Thursday, August 27, 2009


(Picture Source Karakalpak State Art Museum

The Karakalpaks (who call themselves Qoraqolpoqlar) are one of the many turkic peoples of Central Asia. They lived within the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union until it was dissolved in 1991. Today the Karakalpak Republic is within the newly independent Uzbekistan.

The Karakalpaks' ancestors originally came from the Irtysh River areas in southern Siberia. They settled in their current home-land in the tenth and eleventh centuries AD. The Qipchoq people they encountered referred to the newcomers as "Karakalpaks" (black hats) supposedly because they wore black wool or felt hats.

The Karakalpaks' culture has been influenced by their harsh desert and steppe existence. It has also been affected by invaders such as the Mongols, Timurids, Kalmyks, Khorezmian Uzbeks, and Russians who colonised Uzbekistan during the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Karakalpak homeland, Karakalpakistan (Qoraqolpoqiston), lies in the north-western part of Uzbekistan. It occupies nearly 40 percent of Uzbekistan's total territory. Until recently, the major feature of its landscape was the Aral Sea. Today, however, the sea is drying up at a rapid rate due to irrigation methods.

About 2.3 million people live in the Karakalpakistan region. Of these, approximately 40% are Karakalpaks. Other Karakalpak people live in other parts of Uzbekistan and in the surrounding countries of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as well as many expatriates living in The Russian Federation.

The Karakalpak language is part of the Turkic language family. It is related to such languages as Turkish, Kazak, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, and Uzbek. There was no written form of the Karakalpak language until the 1920s. Today it is written in a modified Cyrillic alphabet (the same alphabet used by Russians). Newspapers, magazines, and books are printed in the Karakalpak language. Russian still remains an important second language in Karakalpakstan.

Folklore is divided into lyrical tales and epic poems (zhyr and dostan). There are tales about boys, such as Tarzshi and Aldarkose, whom everybody tries to outsmart. But the boys always manage to come out on top. There are also tales about animals, such as the cunning fox who can trick just about anyone and anything. Other tales involve wolves, tigers, and, occasionally, even God himself.

Among the remarkable traits of Karakalpak culture are the epic repertoires: more than one hundred epics have been identified to date, some reaching 18 000 stanzas. The epic genre (Dastan) fed in depth all the vocal and instrumental repertoires of Karakalpaks.

The epics are almost always about historical events and heroic figures. Epic heroes often turn out to be women. In Kyrk Qiz (The Forty Maidens), the heroine Gulaim defends her homeland from invading Kalmyks. Maspatsha is the story of Aiparshir, a woman of great beauty and tremendous courage.

The Karakalpaks are Sunni Muslims. In addition, they have long been influenced by Sufism, the mystical sect of Islam. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, religious practice and teaching played a minor role in the lives of most Karakalpaks. More recently, however as in other parts of Central Asia there has been some strengthening of Islam amongst the population.

Many Karakalpaks hold onto some religious beliefs that are not formally included in the Muslim religion. These often are about the natural world. They relate to saints or patrons (guardians) who watch out for herds, fishermen, farmers, and so forth.

Four major secular (nonreligious) holidays are celebrated by the Karakalpaks, together with their fellow Uzbeks. Novruz (New Day) marks the beginning of spring, on March 20 or 21. The holiday is celebrated with festivals, contests, game playing, and especially feasting. Schoolchildren celebrate with their teachers and put on skits. The favorite food for this holiday is sumalak, made from young wheat plants. It takes about twenty-four hours to prepare this sweet, tasty pudding. Sumalak parties are always part of the Novruz festivities.

Victory Day celebrations, commemorating the end of World War II (1939–45), take place on May 9 when there are military parades that include veterans of World War II and of the Red Army.

Uzbekistan Independence Day, September 1, has been celebrated since 1991. This day is marked by parades, speeches, and festive events throughout Uzbekistan.

Constitution Day, December 8, is another new holiday. It marks the creation of the Uzbekistan constitution in 1992. Businesses and other work-places are closed on that day. Most people simply stay home and relax.

Parents with a newborn baby visit relatives constantly for the first few months to introduce their infant into the family. Boys undergo circumcision at approximately age five. It is marked by a big celebration known as the sunnat toi.

