1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kirghiz

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KIRGHIZ, a large and widespread division of the Turkish family, of which there are two main branches, the Kara-Kirghiz of the uplands and the Kirghiz-Kazaks of the steppe. They jointly number about 3,000,000, and occupy an area of perhaps the same number of square miles, stretching from Kulja westwards to the lower Volga, and from the headstreams of the Ob southwards to the Pamir and the Turkoman country. They seem closely allied ethnically to the Mongolians and in speech to the Tatars. But both Mongols and Tatars belonged themselves originally to one racial stock and formed part of the same hordes or nomadic armies: also the Western Turks have to a large extent lost their original physique and become largely assimilated to the regular “Caucasian” type. But the Kirghiz have either remained nearly altogether unmixed, as in the uplands, or else have intermingled in the steppe mainly with the Volga Kalmucks in the west, and with the Dzungarian nomads in the east, all alike of Mongol stock. Hence they have everywhere to a large extent preserved the common Mongolian features, while retaining their primitive Tatar speech. Physically they are a middle-sized, square-built race, inclined to stoutness, especially in the steppe, mostly with long black hair, scant beard or none, small, black and oblique eyes, though blue or grey also occur in the south, broad Mongoloid features, high cheekbones, broad, flat nose, small mouth, brachycephalous head, very small hands and feet, dirty brown or swarthy complexion, often yellowish, but also occasionally fair. These characteristics, while affiliating them directly to the Mongol stock, also betray an admixture of foreign elements, probably due to Finnish influences in the north, and Tajik or Iranian blood in the south. Their speech also, while purely Turkic in structure, possesses, not only many Mongolian and a few Persian and even Arabic words, but also some terms unknown to the other branches of the Mongolo-Tatar linguistic family, and which should perhaps be traced to the Kiang-Kuan, Wu-sun, Ting-ling, and other peoples of South Siberia partly absorbed by them.

The Kara-Kirghiz.—The Kara or “Black” Kirghiz, so called from the colour of their tents, are known to the Russians either as Chernyie (Black) or Dikokammenyie (Wild Stone or Rocky) Kirghiz, and are the Block Kirghiz of some English writers. They are on the whole the purest and best representatives of the race, and properly speaking to them alone belongs the distinctive national name Kirghiz or Krghiz. This term is commonly traced to a legendary chief, Kirghiz, sprung of Oghuz-Khan, ninth in descent from Japheth. It occurs in its present form for the first time in the account of the embassy sent in 569 by the East Roman emperor Justin II. to the Uighur Khan, Dugla-Ditubulu, where it is stated that this prince presented a slave of the Kirghiz tribe to Zemark, head of the mission. In the Chinese chronicles the word assumes the form Ki-li-ki-tz’, and the writers of the Yuan dynasty (1280–1367) place the territory of these people 10,000 li north-west of Pekin, about the headstreams of the Yenisei. In the records of the T’ang dynasty (618–907) they are spoken of under the name of Kha-kia-tz’ (pronounced Khaka, and sometimes transliterated Haka), and it is mentioned that these Khakas were of the same speech as the Khoei-khu. From this it follows that they were of Mongolo-Tatar stock, and are wrongly identified by some ethnologists with the Kiang-Kuan, Wu-sun, or Ting-ling, all of whom are described as tall, with red hair, “green” or grey eyes, and fair complexion, and must therefore have been of Finnish stock, akin to the present Soyotes of the upper Yenisei.

