Karakalpaks - Religion and Expressive Culture

Since the Karakalpak sense of nationhood is said to be the weakest among Central Asian groups, Islam is a major unifying force, especially unofficially. The republic had 553 mosques in 1914; today there are less than 10. In the mid-1980s, Bennigsen and Wimbush (1986, 112) located 5 working mosques in Nukus (2), Turkjul, Khojeyli, and Chimbay.

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Officially Hanafite Sunni Muslim, Karakalpakia, especially in its northern part, is a major center of Central Asian Sufism. Estimates for the Karakalpak Islamic faithful in the 1970s were: firm believers (votaries), 11.4 percent; believers by tradition, 14.4 percent; hesitant believers (interested parties), 13.6 percent; indifferent believers (part-time Muslims), 39.1 percent; and atheists, 21.5 percent. Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice of Abraham) is the most important holiday. Fasting at Ramadan persists despite official condemnation.

Arts. The music of the Karakalpaks reflects an ancient oral tradition that was preserved by tribal bards and instrumentalists. Native songs are diverse in type and theme. They are basically diatonic with melodies that are rich in glissando, grace notes, and other embellishments. The most popular instruments are the two-stringed dutar (a pizzicato instrument) and the kobuz (a kind of fiddle). Reed pipes, flutes, and mouth harps are also used. Since the 1940s national symphonic compositions have been produced, including the symphonic poem Karakalpakstan. Although amateur theatrics, maintained by goliards, preceded the 1917 Revolution, a formal dramaturgy dates from the 1920s. The first national plays, originating during that decade, were The Girl Who Found Equality and Yernazar, the Camel's Eye. In the seventy years since, dozens of other dramas have been created.

Medicine. Modernization has meant general access to Soviet medical care; however, the health of the Karakalpaks, especially near the retreating shore of the Aral Sea, has deteriorated. Because of the salty grit roiled up from the dry lake bed, throat cancer rates have soared, respiratory and eye disorders have increased markedly, rates of infancy and childhood anemia are extraordinary, and local infant mortality is the highest in the former USSR (60 per 1,000). Pesticide and fertilizer use (DDT and butifos ) have polluted drinking water and traces of the same have been found in the milk of lactating mothers. Sanitary conditions, even in hospitals, are deplorable.

Death and Afterlife. Karakalpak believers are convinced that on the Day of Judgment, Allah will weigh their good and bad actions, which are recorded during their lifetimes in the Book of Deeds, and decide their final destination—paradise or hell.

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