ETHNONYMS: Kalpaks, Karalpaks; Russian names: Chernyye klobuki, Karakalpaki
Identification. Karakalpaks speak a Central Turkic language, live primarily in the Turanian (Aral Sea) Basin of Central Asia, and are by tradition Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. "Karakalpak" means "black hat" and identifies the former Soviet republic (ASSR) of the people of the same name.
Location. The Karakalpak Republic is an amalgamation of the old Khivan Khanate (1811-1920) and the Khorezm People's Republic of the early 1930s, makes up the eastern third of the Uzbek Republic, and is located between 41° and 46° N and 55° and 62° E. The Karakalpak people are heavily concentrated in Uzbekistan (98 percent), with most (93 percent) being located in the delta country of the Amu Darya (Oxus River). Their homeland includes sections of both the Kyzyl Kum (Red Desert) and Kara Kum (Black Desert). The region is extremely arid, rarely receiving more than 12.5 centimeters of precipitation per year, over half of which falls from February to May. Diversion of rivers for irrigation, both within Karakalpakia and upstream, have radically depleted the water that reaches the Aral Sea, which has lost 40 percent of its surface area since 1960. Nukus is the capital of the republic.
Demography. In 1990 the Karakalpak population was estimated at 380,000. Of this, 350,000 lived in the Karakalpak ASSR, 16,000 resided in other parts of Uzbekistan (the provinces of Bukhara, Tashkent, Fergana, and Samarkand), 3,000 in Turkmenistan (Tashauz Province), 2,500 in Russia (mainly Moscow), and 2,000 in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Beyond the Soviet border, there were at least 3,000 in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Within the republic, population density averaged 7.9 persons per square kilometer and population was growing at 3.4 percent per year. Some 52 percent of the republic's inhabitants and 70 percent of the Karakalpaks were rural. In 1979, 62.6 percent of the republic's population was nearly evenly split between Uzbeks and Karakalpaks, followed by Kazakhs (26.9 percent), Turkmen (5.4 percent), Russians (2.3 percent), and others (Dagestanis, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Koreans). The Central Asian groups (Uzbeks, Karakalpaks, Kazakhs, and Turkmene) are more than 60 percent rural, whereas nonnatives are more than 80 percent urban.
Linguistic Affiliation. The national language is Karakalpak, which belongs to the Kipchak or Kipchak-Nogay Linguistic Subgroup of the Central Turkic Group of the Altaic Language Family. It has two primary dialects: northeastern, closer to Kazakh, and southwestern, closer to Uzbek, and a number of peripheral subdialects, which are hybrids of Kazakh, Uzbek, and Turkmen. Nonliterary until 1930, the Karakalpak language was first unsuccessfully rendered into Arabic, next endowed with a Latin alphabet, and lastly (in 1940) provided with a Cyrillic script. The Soviet Karakalpaks were still semiliterary in 1990, and their written literature is insignificant. The oral traditions are richer and similar to Kazakh, Crimean Tatar, Uzbek, and Nogay epics. Karakalpak is the native tongue of 96 percent of the Karakalpak people. Russified Karakalpaks are a meager 0.5 percent of the population.
