Kazakh Wedding Traditions

Weddings are one of Kazakhstan’s many customs. Traditionally, there were several stages of the wedding ceremony, but today most couples do not go through all of them. Depending on where the members of the couple are from, they may be encouraged by relatives to follow the tradition as it has been done all along. People from Shymkent, a city on the southern most part of Kazakhstan, and people from Aktau, the western most part, are more likely to go through the several stages, whereas those who grew up in a more metropolitan city like Almaty are not.

I received this information from chatting with a friend from Shymkent. She told me that the Kazakh wedding of her parents and grandparents is slowly dying out, even in her city. She knows the wedding customs because she was raised in a town near Shymkent where the folks are more traditional.

Matchmaking
The first step is called Tette Shai. This is when the groom announces he found a fiancée. The mother and sisters of the bride go to a public meeting place, such as a restaurant, to meet the mother and sisters of the groom. It’s essentially a ladies-only meeting, except for the groom. He and his fiancée don’t speak at all at this event. Instead, the women from each side start planning the upcoming wedding events.

Following Tette Shai comes the first half of Kudalyk, which is one large festivity. The groom’s family goes to the bride’s house and brings earrings, or syrga salu. The groom’s mother puts these on the bride to signify successful matchmaking. The groom also brings a sum of money to the bride’s family, known as Kalyn Mal.

Bride’s Celebrations
A few weeks later comes Kyz Uzatu, the bride’s part of the wedding. Normally more than 200 guests attend, who are all essentially the bride’s guests, and she only invites 20-30 members from the groom’s side. Women wear traditional dresses, and at midnight the bride walks out on a long, white carpet while family members set off fireworks and throw shashu, or candy, in the air. The candy is a symbol of prosperity. The family members burn plants as the final part of Kyz Uzatu and then the groom’s family can accept her as one of their own. Sisters and aunts of the bride go to her house and present gifts that she will need in her future home since the bride’s family needs to provide all the essentials for the house.

On the next day, the couple celebrate Bit Ashar, which translated from Kazakh means “revealing her face.” Two of the groom’s uncle’s wives stand with the bride while a poet sings with the dombra, which is a Kazakh national instrument. The poet names each and every person present and thanks them individually for coming. All the children go around the neighborhood announcing to everyone Kelin Tusti – the bride has come to our family! Then they would invite the neighbors to come to Bit Ashar. Plof is the meal that is prepared for this event, and everyone can eat, except the wife: she must serve all the guests first before she can have her share. This is called Kelin Shai. It’s the first day of fulfilling the role of a wife.

Groom’s Celebrations
Now the groom throws his party. This stage is the second half of Kudalyk, and he invites his relatives while inviting only few of the bride’s relatives. Gifts are exchanged and none of the guests leave without one. Last but definitely not least is the “Big Wedding” or Ulken Toi, which is also hosted by the groom. He invites 300 – 500 people from his side of the family and about 50 from the bride’s side. This is the final step of the Kazakh wedding tradition.

You might be wondering about the division of celebrations between the bride and groom. The explanation for this dates back to a very old Kazakh custom that is still in practice today. Namely, for a man and woman to marry, they must not have coinciding ancestors for at least seven generations. If they do then a marriage would be forbidden. When Kazakh people were still nomadic, matchmakers often found suitable grooms and brides from far away clans. So, it wasn’t possible to have all the relatives from both sides gather in one place. They were forced to have separate celebrations.

This is an outline of what weddings in Shymkent look like today, in the twenty-first century. These customs vary from region to region within Kazakhstan, and overall, they are dying out. The main reason for this is due to finances. Nowadays couples take out loans to cover the expenses of all the parties, but some people, like my friend who shared all this knowledge with me, would rather skip on some of the celebrations to save money. Her parents, however, would prefer for her to follow the Kazakh way.

By: Esus Oberlaender
Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program
Term: Spring 2019

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