“Tusau Keser ” (in Kazakh), or “cutting the rope,” is the celebration of a child’s first steps, a nomadic tradition originating from tengriism. The ceremony is performed when the child first learns how to walk. Kazakhs believed that an invisible rope was tied around the child’s legs preventing the child from walking. A rope had to be tied around the child’s legs and cut so that the child would be able to walk properly and run freely. Additionally, the child would inherit the qualities of the person who would cut the rope. Although most Kazakhs no longer hold this belief, Tusau Keser continues as a national custom.
While studying abroad in Almaty, my host mother, Gulnara, invited me to witness and partake in her granddaughter’s Tusau Keser celebration. Aikosh, her granddaughter, was also turning 2 years old. About 100 guests arrived to this grand event, a large number of them were relatives from both sides of the parents.
My host mother chose a local restaurant to host this elaborate celebration. They provided a tremendous amount of food including nauryz kozhe, beshbarmak, fish and kumis and entertainment. Lively music and lighting filled the dancehall. Children ran around freely, while the host performed poetry, music and some dancing. Kazakh folk-dancing and Aikosh’s father playing the dombra, a Kazakh musical string instrument, were among my favorite performances that day.
A major part of the celebration was, of course, Aikosh’s first steps. First, a rope was tied around her legs in a figure-8, while Tusau Keser by Zhazira Baiyrbekova played in the background. My host mother chose her coworker to cut the rope, so that Aikosh would grow up to be successful like her. After, Aikosh slowly walked in her little red dress across a white cloth, while others cheered.
Another major part was the “blessings”. Elders would stand in front of the room and say kind words (in Kazakh) to Aikosh and her family. Some words were short and others were long. Nevertheless, these blessings seemed like an essential part of the ceremony and people listened attentively. After, the speaker would give Aikosh and her family an envelope in a congratulatory gesture
All guests except children were expected to say a blessing. Children had their own room where they played games, danced and sang. They would occasionally wander into the dancehall and soon leave. Elders, honored guests, friends, family and coworkers had a moment in the spotlight. They had a cameraman filming the entire event. Even I was asked to say a word.
I am grateful that I was able to experience Tusau Keser in Kazakhstan. A lot of thought and preparation went into this 6-hour event. I was impressed to see the youth being celebrated and the elderly continue to play an important role in society. Kazakhs have a rich tradition of children rites of passage (e.g. Shіldehana, Besіkke salu, besik toy, Kyrkynan shygaru and Sundetke otyrgyzu). I am glad that I was able to witness Aikosh’s first steps.
By: Telmo Falope
Program: Russian Language & Area Studies, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Term: Academic Year 2018-19