The major rite of passage in adulthood is marriage. The wedding ceremony, called the kelin toi, symbolizes the joining of families and the continuation of family lines. The kelin toi is marked by feasts, dances, music, and speeches that continue for days. The festivities take place at various locations belonging to both of the families.

Death is marked by ritual outpourings of grief at the home of the person who has died. Mourners come to share their sympathy with the bereaved family. A clergyman (mullah) leads a procession of mourners to the cemetery. The closest relatives perform the burial after prayers are said.

When one person approaches another, the one who is approaching offers the first greeting. Usually, the greeting is Assalomu alaikum! ("Peace be with you!" in a dialect of Arabic). The person being greeted responds, Valaikum assalom! (And may peace be with you, too!). Then men shake hands. They use either one or two hands, depending on their degree of closeness. Women typically hug one another. A rapid series of questions about one another's health and family usually follows.

Respect for older people is taken very seriously. This is true even between people who differ in age by only a few years. A younger person usually bows slightly. One may also cover the lower part of one's chest with one's right hand as a sign of respect.

When visiting, Karakalpaks always bring presents or food. Neighbors constantly visit with one another to chat and snack.

Dating is rare among the Karakalpaks. Marriages are often arranged.

The traditional Karakalpak dwelling was a dome-shaped tent known as a yurt. A yurt has a wooden frame; huge pieces of felt cloth are thrown over the frame and then carefully arranged. Today most people live in mud brick houses or moden Soviet style buildings.

Whilst European-style furniture is found in Karakalpak homes. However, most people relax and sleep on thick, dense quilts called kurpas. Kurpas are often placed on raised platforms that are built into the room. The family sits on these platforms for meals and recreation, such as watching television. Kurpas are easily moved and stored. Large wooden cabinets known as sandals are used for storage.

Karakalpak families are usually large. Households of extended families (parents and children plus other relatives) are common. A family of four generations may live in a single home. A group of families descended from a common male ancestor is called a koshe. Several koshe make up an uru, a kind of clan.

Marriages are arranged through consenting sets of parents, most men and women marry early. A woman is given a dowry (gifts and money for her new married life) by her parents. She is also presented with bride gifts by the groom's parents. The new wife moves in with her husband's family.

Women do most of the cooking, cleaning, and child care. Men are usually responsible for buying groceries, preparing certain feast dishes, and doing home repairs, especially electrical work or carpentry.

Karakalpaks often wear a mix of traditional and Western-style clothing. Traditional women wear the kiimeshek, a long capelike dress with a head covering. Older women wear white, and younger women wear red. Tunic-like shirts and baggy trousers are also worn. With a man's typical summer outfit consists of loose trousers and a koilek. This is a long, loose white shirt with an open collar and no buttons.

Some type of hat or head covering is almost always worn because of the extreme temperatures and strong sunlight. Men wear silk or cotton embroidered skullcaps (duppi). They also wear the thick wool hats (qoraqolpoq), from which the Karakalpak got their name. Women wear long cotton or woolen scarves (rumol) that cover their heads, ears, backs, and shoulders.

Grain is a staple food of the Karakalpak diet, especially rice, sorghum, barley, and millet. From these grains, tasty breads, noodles, and dumplings are made.

Fruits and vegetables include onions, carrots, plums, pears, grapes, apricots, and all kinds of melons and squashes. Pumpkin is often used in turnovers known as samsa. Milk products include yogurt, butter, cream, and cheeses.

Boiled beef, mutton, and smoked horse-meat are among the favorite meats. Beef and mutton are ingredients in palov, a Central Asian favorite. Palov recipes use rice, meat, carrots, garlic, steamed quinces (a kind of fruit), and mutton tail fat (dumba).

Despite being muuslims most men are fond of drinking Vodka and (Pivo) beer especially at celebrations.

Almost all children receive a high-school education. Some then go on to technical and university training. Karakalpakistan has only one university, located in Nukus.

In the past, Karakalpak bards (performing poets) roamed from village to village, reciting stories and verses. They were accompanied on instruments such as the two-stringed dutar, and the qobyz and ghypzhek, which were played with bows.

Two Karakalpak poets of the nineteenth century—Azhiniaz Kosybai uly and Berdakh Kargabai uly—are among Central Asia's greatest writers. Modern Karakalpak writers have adopted Western literary forms such as novels, short stories, and plays.

