Archive for July, 2009

Our Guests: Anara and her family

What fun to meet and spend two days with Anara and her family.  We got to know her and her mother Encar better, also there were two daughters under the age of three to add to this mix. (think distractions) I asked both of them to tell me some Kazakh proverbs and what I learned from this is that proverbs don’t just come out at one’s bidding. I know this from prior experience that you have to talk on other subjects for them to erupt into the middle of the conversation. However, one proverb that Anara focused on was: “The daughter is a guest.” This means that whenever girls marry they leave their home, seemingly for good.

Anara explained how there are really two kinds of events when a marriage happens, that is if there is no “kidnapping of the bride” which is cheaper and more like elopement. The first is when the father has asked the courting man for a kind of dowry and the husband-to-be is to come up with that be it money or livestock or whatever is agreed upon. Everyone is sad, there is crying and wailing (I’m not sure if this is put on for drama effect or if in fact the daughter is really going to be missed). Then, the second ceremony is when the bride does all the crying and when she enters into her new family of her husband’s family there is a certain protocol of who says what when and she is to bow to each member of the family and someone is to take her veil away. It seemed fairly complex in the explaining of a Kazakh tradition in English. Encar, Anara’s mother would say things to her in Kazakh, then Anara would translate that to me.

I got some facts wrong about Kunaev in my blog post yesterday (Thanks for pointing that out Otto). Because of this tedious procedure of waiting for the translation and writing it down with wrong spelling, I made a major mistake. Kunaev was NOT a good Kazakh. Also, if I do NOT write something down I hear or think I heard, should not trust in my rusty memory.

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Talk with Anara about Kazakhstan (Part II)

I found out a little more about the December 16, 1986 demonstration that isn’t much talked about openly among the Kazakh people, just bits and pieces are shared amongst themselves. In any case, it was called a student uprising and many Kazakh people were imprisoned from 1986 until Nazarbayev became president of the new country in 1991. Those who were jailed were finally released after five years. If Russians, who lived in Almaty at that time, are asked about this event, they are somewhat dismissive about it. However, a memorial commemorating Kazakh independence is on Mir (Peace) Street, close to the five-star Ankara Hotel, in Almaty.

There was a movie originally titled Izgoi which means “Social Outcast” in Kazakh but the title was changed to “Running Target.” Most Kazakh people know about this film which was based on the 1986 Kazakh revolt against Moscow power and domination over Kazakhstan. Kunaev had been a Kazakh leader for many years. However, the communist leader who was meant to replace Kunaev in 1986 was Kalbin, who was a Russian. Kalbin had been sent down to Almaty from Moscow to rule over the Kazakhs with the hidden agenda to destroy any remnants of the Kazakh language and culture. Fortunately, Nazarbayev replaced this forbidding influence from the north and has been a leader representing Kazakhstan since 1997.

Anara’s father was an assistant to the famous movie director, Talgat Timenov. (He worked with Bonderchuk when they produced the movie “The Nomads” about 5-6 years ago.) Anara’s mother, Encar, knows the Kazakh actor who played the boy who had escaped from the Soviet police during the 1986 demonstration and had wandered around in the steppes. In this fictional account perhaps based on a true story, the boy was protected by a Russian woman acted by a famous Russian actress Nona Marzdukova until he was captured again and put in jail.

What was interesting to me is that Anara was only 10 years old when the 1986 demonstration happened, back then Stalin and Lenin were highly revered. Anara’s father knew better that these two early leaders of the Soviet Union were responsible for killing millions of people, not just in Kazakhstan, but throughout the former S.U. There was a huge disappointment for Anara to find out from her father that they, as school children, had been lied to for so long from their Moscow-approved history books. So strange for her to have this new knowledge that Stalin killed millions of people.

Anara wishes now that she had listened to her Kazakh father more. She grew up in a time when history was changing very quickly. She knows very well about Russian history and culture but admits she doesn’t know much about her own Kazakh history, as rich as it is. History continues to change in present day Kazakhstan, I want to know as much as I can about its past history. My Kazakh students and friends, like Anara, are my best informants.

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Talk with Anara about Kazakhstan (Part I)

We had a Kazakh family visit us for several days and the following is what I found out about Kazakhstan culture. I learned there is a fourth grouping of Kazakh in the traditional sense of the Kazakh tribes. There are the first zhus who were the farmers, the hard working types. They are known to be deliberate and rational thinkers. Nazarbayev comes from this category.

Second, are the intellectual Kazakhs from which Abay and Valihanov came from. They are known to be wise and good advisors. They are the dreamers and philosophers, that is the second zhus.

