With a population of almost 1.3 million, the Kazak ethnic group living in China mainly inhabit in Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture, Mulei Kazak autonomous county and Balikun Kazak autonomous county of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Some of them are scattered in A'ke sai Kazak autonomous county of Gansu province, and Haixi Mongolia and Kazak autonomous prefecture of Qinghai province.
The Kazaks mainly engage in animal husbandry, and are adept at embroidery. They use Kazak language which belongs to Turkic language family of Altaic language system. Kazakhstan's ancestors once used Er hun language, Yeni sai language and Huigu language. After Islam was introduced, they designed new words based on Latin alphabet in 1959, but failed to popularize it due to immature conditions. In 1982, they resumed to use the original words and restored the new words as phonetic symbol.
The ancestors of the Kazaks had been active, before Christ, along the area of Altai Mountain, Tianshan Mountain, Ili River Valley and Issyk Kul Lake. They were one of the earliest exploiters of the ancient Silk Route.
Their main diet contains wheaten food, beef, mutton, horse meat, cream, ghee, milk lumps, milk tofu, crispy butter, etc. Usually, they like to make flour into fried pastry, pancakes, hot cakes, deep-fried pancake, dough sheet and the like or use meat, ghee, milk, rice, flour to make all kinds of food. They like to drink cow milk and sheep milk and especially “Manai Zi”, which is made of fermented mare milk. Tea enjoys a special position in Kazak people’s diet. Brick tea is listed as their favorite. Sometimes milk and salt are added to make milk tea.
Besides mutton, horse meat shall be prepared if distinguished guests or relatives, who haven’t been contacted with for a long time, are coming. Before the meal, the host takes out pot and washbasin for the guests to wash hands, and then put trays, which contain the sheep head, the hind and side meat in front of the guest. The guest shall first cut a piece from the lower part of cheeks, cut down the entire left ear and then return the sheep head to the host. After that, all the people start eating. When they finish, all the diners will put their hands on the face to pray. If there are men and women guests, they usually sit at separate tables.
Felt house is the architecture of the Kazaks who mainly live a nomadic life. The felt house is composed of fence, house poles and felt. The house is divided into two parts. The lower part is a cylinder and the upper part is a dome. It is suitable for all seasons except winter.
The lower cylinder is circled around by wood fence made of red willow intertwining with each other. On the top of the felt house is a skylight covered by movable felt for ventilation. The felt gate is a small biparting wooden gate carved with emblazonry. Generally, it is 1.5 meters high and 0.8 meters wide and is built high above the ground to guard against snow and cold. The long wooden poles in the felt house are used to shore up top round wooden felt on the top of the roof.
People live in earth house with flat roof to pass the winter from November to April. These houses are mainly built in the stream valleys that are spared of the infliction of rain and snow. The house has a square-shape and flat building roof and possesses iron stoves or brick oven inside. The walls, made of stone and clay bricks, are about 2.5 meters high.
Kazak men wear white shirts with high collars and embroidered edges and black overcoats with velvet surface. For riding convenience, they prefer trousers with a big crotch, and knee-high cowhide boots. Caps are made of animal skin.
Women wear colorful one-piece dresses and waistcoats. Common fabrics include fur, silk, satin, velvet, cotton and feathers. Their flower-patterned caps are decorated with fowl feathers. Trousers and sleeves are embroidered, and the upper garment is decorated with silver coins and colorful beads.
Customs and Taboos
The Kazaks respect the elderly. They will invite the elder to eat and drink first. When having dinner, the elders will sit down first and then people sit around the round table with legs crossed, or kneel down on the felt. During the meal, the best meat shall be offered to the elder people. The Kazak people have many taboos, such as: young men can’t drink alcohol in the face of the elder, can’t step over dinner cloth, or can’t sit on boxes or other appliances that contain food.
Avoid counting the number of the livestock in face of the owner; avoid stepping over the rope that is used to tie livestock avoid riding horse into the flocks; avoid sitting on boxes or other appliances that contain food; avoid crossing over or walk on the napkin; don't praise their children, particularly can't say "fat", otherwise it would bring misfortune to the child; avoid eating pork, dog, donkey, mule, the meat of the livestock which die naturally, and the blood of animals.
The Kazaks' festivals are closely related to religion. Their major festivals include: the Corban Festival, the Rozah Festival and the Noroz Festival. The former two are Islamic, while the Noroz Festival is the traditional and the most time-honored ethnic festival for the Kazaks. According to the ancient Kazak calendar, this festival represents the advent of the New Year. Thus this festival is to bid farewell to the past year and welcome the new.
The Noroz Festival falls on around March 22. On this day, each family will cook and eat Noroz rice, which is made of seven materials including wheat, millet, rice, flour, salt, meat and milk. The Noroz rice is fragrant, delicious and nutritious. People will wear colorful costumes to visit other families, embrace each other, and extend greetings and best wishes. The host will treat guests with the Noroz rice. After the meal, people sing, dance, and hold entertainment and sports activities, such as riddle-guessing, reading tongue twisters, playing Dongbula (a kind of traditional musical instrument) and wrestling.
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