History and Cultural Relations
The Karakalpak people are the culmination of 2,700 years of ethnic mixing of indigenous Iranians of the Mediterranean Caucasoid race (Sacs) with invading Altaic-speaking peoples of Mongoloid extraction, among them Huns and Oguz Turks. The latter, including the Pechenegs, who themselves had mixed with Bashkirs and Ugrians (of Magyar lineage), reached western Central Asia in a.d. 500. In the eleventh century a faction of Karakalpaks joined the Seljuks in the latter's invasions south and west, but the majority remained behind in the Aral Sea Basin. It was these Karakalpaks to whom the twelfth-century Russian chronicles alluded as "Chernyye klobuki" (Black Hats). The western Pecheneg-Karakalpaks entered into an alliance with the Kievan princes against marauding Kipchak (Polovtsian/Cuman) tribes. In gratitude, the Kievan princes rewarded the Chernyye klobuki for their bravery in battle with appanages along the Dnieper River. The Black Hats ranged from the Dnieper to the Aral Sea. They did not use "Karakalpak" as their self-name until after 1500. The Kipchaks, despite their adversarial relationship with the Karakalpaks and, indeed, with most of the Trans-Uralian steppe dwellers, Turkicized these peoples between the years 1000 and 1300. In the 1200s Karakalpakia became part of the Golden Horde, and, as the latter weakened during the next two centuries, the Karakalpaks became more closely allied with the Nogay Horde. During the 1500s, while living in the delta regions of the Syr Darya (Jaxartes River), the Karakalpaks began to be alluded to by name and became virtually independent, albeit not united: each tribe was governed by its own leaders (bijs and batyrs ). Independence was short-lived: over the next 200 years, the tribes became subjects of the Bukharans, Kazakhs, and Dzungarians, the last of whom caused the Karakalpaks to migrate in two directions. One group went up the Syr Darya to the Fergana Basin ("upper Karakalpaks"), and a second moved closer to the Aral Sea ("lower Karakalpaks"). After 1750 the lower Karakalpaks again migrated, this time to the Amu Darya Delta, which in 1811 became part of the Khivan Khanate. Over the next seventy years, the Karakalpaks revolted against Khivan rule several times. In 1873 the right-bank Karakalpaks were annexed by Russia; those on the left bank remained subjects of Khiva. After the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), the struggle for Karakalpak autonomy was tortuous both in design and jurisdiction; however, on 5 December 1936, Karakalpakia was recognized as an ASSR within Uzbekistan.
The Karakalpaks are a distinct minority in their own republic. Uzbeks prevail in the south, Kazakhs in the east and west. The republic is the most Muslim and the most Turkic of all former Soviet administrative units. The Russian population is less than 3 percent of the total and their influence is hardly felt, except for decisions emanating from Moscow. In this regard, economic decisions pertaining to the expansion of irrigation for growing a nonfood, cotton, have resulted in considerable environmental degradation and have stimulated the formation of an environmentalist movement. Karakalpaks almost never intermarry with Russians, who, according to one mythical tradition, have a common genealogical origin with the Karakalpaks.
Karakalpakia exhibits an arcuate settlement pattern that corresponds to the fanlike combination of the main channel, distributaries, and irrigation canals of the Amu Darya Delta. In 1983 the republic had twenty-five settlements large enough to be included in the Atlas SSSR (Atlas of the USSR): nine towns, thirteen urban settlements, and three large nonurban settlements. Settlements that did not conform to the drainage pattern were along the Kungrad-Makat (Trans-Aral) Railway, along the old shoreline of the Aral Sea, or on isolated oases. Villages (kishlaks ) of fifty or more houses are typically part of a system of more than 100 state and collective farms. Although modernized during Soviet rule with (broad streets, new houses, schools, stores, electricity, and natural gas), the villages are still characterized by small, enclosed, clay-walled cottages with dirt floors. These villages are nestled in the shade of Lombardy poplars along irrigation ditches lined with mulberry trees. In the rare cities and towns, the adobe construction of the native Turko-Muslims contrasts with the wood and prefab construction of the nonnatives (Russians, Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians, Koreans, and others).