Most of the work in Karakalpakistan is agricultural. Almost 70 percent of the population is rural. Manufacturing jobs are centered around agricultural industries. These jobs include ginning and baling cotton, and pressing cotton seeds for their oil. Silk manufacture is also a significant part of the agricultural economy. Farmers feed silkworms mulberry leaves, bringing the cocoons to regional collection centers. Farm workers work twelve to fifteen hours a day at harvest time.

Volleyball and soccer are popular at school. Boys also engage in a type of wrestling known as Qurash. It involves grabbing one another on the back of the neck and the thigh. The object is to force the opponent to lose his grip, and thus lose his balance. Women and girls are rarely, if ever, encouraged to participate in sports.

Plays in the theatres, on humorous or historical themes, are popular. Pop music is important to Karakalpak young people. Like elsewhere modern entertainment such as movies and television programs especially action movies and soap operas are popular.

Adults entertain themselves by getting together with friends at conversation sessions known as gap, which means "talk." Men and women meet in separate groups. They eat, play games, sing songs, catch up on news, and offer each other advice.

Children enjoy an elaborate game of riddles called askiia. Two children try to out-smart one another with a series of questions about a particular thing. One child starts with a description. The other must ask questions about what is being described.

Karakalpak rugs are narrow and not usually used as floor coverings. They are hung as doorway coverings at the entrance to a yurt (tent). They are also used as wall coverings or saddlebags. Bright blues, yellows, and greens are the main colours.

Traditional Jewellery is mostly silver. Blue stones, such as lapis lazuli, and red stones are often added. Necklaces, earrings, and bracelets are the most common kinds of jewellery. However modern gold Jewellery is today also valued highly.

Other craftsmen specialize as woodworkers (especially carvers). Some of the most skilled craftsmanship goes into carving house doors and support beams for buildings. Central Asian woodcarving has unique floral (flower) and geometric patterns.


Karakalpakstan Republic, Uzbekistan

also spelled Kara-Kalpakstan, or Qaraqalpaqstan,
also called Karakalpakiya, and in Uzbek Qoraqalpoghistan.

The Republic of Karakalpakstan is located in the northwest of Uzbekistan in the lower bench of the river Amudarya, along the southwestern shore of the Aral Sea. The central part consists of the valley and delta of the Amu Darya (river), a low-lying area intersected by watercourses and canals.
These plains transforming into the plateau Ustyurt a slightly undulating area characterised byflat summits rising to 300m above sea leve. In the southwest it transforms into the Karakum desert, and in the east – into the Kyzylkums Desert. The Sultan-Uvays mountsind rise in the southeast.   It borders with the Republic of Kazakhstan in the north, northeast and west; with the Republic of Turkmenistan in the south and southeast; and with Navoi and Khorezm Provinces of Uzbekistan in the east and southeast.

The climate in Karakalpakstan is sharply continental with hot and dry summer and cold winter with some negligent precipitation. Average rainfall is only 75 to 100 mm. Average temperature in January varies from –5 to –8ºС. Minimum temperature during winter fall down to –38 С. Average temperature in June varies from +26 to +28ºС, and in July and August - +50ºС. 

The Republic of Karakalpakstan is a sovereign republic in the structure of the Republic of Uzbekistan, and has its own Constitution, emblem, flag and anthem. Karakalpak and Uzbek languages are official languages of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. Russian language is also widespread.The Karakalpaks are closely allied to the Kazaks. Like many other Turkic peoples, they are of obscure origin. The first historical reference to them dates from the end of the 16th century.

During the 18th century they settled in the Amu Darya region, came partly under Russian rule in 1873, and by 1920 were totally incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Karakalpakstan was established as an autonomous oblast (province) of the Kazakh ASSR in 1924/25.  Karakalpakstan came under the administration of the Russian S.F.S.R. in 1930 and two years later was constituted as an autonomous republic. In 1936, while retaining its status, it was made a part of the Uzbek S.S.R. and became part of Uzbekistan with that country’s independence in 1991.

The population is composed mainly of Karakalpaks, Uzbeks, and Kazaks, with smaller numbers of Turkmens and Russians. About one-half of the population is urban. Nukus, the capital, Khŭjayli, Beruniy, Takhiatosh, Chimbay, Tŭrtkŭl, and Altykyl are the chief settlements.