The Kara-Kirghiz are by the Chinese and Mongolians called Burut, where ut is the Mongolian plural ending, as in Tangut, Yakut, modified to yat in Buryat, the collective name of the Siberian Mongolians of the Baikal district. Thus the term Bur is the common Mongolian designation both of the Baikal Mongols and of the Kara-Kirghiz, who occupied this very region and the upper Yenisei valley generally till comparatively recent times. For the original home of their ancestors, the Khakas, lay in the south of the present governments of Yeniseisk and Tomsk, stretching thence southwards beyond the Sayan range to the Tannuola hills in Chinese territory. Here the Russians first met them in the 17th century, and by the aid of the Kazaks exterminated all those east of the Irtish, driving the rest farther west and south-westwards. Most of them took refuge with their kinsmen, the Kara-Kirghiz nomad highlanders, whose homes, at least since the 13th century, have been the Ala-tau range, the Issyk-kul basin, the Tekes, Chu and Talass river valleys, the Tian-shan range, the uplands draining both to the Tarim and to the Jaxartes and Oxus, including Khokand, Karateghin and Shignan southwards to the Pamir table-land, visited by them in summer. They thus occupy most of the uplands along the Russo-Chinese frontier, between 35° and 50° N. lat. and between 70° and 85° E. long.

The Kara-Kirghiz are all grouped in two main sections—the On or “Right” in the east, with seven branches (Bogu, Sary-Bagishch, Son-Bagishch, Sultu or Solye, Cherik, Sayak, Bassinz), and the Sol or “Left” in the west, with four branches (Kokche or Kûchy, Soru, Mundus, Kitai or Kintai). The Sol section occupies the region between the Talass and Oxus headstreams in Ferghana (Khokand) and Bokhara, where they come in contact with the Galchas or Highland Tajiks. The On section lies on both sides of the Tian-shan, about Lake Issyk-kul, and in the Chu, Tekes and Narin (upper Jaxartes) valleys.

The total number of Kara-Kirghiz exceeds 800,000.

All are essentially nomads, occupied mainly with stock breeding, chiefly horses of a small but hardy breed, sheep of the fat-tailed species, oxen used both for riding and as pack animals, some goats, and camels of both species. Agriculture is limited chiefly to the cultivation of wheat, barley and millet, from the last of which a coarse vodka or brandy is distilled. Trade is carried on chiefly by barter, cattle being taken by the dealers from China, Turkestan and Russia in exchange for manufactured goods.

The Kara-Kirghiz are governed by the “manaps,” or tribal rulers, who enjoy almost unlimited authority, and may even sell or kill their subjects. In religious matters they differ little from the Kazaks, whose practices are described below. Although generally recognizing Russian sovereignty since 1864, they pay no taxes.

The Kazaks.—Though not unknown to them, the term Kirghiz is never used by the steppe nomads, who always call themselves simply Kazaks, commonly interpreted as riders. The first authentic reference to this name is by the Persian poet and historian Firdousi (1020), who speaks of the Kazak tribes as much dreaded steppe marauders, all mounted and armed with lances. From this circumstance the term Kazak came to be gradually applied to all freebooters similarly equipped, and it thus spread from the Aralo-Caspian basin to South Russia, where it still survives under the form of Cossack, spelt Kazak or Kozak in Russian. Hence though Kazak and Cossack are originally the same word, the former now designates a Mongolo-Tatar nomad race, the latter various members of the Slav family. Since the 18th century the Russians have used the compound expression Kirghiz-Kazak, chiefly in order to distinguish them from their own Cossacks, at that time overrunning Siberia. Siegmund Herberstein (1486–1566) is the first European who mentions them by name, and it is noteworthy that he speaks of them as “Tartars,” that is, a people rather of Turki than Mongolian stock.

