Subsistence and Commercial Activities. For centuries, Uighur subsistence was oriented toward oasis agriculture. In czarist and early Soviet periods the Uighur played a key role in developing agriculture, as well as urbanization, in formerly nomadic areas of Kazakhstan. The Uighur engage in both irrigated agriculture in desert regions and dry agriculture in the uplands. Crops include a great variety of grain and produce. In Uzbekistan, cotton has come to dominate much of the local economy, whereas in Kazakhstan animal husbandry has become a key element in the Uighur economy. Uighur meals were traditionally spread on the dasturkhan , a tablecloth laden with fruit, sweets, nuts, and breads, a repast particularly associated with festive occasions. This was followed by lamb and beef dishes, including pilaf.
Industrial Arts. Uighur craft tradition derives from the legacy of medieval guilds in Central Asia, in which specialists in various applied arts were trained. In the late 1800s artisans migrating to Russia settled in towns and urban areas such as Yarkand or Panfilov (Kazakhstan) and Andijian and Osh (Ferghana Valley). Tailors, hatmakers, cobblers, blacksmiths, jewelers, bakers, and barbers set up workshops quartered in the bazaars. Under the Soviet government, Uighur artisans of urban areas were united into trade artels, which became the basis for local industry. With the development of light industry, certain crafts and trades (e.g., silk manufacture) diminished in importance. Garments of tie-died silk ( atles ), a fashion traditionally popular among both Uighur and Uzbek women, continue to be produced and sold at state-run stores, but such products are often inferior to traditional handicrafts and goods marketed by local cooperatives.
Trade. In addition to developing agriculture, the early Uighur and other Central Asian peoples became merchants along the Silk Road, which linked Byzantium and Persia to China. Today trade exists on a much smaller scale. Although bazaars no longer dominate the center of town, as in pre-Soviet days, local open-air markets nevertheless do a flourishing business. In Alma-Ata, periodic trade fairs feature Uighur crafts, snacks, and musical performances set up in pastel-colored tents inspired by Kazakh yurts.
Division of Labor. Many crafts and trades have been traditionally monopolized by males, but females have engaged in specific industries such as embroidery, making patterned felt, and weaving rugs. In more solidly Islamic Uzbekistan, women are surrounded by traditional role models of female propriety. In Kazakhstan, however, Uighur women are often encouraged to pursue higher education and white-collar jobs.
Land Tenure. In oasis areas, water rather than land was traditionally subject to inheritance. After the Uighur migrated to Russia, systems of land tenure and water rights were subject to a great deal of flux until collectivization.