National Crafts in Kazakhstan
Like many other countries, Kazakhstan has its own unique folk crafts that originated in antiquity and developed over many millennia. As a result of archaeological excavations, finds from the Bronze Age were found, which testify to the large-scale development of crafts even several thousand years before our era. During excavations throughout Kazakhstan, a large number of handicraft items were found: jewelry made of bronze, gold, silver, copper, weapons, household items, dishes, ceramic items decorated with ornaments, carved items made of bone, and horns. All these studies and research after them, including archaeological finds, tell us an amazing story of the development of Kazakh folk crafts.
Kazakh Folk Crafts
Kazakh folk crafts were formed under the influence of the nomadic culture of the Kazakh tribes. The difficult and even harsh life of the nomads forced them to independently make everything they needed for life from what they had at hand.
The main occupation of the nomad was cattle breeding and hunting, which is why products obtained from animals were used as materials for crafts: leather, wool, down, bones, horns of cattle, and small ruminants. All this led to the development of such crafts as felting and felt making, leather dressing, sewing leather and felt clothes, making carpets, and felt. The bones and horns of animals were used to make jewelry and some household items. During that period, the art of bone carving was also strongly developed. From the bones and horns of animals, the craftsmen carved various figures, made thin plates with drawings and patterns, which were subsequently inlaid with pieces of furniture.
Livestock leather and animal fur were used to make a wide variety of household items, from winter clothing and military armor to horse harnesses and water vessels. Naturally, leather was used to make shoes, in particular boots, because the nomads wore boots both in winter and in summer. Leather products were often decorated with embossing - this art was highly valued not only among Kazakhs but also among neighboring nations.
One of the most important and ancient Kazakh crafts is felt making and working with it. Thick felt ("koshma" in Kazakh) was used to cover yurts (traditional portable dwellings of Kazakhs), and thin felt was used as a material for sewing various clothes: chapans, dressing gowns, hats, etc. Felt was used as the basis for the «tekemet» carpet, which was laid on the floor in the yurt, and for the beautiful «tuskiiz» carpets with drawings and ornaments, which were hung on the inner walls of yurts as decoration. Along with this, carpet weaving from wool and the manufacture of rugs from thin strips of fabric «corpe» were well developed.
Working with wood was no less important craft in the life of nomads. Dishes, weapons, furniture, and other household items, parts for saddles, handles for working tools, various lockers, and chests were made of wood. All these items were often decorated with ornamental wood carvings.
A special place in wooden crafts is occupied by the manufacture of yurts, in particular, parts of the yurt frame: the tops (shanyrak), poles for the arch (uuk), and folding lattice walls of the yurt (kerege).
Let's dwell on the manufacture of yurts in a little more detail. Nomadic life presupposed frequent movement from place to place, so the nomad needed a fairly lightweight and quickly dismantled house. At the same time, the house must be warm so that it can survive the harsh steppe winter with snowstorms. This is how the yurt appeared - a mobile dwelling made of a wooden frame and a thick felt covering. Of course, most nomads could make a yurt on their own, but more often yurts, especially their basis, were ordered from artisans.
Another Kazakh folk craft associated with wood iт the manufacture of musical instruments. Dombra, kobyz, sybyzgy flute, and many other instruments in ancient times brightened up the harsh everyday life of nomads, were obligatory attributes of holidays ("toi" in Kazakh), and today they are full members of orchestras of folk musical instruments.
Metals were less common material for Kazakh artisans, although the Kazakhs knew how to smelt metal and make tools, dishes and weapons from it back in the Bronze Age. The bowels of Kazakhstan are still rich in various ores, including the ores of noble metals: gold and silver. Nowadays, many deposits have survived on the site of ancient settlements, where ore was mined and iron, silver, and copper were smelted. Many items were also made of native copper.
Blacksmithing was an important skill in the life of nomads: they constantly needed horseshoes, stirrups, harness parts, and harnesses for horses, knives, weapons, and other tools. But blacksmithing demanded a more sedentary lifestyle from the artisan, so forges were built and worked mainly in settlements and cities of the Great Steppe. Nomads often bought finished metal products from sedentary blacksmiths, rather than made them themselves. Blacksmithing and jewelry craft was developed in cities such as Sygnak, Otrar, Taraz, Turkistan, and others.
Kazakh jewelers were familiar with many techniques: forging, chasing, stamping, and others. The main material for decoration was silver, less often gold. Silver was used to creating rings, bracelets, earrings and pendants, clothing details - buckles and buttons. Weapons, furniture, clothes, and other household items were often inlaid with silver.
Pottery developed in the same cities and settlements. Making dishes, ceramic tiles, jewelry and even musical instruments (samsirnay, flute) from the clay were widespread everywhere. Pottery was decorated with ornaments and painted with national patterns, at fairs and bazaars, pottery rows were usually the largest.
Nowadays, the products of folk artisans are rarely used for their intended purpose and as household items. Usually, they are souvenirs made in a single copy of high quality. You can buy such products almost everywhere: in large shopping centers there is always a department with products of folk craftsmen. Festivals and specialized fairs of ancient crafts are often held; at such festivals, there are various masterclasses where you can try yourself as a Kazakh craftsman.
Where can you see the work of Kazakhstani artisans?
• Ykylas Republican Museum of Folk Musical Instruments in Almaty. In the museum, you can see over 400 exhibits, more than 40 types and varieties of Kazakh folk musical instruments. The museum is located in a historic building - the former House of Officers' Assembly, built at the beginning of the 20th century, in 1908.
• Ethnographic Hall at the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, Almaty. Here are widely presented products of folk artisans, both historical and modern.
• Hall of folk crafts in the Museum of the History of the City of Almaty — a permanent exhibition.
• Museum of Arts named after Kasteev in Almaty. There is a permanent exhibition of applied arts.
• Qazaq-Oner Center with two branches in Almaty. This is a training, industrial, trade, cultural, historical, and entertainment center where you can buy products of Kazakh artisans and try to do craft products by yourself.
In addition, you can buy something from the products of Kazakh artisans in almost all souvenir shops. One of these places where you can buy handicrafts is the pedestrian part of Zhibek Zholy Avenue in Almaty, or Arbat, which is a favorite place for painters, artists, and craftsmen.
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