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence occupancy no longer exists in the Karakalpak Republic. Under socialist domination, especially since the 1930s, all land and means of production belong to the state. Private plots (0.6 hectares, or 1.5 acres per household in Central Asia) are actually leaseholds. Agriculture dominates the economy, and all the cultivated land is irrigated. Locals say that without irrigation, agriculture, "indeed life itself," would not exist in Karakalpakia. Thus, in a drive to maintain self-sufficiency in cotton production, the Soviet regime doubled the consumption of irrigation water from the Amu Darya between 1960 and 1990. If agriculture dominates the economy, then cotton dominates agriculture, accounting for at least 65 percent of the arable land and up to 90 percent of the income of the republic. Farming is conducted on more than sixty state farms (sovkhozy) and some fifty collective farms (kolkhozy) with an average of 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of arable land per farm. Grain, 90 percent of which is rice, accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the farmland (sorghum and wheat are also grown). Feed crops, especially alfalfa, compose 20 to 25 percent of the sown area; indeed, Karakalpakia is today the leading producer of alfalfa in the former USSR. Less than 5 percent of the croplands consists of specialty crops like the Khorezm muskmelon, watermelon, grapes, apricots, apples, pears, plums, new potatoes, and other vegetables. On the berms that parallel the irrigation canals, silkworms are bred in mulberry trees. Livestock are raised for their meat, milk, wool, pelts, eggs, and cocoons. Half of the inventory consists of sheep and goats (Karakul sheep are raised for Astrakhan pelts). Other animals include cattle, 40 percent of which are dairy cows, and, for a Muslim region, a surprisingly large number of hogs (178,000 in 1979). Poultry are raised on private plots, and muskrats are nurtured commercially (the Karakalpak Republic is one of the largest muskrat producers in the former USSR). Apart from agricultural resources, the republic is deficient in raw materials, especially in evaporites, natural gas, building materials, and other nonmetallics. Local industry, therefore, depends heavily on agriculture for its inputs. The republic boasts seven cotton-ginning and three cottonseed-oil factories. While the Aral Sea yielded twenty-four different fish species and 3 percent of the Soviet annual catch, the Muynak cannery flourished. With the shrinkage of the sea, Muynak stands starkly 50 kilometers from the seashore and relies on imports of frozen fish from the Barents Sea 2,000 kilometers away. Light industry prevails in all the major cities (Nukus, Khojeyli, Takhiatash, Muynak, and Chimbay).
Industrial Arts. Although machines have rapidly replaced handiwork, Karakalpaks have a history of expert craftsmanship. Unlike their neighbors, they adorn their homes and yurts luxuriously with decorative carpets, wall hangings, macramé, and wide-fringed belts, currently stressing brown, green, and blue patterns on a red and yellow backdrop. The tribespeople are also recognized for their excellence in work with leather, wood, and bone.
Trade. Kolkhoz production is procured through state agencies, the profits and bonuses from which are distributed to farmers by the collective-farm management; salaries are based on the amount of work performed by each person. In contrast, sovkhoz production belongs to the state, and state-farm workers receive a standard wage. Both state and collective farmers are eligible for private plots, the yield from which may be sold for extra income in collective farm markets in the towns and cities.
Division of Labor. Even through the Soviet period, Karakalpak household duties remained distaff work. Women and adolescents are largely responsible for the harvest. Men do the planting, herding, fishing, and heavier industrial and bureaucratic work. Women do light industrial—especially textile—work.
Land Tenure. The heavy emphasis on cotton and rice leaves little room for adequate crop rotation, which accounts for the reported soil erosion, in particular by wind. Ordinarily, Soviet farmers use seven-or nine-field crop rotations, but Karakalpaks lack this variety. Alfalfa and pasturage have been introduced to diversify the plantings, both of which replace the nitrogen extracted by cotton and rice.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Kinship. Large families are a Karakalpak ideal: four children are common, and eight or ten are not unusual. The nuclear family is enhanced by as many as four generations in the same household. Descent is patrilineal. Beyond the extended family is a subclanic formation called the koshe, consisting of a group of families claiming descent from a common male ancestor over four to five generations. To the Karakalpak, the koshe is a psychological reality, with its own claim to territory and close kinship. Under Soviet rule, koshe integrity has been maintained on the kolkhoz, the members of which usually correspond to an uru, or clan. Each clan therefore is made up of several koshe. Upward of twenty-one clans can trace their origins to a dozen or more ancestral tribes that today are ethnographic groups of the Karakalpak nation. According to Bennigsen and Wimbush (1986, 114), they still consider themselves members of a tribe and have an acute sense of kinship with others of the same tribe elsewhere in Turkic areas of the former Soviet Union. Prior to the Revolution, the tribes represented a loose confederation, divided into two Karakalpak federations of separate Turkic and Mongol origins.