In their present homes, the so-called “Kirghiz steppes,” they are far more numerous and widespread than their Kara-Kirghiz kinsmen, stretching almost uninterruptedly from Lake Balkash round the Aral and Caspian Seas westwards to the lower Volga, and from the river Irtish southwards to the lower Oxus and Ust-Urt plateau. Their domain, which is nearly 2,000,000 sq. m. in extent, thus lies mainly between 45° and 55° N. lat. and from 45° to 80° E. long. Here they came under the sway of Jenghiz Khan, after whose death they fell to the share of his son Juji, head of the Golden Horde, but continued to retain their own khans. When the Uzbegs acquired the ascendancy, many of the former subjects of the Juji and Jagatai hordes fell off and joined the Kazaks. Thus about the year 1500 were formed two powerful states in the Kipchak and Kheta steppes, the Mogul-Ulus and the Kazak, the latter of whom, under their khan Arslane, are said by Sultan Baber to have had as many as 400,000 fighting men. Their numbers continued to be swollen by voluntary or enforced accessions from the fragments of the Golden Horde, such as the Kipchaks, Naimans, Konrats, Jalairs, Kankali, whose names are still preserved in the tribal divisions of the Kazaks. And as some of these peoples were undoubtedly of true Mongolian stock, their names have given a colour to the statement that all the Kazaks were rather of Mongol than of Turki origin. But the universal prevalence of a nearly pure variety of the Turki speech throughout the Kazak steppes is almost alone sufficient to show that the Tatar element must at all times have been in the ascendant. Very various accounts have been given of the relationship of the Kipchak to the Kirghiz, but at present they seem to form a subdivision of the Kirghiz-Kazaks. The Kara-Kalpaks are an allied but apparently separate tribe.

The Kirghiz-Kazaks have long been grouped in three large “hordes” or encampments, further subdivided into a number of so-called “races,” which are again grouped in tribes, and these in sections, branches and auls, or communities of from five to fifteen tents. The division into hordes has been traditionally referred to a powerful khan, who divided his states amongst his three sons, the eldest of whom became the founder of the Ulu-Yuz, or Great Horde, the second of the Urta-Yuz, or Middle Horde, and the third of the Kachi-Yuz, or Little Horde. The last two under their common khan Abulkhair voluntarily submitted in 1730 to the Empress Anne. Most of the Great Horde were subdued by Yunus, khan of Ferghana, in 1798, and all the still independent tribes finally accepted Russian sovereignty in 1819.

Since 1801 a fourth division, known as the Inner or Bukeyevskaya Horde, from the name of their first khan, Bukei, has been settled in the Orenburg steppe.

But these divisions affect the common people alone, all the higher orders and ruling families being broadly classed as White and Black Kost or Bones. The White Bones comprise only the khans and their descendants, besides the issue of the khojas or Moslem “saints.” The Black Bones include all the rest, except the Telengut or servants of the khans, and the Kûl or slaves.

The Kazaks are an honest and trustworthy people, but heavy, sluggish, sullen and unfriendly. Even the hospitality enjoined by the Koran is displayed only towards the orthodox Sunnite sect. So essentially nomadic are all the tribes that they cannot adopt a settled life without losing the very sentiment of their nationality, and becoming rapidly absorbed in the Slav population. They dwell exclusively in semicircular tents consisting of a light wooden framework, and red cloth or felt covering, with an opening above for light and ventilation.

The camp life of the Kazaks seems almost unendurable to Europeans in winter, when they are confined altogether to the tent, and exposed to endless discomforts. In summer the day is spent mostly in sleep or drinking koumiss, followed at night by feasting and the recital of tales, varied with songs accompanied by the music of the flute and balalaika. But horsemanship is the great amusement of all true Kazaks, who may almost be said to be born in the saddle. Hence, though excellent riders, they are bad walkers. Though hardy and long-lived, they are uncleanly in their habits and often decimated by small-pox and Siberian plague. They have no fixed meals, and live mainly on mutton and goat and horse flesh, and instead of bread use the so-called balamyk, a mess of flour fried in dripping and diluted in water. The universal drink is koumiss, which is wholesome, nourishing and a specific against all chest diseases.

The dress consists of the chapân, a flowing robe of which one or two are worn in summer and several in winter, fastened with a silk or leather girdle, in which are stuck a knife, tobacco pouch, seal and a few other trinkets. Broad silk or cloth pantaloons are often worn over the chapân, which is of velvet, silk, cotton or felt, according to the rank of the wearer. Large black or red leather boots, with round white felt pointed caps, complete the costume, which is much the same for both sexes.

