft of the bride” was practiced mainly in rural areas in the past, when a man would abduct a woman he wished to marry and bring her to his home, where female relatives helped to convince or force the young woman to remain. Today, Kyrgyzstan marriage laws forbid this act. While actual instances of ‘bride napping’ still occur, it is also carried out with the former consent of the woman, either to uphold tradition or to avoid a costly wedding.
These traditions have undoubtedly helped the Kyrgyz people to preserve their original culture. Through such traditions their spiritual and moral values and norms of behavior are transmitted from generation to generation. In the course of time some of the customs lose their relevance while others are adapted to life in the 21st century.