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Elmira completed her PhD in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington in 2007, and is now teaching at American University of Central Asia (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) in the Anthropology Department.
Below is a description of Kyrgyzstan and a selection of Kyrgyz (Kirghiz) songs. For basic information on Kyrgyzstan and other countries of the world, visit The CIA World Factbook.
Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian country bordering China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, is slightly smaller than South Dakota in size and one of the most mountainous countries in the world. About 80 percent of the country is mountainous, with the highest peak, Jengish Chokusu, reaching 24,400 feet, almost 10,000 feet higher than Mt. Rainier. The country is landlocked and located far from any ocean. Since it is so mountainous, the country is not highly populated, especially in comparison to China, which has over a billion people and is the most populous country in the world. Kyrgyzstan has only about 4.5 million, which is a few hundred thousand less than the population of the state of Washington.
The most numerous people in Kyrgyzstan are the Kyrgyz, who speak a language related to Turkish (spoken in Turkey). Other peoples include Russians, Uzbeks (another Turkic people), Ukrainians and Germans. Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, and other Central Asian peoples are historically Muslim, so about 75% of the people are Islamic. Also because the country is so mountainous, Kyrgyz sheep and cattle herders learned to move with the seasons down from the mountainside when winter snows began, and up to higher elevations during springtime. Because the Kyrgyz were traditionally nomadic and moved with the seasons, they kept their stories in the form of unwritten songs. Carrying notes, books, papers, and things to write on and with is much more difficult for people on the move. So the Kyrgyz and other nomadic peoples of Asia made up songs, memorized them, and passed them along from generation to generation. Many of their songs have been sung for hundreds of years, but were written down only this century. As with other peoples, the Kyrgyz sing about the past, the landscape, and how people should treat each other. Mountains, seasons, wildlife, herding, and other aspects of the nomadic lifestyle all enter into traditional Kyrgyz songs. More information on the Kirghiz and their national epic Manas.
The following was written by Elmira and edited by Kurt Engelmann: About my costume: In the past Kirghiz women wore different traditional costumes. Married young women wore different costumes than unmarried young women. Elderly women had their own dress and head dress. The headdress I am wearing is worn by unmarried young girls. The color of the dress is usually white, blue or red. The owl feather is to protect from evil spirits and evil eyes. About the instrument: The komuz is one of the main traditional instruments of the Kirghiz. It is a very light and simply made instrument with three strings. Singers carried the instrument on horseback. Traditionally, strings are made from animal intestine. Many people learn how to play the komuz on their own, without studying at music schools. Even young children learn without any written music, just by hearing the tunes. Here is the program of Kyrgyz (Kirghiz) songs:
Kagan Arik, a graduate student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization has written a nice piece on the Kirghiz and their national epic Manas. The May 1993 issue of the National Geographic has an article on Mongolian nomads. Microsoft Encarta 98 has a section on Interactivities in which there is a part devoted to World Music. It has a game about matching musical instruments to countries. It doesn't have anything from Central/Inner Asia, but students could compare the Egyptian 'ud to the instruments on the web page.
The REECAS Center has a video on the "Generous Manas" (the hero of the Kyrgyz epic). It may be a bit advanced for sixth grade, but it has many great scenes of Kyrgyzstan. For more information, contact the REECAS Center email@example.com at (206) 543-4852.
For general information on Kyrgyzstan, there is a book at the REECAS Center that is part of the Then and Now Series covering the former Soviet Union country by country. The series was put out by Lerner Geography Department, Lerner Publications in 1993, and it's geared toward Middle School students. Contact the REECAS center for more information.
Kazakh and Kyrgyz animal tales have been translated and compiled by Professor Ilse Cirtautas, firstname.lastname@example.org,
who teaches Turkic languages at the University of Washington. This unit was distributed as part of the Nomadism Mosaic.
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