Like the Kara-Kirghiz, the Kazaks are nominally Sunnites, but Shamanists at heart, worshipping, besides the Kudai or good divinity, the Shaitan or bad spirit. Their faith is strong in the talchi or soothsayer and other charlatans, who know everything, can do everything, and heal all disorders at pleasure. But they are not fanatics, though holding the abstract doctrine that the “Kafir” may be lawfully oppressed, including in this category not only Buddhists and Christians, but even Mahommedans of the Shiah sect. There are no fasts or ablutions, mosques or mollahs, or regular prayers. Although Mussulmans since the beginning of the 16th century, they have scarcely yet found their way to Mecca, their pilgrims visiting instead the more convenient shrines of the “saints” scattered over eastern Turkestan. Unlike the Mongolians, the Kazaks treat their dead with great respect, and the low steppe hills are often entirely covered with monuments raised above their graves.

Letters are neglected to such an extent that whoever can merely write is regarded as a savant, while he becomes a prodigy of learning if able to read the Koran in the original. Yet the Kazaks are naturally both musical and poetical, and possess a considerable number of national songs, which are usually repeated with variations from mouth to mouth.

The Kazaks still choose their own khans, who, though confirmed by the Russian government, possess little authority beyond their respective tribes. The real rulers are the elders or umpires and sultans, all appointed by public election. Brigandage and raids arising out of tribal feuds, which were formerly recognized institutions, are now severely punished, sometimes even with death. Capital punishment, usually by hanging or strangling, is inflicted for murder and adultery, while three, nine or twenty-seven times the value of the stolen property is exacted for theft.

The domestic animals, daily pursuits and industries of the Kazaks differ but slightly from those of the Kara-Kirghiz. Some of the wealthy steppe nomads own as many as 20,000 of the large fat-tailed sheep. Goats are kept chiefly as guides for these flocks; and the horses, though small, are hardy, swift, light-footed and capable of covering from 50 to 60 miles at a stretch. Amongst the Kazaks there are a few workers in silver, copper and iron, the chief arts besides, being skin dressing, wool spinning and dyeing, carpet and felt weaving. Trade is confined mainly to an exchange of live stock for woven and other goods from Russia, China and Turkestan.

Since their subjection to Russia the Kazaks have become less lawless, but scarcely less nomadic. A change of habit in this respect is opposed alike to their tastes and to the climatic and other outward conditions. See also Turks.

Literature.—Alexis Levshin, Description des hordes et des steppes des Kirghiz-Kazaks, translated from the Russian by Ferry de Cigny (1840); W. Radloff, Proben der Volksliteratur der Türkischen Stämme Südsiberiens; Ch. de Ujfalvy, Le Kohistan, le Ferghanah, et Kouldja; also Bull. de la Soc. de Géo. (1878–1879); Semenoff, paper in Petermann’s Mittheilungen (1859), No. 3; Valikhanov’s Travels in 1858–1859; Madame de Ujfalvy, papers in Tour du Monde (1874); Vambéry, Die primitive Cultur des Turko-Tatarischen Volkes; P. S. Pallas, Observations sur les Kirghiz (1769; French trans., 1803); Andriev, “La Horde Moyenne,” in Bull. de la Soc. de Géogr. de St Petersburg (1875); Radomtsev, Excursion dans le steppe Kirghiz; Lansdell, Russian Centralasia (1885); Jadrinzer, La Sibérie (1886). Skrine and Ross, Heart of Asia (1899); E. H. Parker, A Thousand Years of the Tartars (1895). Various Russian works by Nalivkin, published in Turkestan, contain much valuable information, and N. N. Pantusov, Specimens of Kirghiz Popular Poetry, with Russian translations (Kazan, 1903–1904).