Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: Unusual Superstitions - Part #2

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Kyrgyz couple milking a mare
Kyrgyzstan, a country located where the old silk routes once ran through the heart of Eurasia, celebrates Christian, Muslim, Soviet and pagan holidays.

Its superstitions are equally numerous and diverse. This post concludes the look at Kyrgyz superstitions, started last week.

6.  Take care of your livestock, because they take care of you. 


This is less of a superstition and more of a practical necessity in a country where much of the population of six million people depends on animal husbandry as a way of life.

Nevertheless, beyond the oft-repeated common-sense mantra madli tebbe, bashka, sappa (don't kick the cattle, don't hit its head), there are plenty of negative omens — too numerous to cite here — that cling to sick horses and cows like unwanted fleas.

7.  Flush away your bad dreams

If a person has a nightmare or insomnia, Kyrgyz will sometimes put bread, wheat, or table knives under a pillow to keep bad dreams at bay. Elders even recommend telling your nightmare to flowing water; this will flush away the memories of the bad dream.

8.  Dog versus tooth fairy


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Little girl on the left has no doubt tossed her tooth to a dog!
When Kyrgyz children lose their baby teeth, they don’t wait for a tooth fairy to leave them pocket money in exchange for their fallen tooth.

Rather, they fill the fallen tooth with bread, approach a neighbourhood dog, and throw their tooth to the dog, shouting: “Take a bad tooth, and give me a good one!”

9.  Tea is best served one drop at a time 


Like many other cultures, people in Kyrgyzstan sometimes see bubbles in a bowl of tea as evidence of good luck or future prosperity. Where Central Asian tea-traditions differ is in the serving of tea.

On visiting a Kyrgyz home you might find you are constantly being served half a cup of tea. You are not being shorted. In fact, the host is showing you that he or she does not want you to leave.

When it is time for you to go, they will let you know by pouring you a full cup!

10.  A myriad of superstitions related to new brides


A daughter-in-law or kelin has the lowest rank in a Central Asian household, and as such is inundated with superstitions even before she begins married life.

Typically, when a new kelin arrives in her husband’s home for the first time, she is supposed to bow three times to the guests and her parents-in-law as a sign of respect and reverence.

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A new bride - kelin - arrives in her husband's home.
Image: Elita Bakirova and Erlan Bakirov
In northern parts of Kyrgyzstan, the rite is even stricter; a kelin should bow whenever she encounters her parents-in-law in order not to bring misfortune and sorrow into her new home.

Another superstition threatens that if the young woman takes even a covert disliking to one of her husband’s relatives or her mother-in-law, her next child will resemble that relative.

Yet another old wives' tale sees people avoid distributing the tongue of a sacrificial sheep to girls at feasts. The assumption is that eating a tongue might make a young girl a sharp-tongued kelin in her new family, rather than the subservient variety that is favoured.

Conversely, when a chicken is divided among family members, daughters get chicken wings, as an encouragement to fly the family nest!

Finally, by the time the kelin meets her husband's parents, she should have no excuses for leaving dishes unwashed until the following morning, as this will have been drummed into her by her mother from an early age.

Supposedly, it is forbidden to leave dishes unwashed until the next morning because dirty dishes will attract evil spirits. But is this a actually a superstition or just a creative way of encouraging girls to be neat and tidy? Who knows?

This article by Elita Bakirova and Erlan Bakirov originally appeared on Global Voices on 15 February 2017. It is re-published with permission.

Related posts: Kyrgyzstan: Unusual Superstitions - Part #1 
Kyrgyz Blues
100 Experiences of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan: Hunting with Birds of Prey 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: Unusual Superstitions - Part #1

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The beauty of Kyrgyzstan: Ala Archa Gorge. Image: Lilya Kas'yanova
Kyrgyzstan, a country located where the old silk routes once ran through the heart of Eurasia, celebrates Christian, Muslim, Soviet and pagan holidays. Its superstitions are equally numerous and diverse.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that Kyrgyz culture is a cradle for superstitions. People pass them from generation to generation to explain things that mostly defy explanation.

Here are a few that stick out.

1. The 40-day rule and other baby-related superstitions


When parents welcome their new-born child into the world, they try to keep the baby away from strangers for 40 days. It is believed that if a stranger — or even a non-member of the family — sees a baby, the child may get severely ill. This explains why women in Kyrgyzstan often drape cloth over their prams when walking their newborns, just in case alien eyes are peeping over their shoulders.

Or, perhaps it's just an excuse for a party. After 40 days, relatives, neighbours and friends come around to watch the family give the child a warm bath using 40 spoons of water and enjoy forty roundels of bread (mai tokoch) baked specially for the gathering. This is when the baby is first placed in a beshik, or traditionally carved cot, usually given to the baby by his or her maternal grandmother.

Other baby-linked superstitions are more left field. If a baby sleeps during the day but not at night, for instance, a mother may stick its head into a tandyr (a traditional oven dug into the ground to bake bread) three times in the hope that the baby gets used to the new day-night cycle.

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Photo taken during beshik toy or ‘crib party'. Image: Elita Bakirova and Erlan Bakirov.
This takes place, of course, when the oven has not been heated up to bake bread.

An alternative to oven-dunking is placing soot on the baby's forehead.

Mothers tend to do that when guests come around to see the baby, so that the guests focus on the black spot, rather than looking directly into the newborn's eyes, which some believe can contribute to a child’s sleeping disorder.