The economy is predominantly agricultural. The industrial sector, while limited, includes light manufacturing, refineries that process oil from nearby petroleum fields, several building-materials plants that utilize the limestone, gypsum, asbestos, marble, and quartzite of the area, and a power station in Takhiatosh. Cotton is cultivated along the Amu Darya and in its delta and is processed at Chimbay, Qŭnghirot, Beruniy, Takhtakupyr, Khŭjayli, and Mangit.

A well-developed system of irrigation canals supplies water from the Amu Darya to the crops. Besides cotton, crops include alfalfa, rice, and corn (maize). Cattle and Karakul sheep are raised in the Kyzylkum Desert.

Laying as it does along both the Aral Sea and the Amu Darya delta, Karakalpakstan by the late 20th century had become one of the areas worst affected by the drying up of the Aral Sea. Much of the republic’s farmland had become heavily salinized owing to the effects of over-irrigation and to salt dust from the exposed bed of the receding Aral Sea. The shrinkage of the Aral Sea almost eliminated the republic’s fisheries and resulted in a harsher climate and a shorter growing season.

Transport facilities in the republic include a railway from Qŭnghirot to Chärjew in Turkmenistan, motor roads that link several cities of the republic, and air connections with Moscow, Tashkent and other cities. Area 63,900 square miles (165,600square km). Pop. (2007 est.) 1,678,191.Population density 9.6 persons per 1 thousand sq. km.

Administrative and territorial division of the republic is represented by 14 rayons (districts): Amudarya, Beruniy, Kanlykul, Karauzyak, Kegeili, Kungrad, Muynak, Nukus, Takhtakupir, Turtkul, Khodjeili, Chimbay, Shumanay and Ellikkal’a Rayons. Nukus, modern industrial center with well-developed infrastructure, is the capital city of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, and its population is 264,400 people (2007) followed by Khodjeili, Takhiatash, Beruniy, Turtkul and Kungrad.

Source: Encyclopædia Britannica.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Karakalpak People

Karakalpak Girl in Traditional Dress

The Karakalpaks (also Qaraqalpaqs) are a Turkic speaking people of Turkic and Mongol origin. Today they mainly live on the lower reaches of the Amu Darya (in antiquity known as Oxus) to the south of the former shore of the Aral Sea. The Karakalpaks probably number about 660,000-700,000 worldwide most of whom reside in the Republic of Karakalpakstan.

The name "Karakalpak" comes from two words: "qara" meaning black, and "qalpaq" meaning hat. Karakalpakstan is an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan. It occupies the whole western end of Uzbekistan. The capital is Nukus.

Karakalpak communities also exist in neighbouring Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and further afield small communities are also found in Iran, Turkey and Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Karakalpaks in Turkey are primarily concentrated in the mountains of eastern Turkey near the headwaters of the Murat River a major source of the Euphrates (called Arsanias in antiquity) near Mount Ararat north of Lake Van.

Those in Iran live mainly on the southern shores of Lake Urmia (Daryâcheh-ye Orumiyeh) a salt lake in north-western Iran near Turkey between the provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan.


For a relatively small ethnic group, the Karakalpaks have a very complex tribal structure. The Karakalpaks as a whole are divided into two divisions, known as Arıs, the Khunggirat and the On To'rt Urıw. The term On To'rt Urıw, which means fourteen tribes, is somewhat misleading since the On To'rt Urıw are actually composed of just four tribes: the Khitan (whose name derives from a nomadic people, originally located at Mongolia and Manchuria from the 4th century) the Kipchak, the Keneges and the Mangit. It is possible that the Karakalpaks adopted this term from the On Tort Urugh tribe of the Aral Uzbeks who were already occupying the Aral delta prior to the arrival of the main body of Karakalpaks. The Tort Urugh were already well established in region at the time of Abul Ghazi Khan's tribal reorganisation of the Khorezmian Uzbeks in 1644.

The Khunggirat are divided into two bo'limi or sub-groups: the Shu'llik and the Jawıng'ır, the latter name being remarkably similar to the term Dzungar, meaning left wing. It was traditional for many Turkic and Mongol tribes to be divided into right and left wings. The Shu'llik are composed of eight tribes or u'lken urıw: Mu'yten, Kiyad, Ashamaylı, Qoldawlı, Qostamg'alı, Balg'alı, Qa'ndekli and Qaramoyın.

Each of these is in turn divided into clans or urıw, there being 63 clans in total.