Third are the warriors who were in the western part of Kazakhstan. They are not afraid of taking risks and are the best in business. Of course, it helps that most of the oil being drilled out of Kazakhstan comes from the territory where they once fought hard battles to protect their borders.

The fourth group of Kazakhs don’t mix with the other three groups, they are known as Kozha Kazakhs. They are considered the royalty or “white bones.” They believe their original stock is from an Arab tribe and they are the “blue bloods” among Kazakhs. This, of course, was more true before Soviet times, but if someone even now says, “I’m a Kozha Kazakh,” this is meant to impress the listener.

To sum up, there is a Kazakh proverb that goes with these groupings: The older zhus, give them a staff and put them in charge of the livestock. Give the second group of zhus a quill from a feather and they can prove everything with their writing. Then the third zhus, give them a long javelin and put them in front of the enemy to fight.”

Something else Anara told me was about her family’s background on her dad’s side. Her grandfather, who was from the Semipalatinsk area, escaped to China from the Soviet communists in the 1930s because he was considered a rich man. He had big pieces of gold that he broke off and used as bribes so he could escape with his family. There was other gold and treasures he had buried and is still underground somewhere to this day. Anara’s father was born in China, some of Anara’s aunts are living in China still. In 1963, when the borders opened up between the Soviet Union and China, he went back to the Taras area. Anara’s grandfather, a former prominent Kazakh shepherd, worked with 200 government turkeys in a collective farm under the Soviet regime.

Anara also said that the Uighurs, who live in western China, have a very rich background. They have a deep history with their own alphabet, own capital and they had their own land in China. There was also a famous tribe called, the Nimans, who were the original Christians. When Mohammed came along later in Kazakh history, many Kazakhs converted from paganism over to the Muslim faith. (to be continued)

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Kazakh Proverbs from Anara, our guest

The following proverbs I got from a Kazakh woman and her family, they are staying with us. Anara couldn’t translate some of the proverbs I used yesterday. Some just do not adequately translate into English to be understandable. These are the ones Anara’s mother often told her.  Encar is staying with us also with two little girls. Full house!

Proverb meant for girls – “If a cow’s eye doesn’t wink, then the bull will not break the chain.” (everything depends on what YOU do as a young woman, she must be careful. Otherwise you can get into trouble.)

“There is no job for lazy people.” (if you want to work, you will always find work because there’s always something to do, but a lazy person will use it for an excuse.)

If you are an intelligent person you can beat 1,000s, but if you are a strong person with muscles, only one.

The good wife will bring her husband to a place of honor but if a bad wife she will put her husband to the threshold of the door.

If you want marry a good wife, look at her mother; if a good man, look at his father.

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Kazakh Proverbs on Shame

The following Kazakh proverbs have to do with shame. I’m ashamed that my place is in such disarray after teaching four weeks of summer school. InTENsive summer school. Some of the proverbs are understandable, a couple I could use some Kazakh readers comments to help explain.

The man is unashamed and satisfied; the woman is dissatisfied and modest. (maybe this means the man doesn’t have shame so he can stop (in an argument) but the woman does have shame and cannot stop (she keeps talking).

Shame is stronger than death.

The ashamed (girl) cannot not just stand still. (if you are ashamed you will not stand up with straight posture.)

The shameless one eats what is not designated for him.

The unashamed (i.e. uninhibited) person should be a singer, the industrious person should be a cobbler (tailor) who makes boots. (if you are not shy you should be a singer, if you are not lazy you should be a shoe maker.)

The unashamed face usually has a tireless jaw.

Three things are without shame: sleep, laughter, food.

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Kazakh Proverbs about Oaths, Vows and Speaking

“If you are guiltless, don’t take a vow.”

“The man who does not keep his word is a dead man.”

“The one who speaks thoughtlessly will die without being sick.”

A precious word is of greater value than a special gift.

“If you speak gentle words, the snake will be drawn out; if you speak harsh words it will drive the Muslim from his faith.”

“Misuse of what was entrusted is a great shame” (Amantqa qiyanat, zor uyat)

All the above Kazakh proverbs are familiar to our culture, similar to “A man’s word is his bond.” I believe there needs to be more of the truth telling and less of the shame of misusing (i.e. telling lies) in our society. I think I understood that last proverb right, correct me if I am wrong. I think this means that we are entrusted with truths and we need to dispense with what is true to others in order to honor what we heard when we speak to others.

I forgot to add the following proverb that Erik had categorized under friendship in my earlier blog. I like this one particularly because I know some perfectionist type people who this sadly fits them, they have very few friends:

“He who seeks a faultless/perfect friend remains friendless.”

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Kazakh Proverbs about Death

I need some help by a native speaker of Kazakh to help explain the following proverb, the other Kazakh proverbs are much easier to figure out.

