The culture of the Kazakhs was a nomadic culture, which is why it has partly been lost due to the settlement or has been robbed of its original meaning. But you can still or again today observe a number of typical phenomena. The great hospitality, for example, is seen as a nomadic legacy, as is the stronger position of women, the close family ties and respect for the elderly compared to the historically settled and more Islamicized neighboring peoples. Various equestrian games and races as well as hunting (with eagles trained for this) were and are very typical.
Above all, there were a number of special festivals for the events from cradle to grave, which today take place in a modernized and cost-intensive form. At such events, national costumes, mostly also modernized, can be seen, which otherwise only appear in folkloric performances. Traditional clothing, with the possible exception of headgear in the south, has largely disappeared from everyday life. The same applies to the traditional dwelling, the yurt, and its interior decoration with felt carpets and typical everyday objects and various types of decoration. Only in the kitchen have many typical dishes and drinks (e.g. kumys) been preserved.
According to homosociety, today’s Kazakh goldsmiths, painters, sculptors, architects and other artists often refer to traditional stylistic elements in their works. Painting and sculpture are, however, due to the nomadic way of life, not traditional art forms. They developed, based on socialist realism, only in the 20th century. Since independence, a lively and unconventional art scene has developed that is also attracting attention from Western museums and collectors. But there are also lawsuits that are contemporary. Art will be displaced in today’s Kazakhstan. Self-appointed guardians of Kazakh tradition have recently been complaining about unconventional artistic representations of Kazakh nomadic life that have been ignored for decades. Despite the above, artists and artists of all forms of expression found following their respective global community and participate also at political debates.
There are currently three sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List – the mausoleum of Hodscha Akhmed Yassawi in Turkestan, the petroglyphs of Tamagly and, most recently, several remains of the Silk Road – (and one – Saryarka – on the World Heritage Site).
The Kazak epics were passed down orally until the 19th century. The first writers known by name and revered to this day were Ibraj Altynsaryn, Schokan Walichanow and above all Abaj, the most revered poet in today’s Kazakhstan. The first generation of Kazakh-Soviet writers fell victim to Stalinist persecution in the 1930’s. The preoccupation with one’s own history, the historical novel, is typical of Soviet-Kazakh literature. Works such as “The Way of Abaj” by Muchtar Auesow (1897-1961) or the trilogy “ Nomaden ” by Iljas Esenberlin(1915-1983) play a role again today in the formation of a Kazakh identity. The most famous contemporary writers, Olschas Suleymenov and Mukhtar Shakhanov in particular, began their work in Soviet times. Today you are also involved in socio-political life or advocate Kazakh. The appearance of the first Kazakh comic in 2020 is being devalued by some observers as a copy of Western models, but KazakhMan is popular with young readers.
The Russian-German writer Gerold (Herold) Belger, who died in 2015 and was forcibly deported from the Volga to Kazakhstan with his parents as a child in 1941, is also highly valued in Kazakhstan today. Several of his works are also available on the German book market.
This also applies to a whole series of works by the best-known Kazakh writers that appeared in German in the “ Kazakh Library ” series, which is supported by the Kazakh Embassy and jointly operated by several publishers. For a long time, the offer of translations from Kazakh (Central Asian) authors into English looked better, but also too small. A large project with partners from Kazakhstan and the English-speaking world tries to counteract this.
The theater has its forerunners in ballads performed orally by bards among the nomads in the steppe, in the European form it came to Kazakhstan and Central Asia towards the end of the 19th century. In the Soviet era, every major city had its own theater, and some of the many nationalities of the KazSSR had (have) their own stages.
Even today there are Kazakh- and Russian-language theaters in Nur-Sultan, Almaty and the regional capitals with a broad, more classically staged repertoire of works by both Kazakh and international authors. Subsidized by the state, they play a role in state and nation building, in individual cases up to performances that glorify the president. On the other hand, attempts are also made to bring current problems closer to the audience in a scenic way. Independently of this, a highly interesting independent theater scene has developed in Almaty, which is testing artistic and political limits.
All phases and situations of the life of the Kazakh nomads were accompanied by music, especially songs. Traditional Kazakh music consists of singing and various string and percussion instruments. Even in the steppe there were singing competitions where the best musician was determined. Even today there is a rich musical life. Typical instruments are the plucked dombra and the painted kobys. The Musical Instrument Museum in Almaty offers a comprehensive and informative overview of the past and present of typical instruments:
Today the traditional music is not only cultivated in a traditional way, but a successful synthesis with modern music is attempted. Typical elements can also be seen in the songs of today’s Kazakh pop stars, e.g. Kairat Nurtas or Dimash Kudaibergen, which is very popular in China. Already in the Soviet era, and even more of course today, there are many different groups and individual musicians who tie in with the musical currents of the western and eastern world.
Of course, music also plays a role in the state’s endeavor to create a Kazakh (Stan) identity and to promote patriotism. The use of literature, music and history to create a national identity and patriotism is not typical of Kazakhstan, but can be observed in all five young Central Asian states.
Films from the studios of what was then Alma-Ata already had a good reputation in the Soviet era. After financially difficult times, Kazakh filmmakers are now able to reconnect with this tradition and follow global film trends with a Kazakh note. The annual Eurasia Film Festival in Almaty is now known beyond the borders of Central Asia. Uroki Garmonii / Harmony Lessons, the thoughtful and critical debut film by the Kazakh director Emir Baigazin, has won awards at both American and European film festivals: at the 63rd Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) in 2013 it was awarded a Silver Bear for an outstanding artistic contribution in the field camera (Aziz Zhambakiyev) awarded. But it is precisely such films that are a thorn in the side of the official Kazakhstan, and feel-good films are required by the domestic film industry. Baigazin’s latest film (The Wounded Angel, 2016), which also ran at the Berlinale, was almost even more depressing than its predecessor. In 2018, the Kazakh actress was Samal Jesljamowa as best actress in the film at the film festival in Cannes Ayka awarded.
Kazakhstan, on the other hand, was also the location of a film by the well-known German director Volker Schlöndorff with the title “Ulzhan” in 2007. He is from the criticism judged skeptical and was not well known, the way a European sense viewfinder through the steppes of Kazakhstan are shown but many good impressions of landscapes and people. A completely different Kazakhstan is presented in the summer of 2019 by Till Lindemann von Rammstein in his video clip.
In contrast, a very well-known work by the American comedian Sacha Baron Cohen entitled “Borat” (2006) had absolutely nothing to do with real Kazakhstan. The name Kazakhstan only served Cohen as a fictional setting, the satire was filmed in Romania. The violent reaction, especially from the official Kazakhstan side, who saw their national honor attacked, only made the film even more popular. In the fall of 2020 a sequel was published that the meaning of the Kazakhs of humor again severely sample sets.