Marriage. Karakalpak girls are expected to marry young. During the 1960s, one-third of them married between 16 and 19. Although allowed to attend middle, technical, and, occasionally, higher schools, many girls withdrew at age 18 to be married. Men are expected to pay a bride-price (kalym ). Although discouraged by Soviet mores, marriage by prior arrangement (i.e., child marriage) sometimes occurred. Wives were expected to move into the household of their fathers-in-law. They had few rights and privileges except the dowry, which was not illegal in the USSR. What was illegal was the marriage of minors. Muslim families often concealed the ages of their daughters through outright chicanery, for example, by refraining to register their girl infants or by sending them away to relatives in districts where their ages were not known. Where clans are concerned, exogamy is strictly observed. Divorce among Karakalpaks is as infrequent as it is easy; the rate is much lower than that of Soviet Slavs. The typical Muslim divorce was illegal under Soviet law. Legal divorce, however, was simple, especially where childless couples were concerned: at most, it required an hour before a procurator for the division of property. Divorces of parents with children could take several weeks, but the wife invariably got the children and a portion of the husband's wages, which the state garnisheed for her.
Domestic Unit. Dining at the same hearth keeps the Karakalpak family united. To avoid eating "forbidden" Russian fare, the families generally dine at home. Some families continue to eat at low tables and to sleep on the floor.
Inheritance. Sons receive the bulk of the father's wealth. Widows are entitled to one-half the amount inherited by the sons and are subject to levirate.
Socialization. Karakalpaks, like all Soviet citizens, were subject to Soviet, not Muslim, law. Corporal and capital punishment, especially for theft of state property, were legal. Crime rates typically were low, but under the Gorbachev reforms they rose.
Sociopolitical Organization. Under the Soviet system, the Karakalpak ASSR was a dual hierarchical socialist republic. Until the Gorbachev reforms, the republic was governed by a unicameral Supreme Soviet and an overlapping "shadow government" composed of the republic's Communist party leadership. Members of the Supreme Soviet were elected for four years; there was 1 deputy for every 3,000 people.
Social Organization. Apart from the extant inequality between the genders, there were at least two classes within Karakalpak society: the Communist party nomenklatura and the average citizen. The latter disparity may change in the future.
Political Organization. The republic is subdivided territorially and economically into raions (districts). Political representation is based on the raion, gorod (city), poselok (settlement), kishlak (sedentary village), or aul (semisedentary village), each of which has its own party executive committee and governing soviet.
Social Control. The Supreme Soviet of the ASSR elected the Supreme Procuracy, which was composed of two judiciaries, for a period of six years: one was concerned with criminal cases and another with civil cases. Under the Soviet system, the republic was controlled by its militia, the KGB, local branches of the armed services, party volunteers (druzhiniki ), public opinion, and Islamic mores.
Conflict. In the past, related auls and kishlaks would unite under the names of illustrious patrilineal ancestors, in whose names Karakalpak clans went to war. The recent peaceful outcry against environmental depredation, the result of overirrigation, has inspired a quasi-Green Party. The Karakalpak tribes have not taken up arms since the Basmachi revolts on their territory in 1918-1920.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Since the Karakalpak sense of nationhood is said to be the weakest among Central Asian groups, Islam is a major unifying force, especially unofficially. The republic had 553 mosques in 1914; today there are less than 10. In the mid-1980s, Bennigsen and Wimbush (1986, 112) located 5 working mosques in Nukus (2), Turkjul, Khojeyli, and Chimbay.
Religious Beliefs and Practices. Officially Hanafite Sunni Muslim, Karakalpakia, especially in its northern part, is a major center of Central Asian Sufism. Estimates for the Karakalpak Islamic faithful in the 1970s were: firm believers (votaries), 11.4 percent; believers by tradition, 14.4 percent; hesitant believers (interested parties), 13.6 percent; indifferent believers (part-time Muslims), 39.1 percent; and atheists, 21.5 percent. Kurban Bayram (Sacrifice of Abraham) is the most important holiday. Fasting at Ramadan persists despite official condemnation.
Arts. The music of the Karakalpaks reflects an ancient oral tradition that was preserved by tribal bards and instrumentalists. Native songs are diverse in type and theme. They are basically diatonic with melodies that are rich in glissando, grace notes, and other embellishments. The most popular instruments are the two-stringed dutar (a pizzicato instrument) and the kobuz (a kind of fiddle). Reed pipes, flutes, and mouth harps are also used. Since the 1940s national symphonic compositions have been produced, including the symphonic poem Karakalpakstan. Although amateur theatrics, maintained by goliards, preceded the 1917 Revolution, a formal dramaturgy dates from the 1920s. The first national plays, originating during that decade, were The Girl Who Found Equality and Yernazar, the Camel's Eye. In the seventy years since, dozens of other dramas have been created.