“The soul with a throat (i.e. the living person) – one death. (for the living person death is a sure thing)

It is easier for a person to give up his soul than to rid himself of a bad name.

“The man faces death, but not insult.”

The following proverb could be an expression that was oft repeated before the Great Patriotic War. Many Kazakh and other Central Asian men sacrificed their lives for the Soviet cause of fighting the Nazis. However, after a while, there were no men left to fight.

“Man’s heroic death increases brave men.”

Maybe related to that is this proverb: “The male lamb – a sacrifice.” (translated from “Erkek toqti – qurbandiq”) Many men’s lives were sacrificed in the second world war to supposedly end all wars.

“You may lose your life, but don’t lose your beloved wife.”

I love this last one above, it shows that Kazakh men honored their women folk by being ready to die for them. A wife who is beloved and cherished will most certainly be praying and waiting for her husband to return from the hunt or war or whatever danger he might engage in.

The Kazakhs are said to be very brave, especially those who are from the countryside. In the old days, before Soviet industrialization, they had to fight off wolves, leopards and other predatory animals in order to protect their livestock.

One last Kazakh proverb which was categorized by my friend Erik under Death (Olim) was this:  “Cattle — the sacrifice of life; soul–the sacrifice of honor.”

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Kazakh Proverbs on Honor

The following Kazakh Proverbs about HONOR are fairly self-explanatory. Again, these are from my friend Erik who has collected quite a few proverbs. Naturally we all want to be respected and honored. I especially appreciate the second proverb about ancestry. The Asian cultures do a far better job of appreciating their ancestors almost to the point of idolatry. (A Kazakh, a GOOD Kazakh is supposed to know the names of their ancestors back seven generations. Typically Americans only know their great grandparents names, going back only three generations).

Perhaps we go the other direction when we typically honor and esteem those who are young and beautiful. However, young kids want to look more grown-up, while middle aged people want to reverse their age to look younger. Older people in the U.S. are not as comfortable with their waning years. That’s regrettable since I believe older people have much to offer with their acquired wisdom that can be bite-sized down to pithy sayings such as these proverbs. Not sure I understand the third one below about a “bad man’s soul is esteemed.” Perhaps that is true after he has passed away. Any help from my Kazakh readers?

Only a person without honor disputes the time-tested words.

“The good man has no vengeance; the bad man has no ancestry.”

“The bad man’s soul is esteemed; the good person’s honor is esteemed.”

“If you are poor, don’t be ashamed (to ask for something).” In contrast to the proverb: “Even being poor have a clear conscience.”

“The thief eats others’ cattle, the thief devours his own honor.”

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Kazakh Proverbs about Friendship (Dostyk)

The following Kazakh proverbs were found and have been documented by my Minnesota friend Erik, whom I mentioned in yesterday’s blog. He is doing his Ph.D. dissertation on this topic and more specifically on Kazakh proverbs having to do with shame and honor. The word for friendship in both Kazakh and Kyrgyz is “Dostyk.” That may explain why main streets or hotels in both Almaty and Bishkek go by that name. Both nationalities are friendly and welcoming people.

I like the following proverbs because they are easy to figure out. The others that Erik discovered, after learning the Kazakh language and living in Kazakh for over a decade, need a bit more explanation.

Gentleness is not smallness, but humanness.

The sign of humanity is to bow when greeting; the sign of true friendship is punctuality. (As a teacher, I LOVE this one about punctuality!!!)

The Road separates road-mates. (Perhaps this could be in reference to the Silk Road when friends must part)

When you go through hard times, the friend comes along side you.

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Some Kazakh Proverbs for All Seasons

The following proverbs are from my friend Erik who has spent over a decade living in Kazakhstan and puzzling over Kazakh language and its culture. Naturally, one can learn much from the Kazakh people’s distilled wisdom in knowledgeable sound bites, they are for “all seasons.”

Even gold is not of value, if one has a lot of it.

The phrase “a lot” is an indication that this is an interpretation. Most likely this is a translation of the proverb, “Gold in one’s hand is not valued.”

Another one: No one born can escape death.

I think is the proverb “For the one with a soul – one death.”

Here is an example of a translation from Kazakh to Russian and then to English alongside my translation:

From the translated novel The Nomads

It is only known that even a snake will come out of its hole, if you call it politely, and one can kill a man’s faith in Allah with one angry word.” (Yesenberlin 2000: 388)

If you speak gentle words, the snake will be drawn out; if you speak harsh words it will drive the Muslim from his faith. Jılı-jılı söyleceŋ, jılan ininen shıġadı, qattı-qattı söylese, musılman dininen shıġadı.

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