Kazakh Proverbs and their English Meanings

The following proverbs are from a little gem of a book titled “Kazakh Traditions and Ways” compiled by Tleuberdi Nusipbai and published in 2002.  Most of these Kazakh proverbs require meanings for better understanding in English.  In fact, I may have gotten some explanations wrong from what I pulled out of the context of the paragraph in which these jewels were nested.  If you are a Kazakh reader and know a better meaning, please do correct them in the comments section.  Or better yet, add your own proverbs with meanings.


“If sister-in-laws were friendly, there would be much food.”


“A mountain eagle shares his food, but an owl would hide the food under his backs.”  Something about having someone who is skilled at slaughtering sheep and cattle, they must be treated generously because in the older times Kazakhs respected those who did manual labor or craftsmanship.


“First of all you need health, then a white shawl (a wife) and five sheep.”  It was assumed that if you did not sell 12 sheep and if you kept them safe from wolves and thieves, in five or ten years a herdsman might have five hundred of his own.  So being a herdsman was considered an honorable trade which could lead to prosperity.


“Trade occurs while you are stroking your beard.”  Brokerage is a very profitable trade and to be successful at it you must be a vivacious and eloquent orator as well.


“Uishi would walk among the woods in the same fashion that a critic would walk among countries.” A uishi is a house builder or in early Kazakh times, the frame of the yurts.  He would always keep his eyes open for trees he could use for the next project.


“Do not consider a sorcerer a husband, nor a male bull a cattle.”  Neither is likely to ever be found at home.


“Cattle are found by cattle, not by man.”  It means that gradually a herdsman would improve his financial position.  Kazakhs consider a good flock of sheep to number about five hundred.


“Instead of leaving cattle, you should leave a tree.”  During Nauryz the entire aul (village) would go to greet the sunrise.  From early morning men would then dig irrigation ditches and begin to plant.  The women would water the trees.


“Let the ground be soft for him.”  This is what friends would say of someone who had died and was about to be buried.


“Death would waste a wealthy man’s cattle.” Or Kazakhs would say, “People are born to die.”


“A husband for the tokal, the cattle for baibishe.”  Baibishe is the first wife but when the husband takes a second wife (tokal) into the yurt then more than a healthy rivalry happens if the jealousy of the first wife is aroused because of the husband’s attention to the younger, more glamorous new wife.


“If your wife would give birth to a daughter and mine to a son, we would be kinsman.”  This meant that close friends would share almost everything, in fact, their friendship would be passed to the next generation.


“My mother’s and my husband’s brothers are all wealthy people, how can I be poor?”  In Kazakh tradition, the youngest son would inherit all of the property and cattle.


“Snow rises from Frost.”  Babies required “lubricating” in order to grow and so the baby’s parents would use melted fat from the sheep’s tail on the baby’s body and while rubbing the grandmother would stretch his legs and hands to grow.







3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    urimtal said,

    First of all, thank you for your interest in the meaning of Kazakh proverb. But I’m afraid that some of them you misunderstand some of them, becouse show only first part of maqals (kaz. proverb)
    You know that in one word proberm is maqal-matel in Kazakh. in maqal meaning is clear and usually consist of two partss and matel is more difficult and meaning is in deep. To understand matel you have to know a culture, history, traditon. Matel is more like wise sayings (Pardon for my english). I would like to correct only some of examples which you show. Honestly I can’t understand english version all of them here. I’m afraid that in that book translation was wrong.
    1. “If sister-in-laws were friendly, there would be much food.” – this is maqal. And there is no first and very important part of this maqal
    Correct version is
    Ағайын тату болса, ат көп
    Абысын тату болса ас көп

    Aghayn tatu bolsa, at kop,
    Abysyn tatu bolsa as kop

    I can’t translate. But let me explain.
    First part: If there is a piece between brothers there is a lot of horse ( a horse mean that there will be a good, relative connections. And in Kazakh horse a holy animal and best friend of brave man). and second part is not about siter in low (kelin).
    second part: if there is a piece between wives of brothers from one familie (abysyn) (ex. My wife and my brothers wife) there will be a lot of meal (which means bereke arabik Barakah or wellfare)
    Conclusion of this proverb – maqal is family stand on the good relation not only brothers but aslo on new members of family – abysyns. Usually this proverb is used on wedding partieis as wishes.

    2. “First of all you need health, then a white shawl (a wife) and five sheep.”
    Kazakh version is
    Бірінші байлық – денсаулық,
    Екінші байлық – ақжаулық
    Үшінші байлық – он саулық

    Birinshi bailyq – densaulyq
    Ekinshi bailyq – aqjaulyq
    Ushinshi bailyq – on saulyq

    First wealth is health
    Second wealth is you mum, grandmother
    Third wealth is a cowherd

    This is a maqal, and it is about instruction for holding a good nation. The health of nation is very important then taking care the womens who baby birth and behave the generation and thirdly material wealth.

    Densaulyq – health
    Aqjaulyq – usually by Kazakh tradition womens when thay gat married cover theyre head with jaulyq. And aqjaulyq (white cover) is usully for mothers, grandmothers. Aq means qurmet (respect)
    On saulyq – ten cow or sheep whiche gave a milk.

    Sorry for my English. I can explain here only two of your example. If something is not clear from my comment you know how to find me 🙂

    Сөздің көркі мақал
    Жігіт көркі сақал

    sozding korki – maqal
    jigit korki – saqal

    Proverb making word beautifull
    Beard making man handsome

    • 2

      Alva said,

      Can you explain the difference between ata sozi and Maqal-materleri. From my Kazakh friends, I understand the latter to be created and not “sacred” like ata sozu, which are changed. From a turkmen, I also learn that the latter is like a quiz, pointing towards the hidden, deeper meaning. But can you explain the difference between both.

  2. 3

    Almas said,

    Same as mine.coll!

Comment RSS · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: