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ZOOM central asia
2004-2012

Traditional ceremonies in Kyrgyzstan

Weddings
Weddings have always played an important part in nomadic culture. The traditional way was that a young Kyrgyz man (jigit) would see a girl he liked and take her away on his horse. She did not necessarily know this man or where he came from. This is still practiced today - particularly in the villages. Bride kidnapping still accounts for about 40% of all marriages in the villages, despite it being prohibited by law - the tradition is stronger than the law. The girl has no real choice in the matter (although if the son of a poor family kidnaps the daughter of someone of influence and her parents object then influence wins and the wedding will not take place and the girl returns to her family - a form of social control). It is no use the girl saying no or trying to go back to her parents as to do so would bring immense shame on HER family. One reason why this method is still popular is that this is the cheapest way to get married as the feast is only for his family. The Kyrgyz tradition is that a bride should be a virgin when she marries.

Matchmaking also plays a large part in Kyrgyz weddings and often the means parents will arrange the wedding with the brides parents without her consent. Nowadays, particularly in towns and cities, young people tend to follow the western idea of meeting people they like and going "out" together and it is now common practice invite the wedding guests to a hotel or restaurant like they do in the west.

Baby cradling
This takes place some 15-30 days after birth and is a kind of blessing on the newborn child, to which relatives and a feast of traditional food is prepared. A special decorated wooden cradle called a "beshik" - complete with a toilet hole in it - is used. A respected old woman - baibiche - who first of all burns juniper branches to purify the area, conducts the actual ceremony. Next, she places three bones - chuko - into the cradle and tilts the cradle to the right saying, "all the best, all the best to you" and then puts the bones into a jar, which is fixed under the hole. This means that he or she will have children and they will play with bones and be healthy. Then she places a hammer on the pillow for a little while then removes it and this means the baby will not be harmed and will sleep peacefully. Then the baby"s mother picks up the cradle with the baby in it and carries it through the room and bows. This is repeated three times. This shows that the mother will always protect her baby and it also signifies the end of the ceremony and that from now on whenever the baby sleeps it will always be at peace and free from harm.

First birthday (or starting to walk) feast
Usually neighbours, relatives and children are invited. A feast of boorsok - traditional festive bread - bread, sweets and besh - barmak - traditional Kyrgyz dish or plov - a traditional Asian rice and meat dish - is prepared. The ritual starts when somebody takes the child outside and hols the child while somebody else ties the child"s shoelaces together. The father then stands next to the child while the relatives and other children run to the opposite side of the street. This ritual is like a game and the children must then run to where the child is and the first one to reach the child and untie the shoelaces is the winner and receives either money or a prize. 2nd and 3rd places also get prizes. Often these races are held by sex and age to ensure fairness. The children then help the child take its first steps and it often has to walk a long way! Then everybody returns to the house to celebrate. This ritual is to ensure that when a child starts to walk it is used to walking and that maybe it helps the child start walking at an early age because Kyrgyz people believe that the earlier a child walks then the more successful it will be in life etc.