The Jawıng'ır are composed of just seven clans. The four tribes of the On To'rt Urıw are also divided into clans: the Khitan into 12, the Kipchak into 13, the Keneges into 8 and the Mangit into 4.


The Karakalpak population is mainly confined to the central part of Karakalpakstan that is irrigated by the Amu Darya. The largest Karakalpak settlement is Nukus which with a population of 260,000 is the sixth-largest city in Uzbekistan, and the capital of the autonomous Karakalpakstan Republic. Karakalpaks also live in the surrounding large towns, such as Khodzheli, Shimbay, Takhtaitash, and Kungrad.

Rural Karakalpaks mainly live on former collective or state farms, most of which have now been privatised. Many rural Karakalpaks have been seriously affected by the desiccation of the Aral Sea on the eastern side, the barren Ustyurt plateau to the west, and now the growing Aral Kum to the north, once the bed of the former Aral Sea.

Although their homeland bears their name, the Karakalpaks are not the only ethnic group to live in Karakalpakstan. Many Uzbeks live in the rich agricultural region around Turtkul (To‘rtko‘l) and Beruni also found in Karakalpakstan are Kazakhs and a small Turkmen community. Also in the Republic are Russian, Korean and other peoples whom migrated from other parts of the former Soviet Union.


The Karakalpak language is a subgroup of Kipchak-Nogay language group. Its vocal and pronunciation patterns share with the Kipchak-Nogay language group a vocal harmony that is full. The labial attraction is not full. Nevertheless, there are round speech patterns as observed in the Khirghiz language (SÖzgö: Sözge). Their written language is Turkic used commonly by all people living in the Russian province of Turkistan up until the end of the century nineteenth century. Their spoken language is closer to Kazakh-Khirghiz and that of Khoresm than it is to the Uzbek language used in the eastern areas of Uzbekistan.

The written language is rooted in the foundation of Karakalpakistan (1925). The Karakalpak dialect is mainly divided into two accents: the Northeastern and Southwestern accents. Apart from these two accents that are not much different from one another, there are some accents spoken within the boundaries of Karakalpakistan such as Karakalpak-Kazakh, Karakalpak-Turkmen and Karakalpak-Uzbek mixtures.

Karakalpak language is close to the languages of the Nogay and Kazakh. The North-eastern accent is spoken in Kara-Uzek, Tahta Köpür and on the coastal sides of Aral. The mixed Karakalpak accent is included within this group. In the rest of the Republic in the regions of Shimbay, Kokeyli, Kuybishev, Kongrat, Şomanay, Hojaeli, Kipshak, Shahbaz and Törtkül, the Southwestern accent is spoken.

The vocabulary is rooted in the Kipchak language in principle. The Karakalpak language had become a written language in the Soviet period for the first time and an alphabet was developed that was based on the Arabic letters at first and then Latin and then Cyrillic. Today once again officially the script is Latin albeit most people in Karakalpakstan are still using Cyrillic.


The word Karakalpak is derived from the Russian Cyrillic spelling of their name and has become the accepted name for these people in the West. The Karakalpaks actually refer to themselves as Qaraqalpaqs, whilst the Uzbeks call them Qoraqalpogs.

The word means "black hat" in Turkic and has caused much confusion in the past, since some historians have attempted to link them with other historically earlier groups, who have also borne the appellation "black hat".

Many accounts continue to falsely link the present day Karakalpaks with the Cherniye Klobuki or Chorni Klobuky (were a group of semi-nomadic Turkic tribes that settled on the frontier between the Rus states and the Pechenegs during the 1000s and 1100s CE) of the 11th century, whose name also means "black hat" in Russian.

In fact, the Cherniye Klobuki were a cadre of mercenary border guards who worked for the Kievan Rus. They were of mixed tribal origin; many adopted Christianity and became settled agriculturalists. There is no archaeological or historical evidence to link these two groups, apart from the fact that their names have the same meaning.

Recent archaeological evidence indicates that the Karakalpaks may have formed as a confederation of different tribes at some time in the late 15th or the 16th centuries at some location along the Syr Darya (previously known as the Jaxartes or Yaxartes from its Ancient Greek name or its southern Zhany Darya outlet, in proximity to the Kazakhs.

The neighbouring Kazakhs from the Lesser Horde (Jüz) who also came from the Syr Darya have a very similar language, customs and material culture to that of the Karakalpaks.