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The Kazak Ethnic Group

Living Areas: The majority of Kazak people in Xinjiang live in Ili, Tacheng, Altay, Barkol and Jichang on the northern side of the Tianshan Mountains, and also in Urumqi City.  


Population: Xinjiang’s Kazak population was recorded as 1,352,100 in the 2003 census, 6.99 percent of the region’s total.


Language: The Kazak language belongs to the Turkic branch of the Altaic family of languages. Its written form is based on the Arabic alphabet.


History: The Kazaks’ ancestors can be traced back to several nomadic tribes from different times – the Wusun people between the 3rd century BC and the early AD 1st century, the Turkomans and Geluolus between the 6th and 10th centuries, and the Naiman, Kelie and Kipchak tribes in the 12th and 13th centuries. The name “Kazak” first appeared in the 15th century, and in the late 16th century the Kazaks organized themselves into three tribal leagues called the Major, Medium and Minor Yuzi.


Most Kazaks live on animal husbandry. They also engage in food crop farming.


Diet: Kazak herdspeople live off their animals. They make a variety of dairy foods, such as butter, cheese, dried cream and yogurt. Mutton is cooked on the bone to be held while eating. Pita bread, deep fried dough cake and rice cooked with sliced mutton are daily staples. Kazaks traditionally treat guests with the best food they have, even the meat of their best colt.


Culture: The Kazaks have a distinctive cultural and artistic legacy, with roaming ballad singers and families gathering to sing and dance in herdspeople’s camps. The value of herding skills is reflected in traditional sports like horseracing, horseback wrestling, competing for a “sheep” (a sheepskin chased on horseback) and “girl-chasing-boy.”


Holidays: Major Kazak holidays include Corban, Nawuruz and Id El-Fitr. They number years in a system using 12 astral animals. Nawuruz is a celebration of the lunar New Year. Herding families celebrate it with a feast of roast mutton, cheese nuggets and cooked barley and maize.


Religion: The Kazaks are Muslims.


Costume: In winter, Kazak men wear sheepskin or fur caps, jackets and pants. Their jackets and the bottoms of their pant legs are ornamented with embroidered patterns. Their caps are made of warm fox fur and their cattle-hide belts have decorative buckles. Kazak women wear colorful dresses, shawls and flower-patterned scarves. Girls decorate their hats with owl feathers. The patterns on married women’s veils are different from those of unmarried women.


Marriage: Monogamy is standard, although some polygamy can be found historically. A marriage has to go through matchmaking, engagement, betrothal gift offering, bridal shower and a grand wedding. All these occasions are accompanied by love songs and blessings for the couple.


Residence: Most pastoral Kazaks live in movable yurts.

(China.org.cn August 25, 2005)

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