Medicine. Modernization has meant general access to Soviet medical care; however, the health of the Karakalpaks, especially near the retreating shore of the Aral Sea, has deteriorated. Because of the salty grit roiled up from the dry lake bed, throat cancer rates have soared, respiratory and eye disorders have increased markedly, rates of infancy and childhood anemia are extraordinary, and local infant mortality is the highest in the former USSR (60 per 1,000). Pesticide and fertilizer use (DDT and butifos ) have polluted drinking water and traces of the same have been found in the milk of lactating mothers. Sanitary conditions, even in hospitals, are deplorable.
Death and Afterlife. Karakalpak believers are convinced that on the Day of Judgment, Allah will weigh their good and bad actions, which are recorded during their lifetimes in the Book of Deeds, and decide their final destination—paradise or hell.
Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush (1986). Muslims of the Soviet Empire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Ellis, William S. (1990). "A Soviet Sea Lies Dying." National Geographic Magazine 177(2).
Gaisford, John (1978). Atlas of Man. New York: Marshall Cavendish.
Weekes, Richard V. (1984). Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey. 2nd ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
VICTOR L. MOTE
"Karakalpaks." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks
"Karakalpaks." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks
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ALTERNATE NAMES: Qoraqolpoqlar
LANGUAGES: Karakalpak; Russian
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Karakalpaks (who call themselves Qoraqolpoqlar ) are a people of Central Asia. They lived within the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union until it was dissolved in 1991. Today their territory is within 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. The Russians colonized the Karakalpaks during the second half of the nineteenth century.
2 • LOCATION
The Karakalpak homeland, Karakalpakistan (Qoraqolpoqiston), lies in the northwestern 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 350,000 are Karakalpaks. Other Karakalpak people live in the surrounding countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan.
3 • LANGUAGE
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 alphabet used by Russians, Serbs, and Bulgarians). Newspapers, magazines, and books are printed in the Karakalpak language.
Russian remains an important second language for educated Karakalpaks.
4 • FOLKLORE
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.
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.
5 • RELIGION
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, faith in Soviet communist ideals has given way to faith in the doctrines of the Muslim religion.
Many Karakalpaks have also held 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. Many people believe that each type of herd or flock has its own patron.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
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. There are military parades that include veterans of World War II. 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.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
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.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
When one person approaches another, the one who is approaching offers the first greeting. (This custom is typical of many Central Asian peoples.) 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 in Central Asia. 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, except for those living in large cities such as Nukus. Marriages are often arranged.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, economic conditions have deteriorated for most Karakalpaks. Few people are able to buy more than basic necessities.
The traditional Karakalpak dwelling is 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.
Some 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.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Karakalpak families are usually large, with four to ten children. Most women prefer to have four or five. 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.
Girls marry early, usually as young as sixteen years of age. Marriages are arranged through consenting sets of parents. 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.
Polygyny (marrying more than one woman) is illegal, but some men do it secretly. On the whole, though, it is rare; it is very expensive to have more than one family.
11 • CLOTHING
Karakalpaks often wear a mix of traditional and Western-style clothing. 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.
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.
12 • FOOD
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 ).
As Muslims, Karakalpaks do not drink alcohol or eat certain foods, especially pork.
13 • EDUCATION
The Soviet educational system is still in place. 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. Recently, medresses, schools for higher religious education, have opened in the region.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
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.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Most of the work in Karakalpakistan is agricultural. Almost 70 percent of the population is rural. The only real manufacturing jobs are centered around the cotton industry. 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 from nearby trees. The worms produce cocoons, which people bring to regional collection centers. Profits depend on the quality of the cocoons.
Farm workers work twelve to fifteen hours a day at harvest time.
16 • SPORTS
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.
17 • RECREATION
Movies and television programs are imported from the West, especially action movies and Latin American soap operas. Plays in the theaters, on humorous or historical themes, are popular.
Pop music is important to Karakalpak young people. Iulduz Usmanova is one of the most popular young singers.
