Kazakh culture and traditions
If ever there was a place that will change your perspective, it is Kazakhstan. Quite contrary to its reputation, this prosperous post-Soviet land is simply alive with change. Since the collapse of the old political regimes its people have worked wonders reviving a rich and vibrant national culture, introducing ancient traditions to a progressive and modern society. The very contrast of these customs, both ancient and fresh, typifies the rediscovered spirit of the people, by whom you cannot fail to be enchanted in ways that will stay with you forever. Our dance, music and ways of life keep our history alive while we continue to look to the future.
To this end, Kazakhstan is fast becoming a regional economic powerhouse boasting growth and a highly modern infrastructure shared not only by the many ethnic groups resident here for centuries, but also by newcomers hailing from climes as diverse as Western Europe, North America and The Far East. Kazakhs are making every effort to root their lives in their national heritage and traditions, and modernization is not considered to be acceptable where at the expense of the breathtaking Kazakh steppes, mountains and waterways. Modern Kazakhstan is the perfect blend of past and present, an emerging giant on the contemporary world stage yet inseparable from the ways of its forefathers, a truth in part making this a unique and very special place to visit. Let’s have a closer look.
Even a tourist would admit that there’s no place like home, but for the early Mongol tribes of the region homes were designed with travel in mind. The inventive and practical ‘yurt’ is a tent-like construction with a domed vault known as a ‘shangyrak’. The environmentally friendly structure is made of wood, leather, wool, felt, and cotton and weighs about 300-400 kg. Assembly, where by experts, is a 40 minute job upon which the time honoured dwelling is suited to any season, and remains fresh and full of energy for as long as it remains erect.
Equally as enduring is the symbolism of the yurt which has become representative of the country and whose image is a very metaphor for the evolution of post-Soviet Union Kazakhstan, a picture of both the modernization of the country yet also the venerable traditions of its past. The nomadic tent has inspired modern architecture in its own way, with the landmark Astana Khan Shatyr shopping centre, itself the world’s biggest tent, dominating the capital city’s horizon. On a more modest scale, local restaurants serving delicious Kazakh cuisine often do so in rooms constructed to represent yurts, the unique experience of which draws guests from all over the world.
A unique feature of the experience of Kazakhstan is the traditional clothing. Hats and garments fully reflect Central Asian traditions and give you an excellent flavour of the culture, such a variety of unique clothing, both formal and informal, not being worn by men, women, or children anywhere else in the world.
A visit to the Central State Museum is a must for any tourist to the country. This is where a snapshot of history is presented, a time capsule of Kazakhstan, a history of the people and their culture throughout the ages, from the simple life of homemade jewellery and the uncomplicatedness of nomadic life to their current position as a major producer of oil and other natural resources. Here you will also discover the interaction of Kazakh culture with that of China, Mongolia, and other neighbouring civilizations which for centuries so closely existed alongside that which modern Kazakhs proudly refer to as their cultural identity.
Also on the tourist itinerary are the State Museum of National Musical Instruments and the Zenkov Cathedral, the former with its thousands of exhibits fascinating visitors for the best part of a day. Among them are many ancient Kazakh musical instruments dating back to the XVII century, the essence of which has survived to this very day in the shape of musical offerings that are the toast of Kazakhstan’s many flourishing cultures. The Gothic style Zenkov Cathedral is one of the most beautiful wonders of architectural design and one of the few buildings to survive the catastrophic 1911 earthquake. It is famous not just for its beauty but for its structure, it being the second highest wooden structure in the world, amazingly constructed without the use of a single nail.
Kazakhs love to celebrate life, with a calendar full of national holidays and festivals in which people perform rites and play games in ways that have not changed for centuries. One of the oldest festivals, celebrated throughout Kazakhstan, is Nauryz. It offers the opportunity for tourists and Kazakhs to experience first hand Kazakh culture. During this festival, theatrical performances in central squares of all cities portray the history and life of the Kazakhs. In the festival Kazakhs wear traditional national costumes and play their unique music. The festivities include dancing and music as crowds of people weave through ornate yurts, eat traditional meals, and participate in national sports and games.
A visit to Kazakhstan is a way to travel through time, not only to the future, seen in the infrastructure of its capital city, Astana, but also to the past, with its timeless ways being brought back into daily life. Modernisation has not consigned the old ways of life to the past, and while the emphasis is very much on progress and economic growth, due respect is paid to the magic of days gone by. Kazakhstan recognizes the value of its heritage, and is committed to cherishing and enhancing the legacy of its ancestors, a priceless treasure for Kazakhs and an unforgettable experience for visitors to this beautiful country.