Kazakhs - Settlements



As of 1989, 16,538,000 people live in Kazakhstan, of which 57 percent are urban dwellers and 43 percent rural residents. The capital of the republic, Alma-Ata, was founded in 1854 and is situated at a height of 700-900 meters by the northern slopes of the Zailiiski Altai range; its population is 1,132,000. There are 82 cities and 132 urban-type settlements in Kazakhstan. The 17 provinces (oblasts) include 218 rural and 33 urban districts. In the cities Kazakhs live in large apartment buildings, paying monthly rent, as well as in houses of the rural type, which, in general, they own. In the rural settlements and auls of rural areas, Kazakhs live in houses of their own construction. A portion of rural dwellers use houses built for them on collective or state farms. At the present time, measures are being undertaken toward the privatization of all housing. A distinguishing feature of the Kazakhs living in rural areas is the retention of the traditional transportable dwelling—the yurt—in several regions of Kazakhstan (the Mangyshlak Peninsula, the areas around the Syr Darya, etc.), even up to the present. The yurt is a round, collapsible dwelling consisting of a wooden frame covered in felt. The basis of the frame is several sliding wooden lattices ( kerge ) , which fold up when collapsed. The bigger these lattices are, the bigger are the yurts themselves. Long curved poles ( uuk ) are attached to these lattices from above, the sharp upper ends of which are put into a wooden hoop ( shangyrak ). Thus the roof of the yurt has a dome-shaped appearance. In one place between the lattices Kazakhs fasten a wooden bivalved door frame. A flap of felt on the hoop of the yurt's dome is tied back to form an opening for smoke from the hearth, which is traditionally positioned in the center of the yurt, slightly closer to the door. Today yurts are used mainly during the summer. They serve as dwellings chiefly for families of shepherds who set off with their herds for the summer pastures. Other rural inhabitants set up yurts near their homes in the summer.

The entire internal space of the yurt is strictly arranged according to tradition. Opposite the door by the wall is the zhuk, where trunks filled with household items are stacked; during the day the bedding is also piled up there. The place in front of the zhuk is considered the most honored ( tor). The most esteemed guest occupies this spot and, in the event no guest is present, the master of the yurt does so. The floor of this area is covered with fleece carpets or even fur bedding over the usual felt. The woman's half of the yurt is located to the left of the tor, where she stores household tools and food supplies as well as the large skin bag ( saba ) for kumys (a beverage prepared from sour mare's milk). The bedding of the master and his wife is located nearer to the tor. The area to the right of the tor is considered the male half, where the horse harness, saddle, and the master's tools are found. Closer to the door is the place reserved for the younger members of the family, including sometimes even a married son. The door of the Kazakh yurt always faces south. Kazakhs still try to preserve the traditional layout of the yurt's interior as much as possible.

Among the settled and semisettled Kazakhs (among the latter during their winter camp), permanent dwellings are found, differing according to the climatic conditions of the vast Kazakh homeland and depending on the influence of neighboring settled peoples. Thus, among the northern Kazakhs, a permanent dwelling in a yurtlike form was originally widespread, as is common among peoples of western Siberia. In the south and west of Kazakhstan, the ancient form of dwelling was the adobe cottage. In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, quadrangular buildings with flat roofs covered with earth and turf appeared. As a rule, these were built without a foundation and had an earthen floor, which was covered with felt and carpets. They utilized turf, adobe bricks, wood, and stone as building materials.

Today the rural dwelling of the Kazakhs is a rather large accommodation with several rooms. Usually there is a room for the elderly, in which they maintain the traditions particularly strongly. There is also a guest room with modern furnishings. The kitchen is set off separately. Even now, however, the whole life of a family is spent in a single room, especially during the winter. Many rural homes have their own steam heating.

Despite the predominance of a nomadic or seminomadic life-style among the Kazakhs, they did construct a large number of "cult" monuments—funerary buildings (see "Death and Afterlife").


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