Seven Things a Kazakh Needs 

I moved back from Kazakhstan last year, but I still have posts that never quite made it to the blog. Here’s one on the good life: 

Seven is a popular numbers among Kazakhs, as our language teacher reminded us the other day. First, you listing your seven grandfathers (jeti ata), telling you which Kazakh clan and lineage you’ve come from. But there are a legendary seven treasures (jeti qazyna) that bring the Kazakh man a good life. These are:

  1. Er jigit, a brave young man
  2. Sulu eyel, a beautiful wife
  3. Ilim-bilim, useful knowledge
  4. Zhuirik at, a swift horse
  5. Kumai tazi, a loyal hunting dog
  6. Kyran burkit, a skilled eagle
  7. Beren myltyk, a good gun

Older Kazakh women on horseback.

Yet lives change, and values shift.  Colonized by the Russian empire in the 1840s, Kazakhs gradually began to live in villages rather than on horseback. And forcibly settled by the Soviets in the 1930s, they moved onto communal farms.

Now, even in the modern “free trade” economy, young people continue to migrate to major cities in the hope of education and a good career. Before, you needed a horse and gun to survive. Yet as we observe students sipping lattes in a campus cafe, we agree that the good life has changed. Half-jokingly, then, we give you a new list of what every Kazakh desires:

  1. Jas isker, a shrewd young businessman
  2. Sulu kyz, a pretty girlfriend
  3. Sheteldan Bakalavr, an international bachelor’s degree
  4. Kymbatti mashina, an expensive car
  5. Jana sotka, a flashy cell phone
  6. Kop aksha, lots of money
  7. And an okrannok (guard) in place of that gun, to guard everything above

As I look over this list, I’m tempted to say that Kazakhstan is more status-oriented than before. But it may be that all our ancestors were just as attuned to status. Now, our status markers have shifted. From horsemen to business men, and guns to cell-phones, saddles to cars:

A bride and groom pose for photos in Astana, Kazakhstan

It’s true, our Kazakh teacher smiles.

“Elu zhilda – el zhana.”  In fifty years, a country is new again.

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