2. Burn pine needles


If a family is facing financial or personal difficulties such as disease, unemployment or depression, Kyrgyz families often burn parts of a pine tree (ysyryk) in a dish and move it around each family member, uttering words such as "May prosperity and success attend us throughout the year!"

A similar rite is carried out over the newborn's beshik  to drive away negative spirits. From a scientific point of view, pine, which is indigenous to Kyrgyzstan, can provide benefits in terms of respiratory health and the immune system. Whether that is also the case when it is burned is not clear.

3.  Don't whistle at home, otherwise you'll be bankrupt!


Many people find whistling an annoyance, including people that are partial to whistling themselves. But in Kyrgyzstan, as with many other parts of the former Soviet Union, it goes much further than that. In many homes, there is an iron-clad belief that whistling brings on bankruptcy.

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Mothers may pop a baby's head into a traditional oven to improve sleep patterns
The roots of the superstition are unknown, but a Russian website offers two explanations. One is that whistling is the way in which “impure spirits communicate” and that echoing their language brings them into the home.

The other is that ancient peoples used whistles as a way to summon a gust of wind if they needed it. But even then they had to be very careful with winds/whistling, as a strong storm might take the roof off their home.

4.  Wave money at a full moon. 


Well, because why not? This is another superstition fairly prevalent across the ex-Soviet Union. A full moon is associated with abundance by some astrologists, so it doesn't do any harm to wave a banknote at it. No actual guarantee that your finances will wax, rather than wane, but it seems worth a shot.

5.   Horseshoes in the land of horses!

As in Western countries, Kyrgyz households have come to view the horseshoe as a good luck symbol, and have started to hang them outside their doors in recent years.

This makes sense, since Kyrgyz owe a large part of their identity to horses.

This article by Elita Bakirova and Erlan Bakirov originally appeared on Global Voices on 15 February 2017. It is re-published with permission.

Related posts:
Kyrgyzstan: Edelweiss and the Legend of the Broken Heart
6 Quirky Things About Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan: A Tale of Burana Tower
Kyrgyzstan: Flash Mob Opera in Bishkek Supermarket

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Horseshoe hung on the door of a beauty parlour in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Image: Elita Bakirova and Erlan Bakirov.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: The Hermes Scarf and the Appaloosa Horse

Luxury goods group Hermes recently introduced its new collection of silk scarves and shawls. A collection item called Appaloosa des Steppes has Kyrgyz national patterns together with an image of an Appaloosa horse.

This was actively covered by Kyrgyz media, but an exciting story, which this item, intentionally or not, symbolizes, was left almost unnoticed.

The story has rewritten the history of the Appaloosa horse. Still it is unknown whether the luxury goods maker was aware of and inspired by it — Hermes did not respond to a request to comment.

The story begins back in 2012, when Scott Engstrom, then a 68-year-old lady, who breeds Appaloosa horses in New Zealand, saw Conor Woodman, a director and a television presenter, in his Around the World in 80 Trades.

In that show Conor traded different things in foreign lands — from coffee in Africa and chili sauce in India to surfboards in China and horses in Kyrgyz Republic. Scott saw Conor selling a horse to a farmer and it looked like one of her Appaloosas. "And then I stood up in my lounge and screamed my head off..." recalled Scott.

As Conor said, after Around The World in 80 Trades, in which he bartered his way round the world, a lot of people got in touch with all sorts of crazy business ideas they wanted him to help them with. So, as he remembers, he discounted Scott’s email as the ramblings of a crazy old lady and got on with his life.

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Hermes' Appaloosa des Steppes scarf - there are a dozen colour combinations
But Scott didn't stop and was bombarding Conor with emails — for years she had a theory that the Appaloosa actually came from Asia. She had to find Martin, the horse Conor sold.  DNA evidence would prove her theory.

As believed by most breeders, Appaloosas arrived in Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors. Scott believed they moved into America across the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, long before the Spanish Conquistadors brought them to the continent.

This is how the film Secret Horse: Quest for the True Appaloosa was made. In 2012, Scott and Conor flew to Kyrgyz Republic to search for the evidence. The film tells Scott’s story — how her passion about the Appaloosa ended up changing the history of the North American horse.

The journey was not easy — Martin , the horse, had been sold multiple times and the trail led to a dead end. After attending a game of kok boru or a goat polo, they learned about a place where there were horses that sounded like Appaloosas. Scott and Conor spent three days until they reached a remote valley, which finally rewarded them with a herd of Appaloosas.

In Kyrgyz Republic the horses are known as chaar, which translates as 'spotted'. The owners of the horses let them be DNA tested. Scott's preterm confidence was finally confirmed when DNA results from Texas University were received.

The Hermes scarf reminds us about this truly unique combination — a combination of Appaloosa horses and their origins.

This article, originally titled Why This Hermes Scarf Is Way More Than Just a Scarf, appeared in  GO KYG - Your Unofficial Guide to Kyrgyz Republic, an excellent resource about Kyrgyzstan. It is republished with permission.

Here is the trailer for this remarkable film. [2 minutes. If the film does not display on your device, go directly here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT50CsElLYc]



Related posts:
Kyrgyz-style Polo: Ulak Tartysh or Buzkash
The Silk Road Inspires Piaget's Secrets and Lights Collection
Ikat Porcelain Tableware
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani
Kyrgyz Blues