Adults entertain themselves by getting together with friends at conversation sessions known as gap, which means "talk." Men and women meet in separate groups, perhaps twice a month. 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.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
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 colors.
Jewelry 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 jewelry.
Men specialize as woodworkers (especially carvers) and shoemakers. 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.
Hobbies among Karakalpak young people include collecting stamps, coins, photos of pop-music stars, records, and tapes. Some young people have pen pals.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
The rapid development of agriculture and fisheries in Karakalpakistan during the Soviet period harmed the environment. The water needed for irrigation to grow cotton in Uzbekistan diverted most of the water from the two main rivers that feed the Aral Sea. The sea has decreased in area since 1960. Much of the soil around it is now too salty for growing any crops. In addition, agricultural chemicals have washed into irrigation canals and have been deposited in the sea. Now the region suffers from health problems and economic decline. Statistics show that more than 70 percent of Karakalpaks are in poor health.
Few people have safe drinking water, and not enough food is being produced. Loss of the fisheries industry has led to rising unemployment. Alcoholism and drug addiction (mainly to heroin) are growing problems for the young and middle-aged. Crime has greatly increased since the breakup of the Soviet Union. It ranges from petty theft to organized drug smuggling and Mafia-style murders.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Akiner, Shirin. Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union. London, England: Kegan Paul International, 1983.
Critchlow, James. Nationalism in Uzbekistan: A Soviet Republic's Road to Sovereignty. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1991.
Thomas, Paul. The Central Asian States: Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1992.
World Travel Guide. Uzbekistan. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/uz/gen.html, 1998
"Karakalpaks." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks
"Karakalpaks." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks
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Karakalpaks are a Turkic people who live in Central Asia. Of the nearly 500,000 Karakalpaks, more than 90 percent live in northwestern Uzbekistan, in the Soviet-created Karakalpak Autonomous Republic (KAR). Other Karakalpaks live elsewhere in Uzbekistan, as well as in Kazakhstan, Turk-menistan, Russia, and Afghanistan. Most adhere to Sunni Islam, although Sufi sects have also attracted many followers. They speak a language that is closely related to Kazakh and Kyrgyz.
Most historians trace the Karakalpaks' origins to Persian and Mongolian peoples living on the steppes of Central Asia and Southern Russia. Their name literally meets "black hatted," and mention of a tribe thought to be ancestral to today's Karakalpaks first appears in Russian chronicles (as Chorniye Kolbuki) in 1146. Renowned for their military prowess, this group allied themselves with the Kievan princes in their battles with other Russian princes and tribes of the steppes. In the 1200s some Karakalpaks joined the Mongol Golden Horde, and by the 1500s they enjoyed a short-lived independence. Over time, however, they became subjects of other Central Asian peoples and eventually the Russians, who pushed into Central Asia in the 1800s.
In 1918 they were included with other Central Asian peoples in the Turkistan Autonomous Republic, and in 1925 a Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast was created in the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. This oblast eventually became the KAR, and in 1936 it became part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Under Soviet rule, Karakalpaks were encouraged to move to the KAR, their nominal homeland.
The post-Soviet period found most Karakalpaks desperately poor, living in an environmentally devastated area adjacent to the rapidly shrinking Aral Sea. Serious health problems such as hepatitis, typhoid, and cancer are widespread. Despite their nomadic traditions, their economy is dominated by agriculture, especially cotton production, which has suffered due to water shortages, soil erosion, and environmental damage. Because of lack of investment in the region, the KAR's relations with the central Uzbek government have been strained.
See also: central asia; islam; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist; uzbekistan and uzbeks
Hanks, Reuel. (2000). "A Separate Peace? Karakalpak Nationalism and Devolution in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan." Europe-Asia Studies 52: 939–53.
Paul J. Kubicek
"Karakalpaks." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks
"Karakalpaks." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks
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"Karakalpak." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpak
"Karakalpak." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpak
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ALTERNATE NAMES: Qoraqolpoqlar
LOCATION: Uzbekistan (territory of Karakalpakistan); Kazakhstan; Russia; Turkmenistan
LANGUAGES: Karakalpak; Russian,
Religion: Islam (Sunni Muslim)
Karakalpak means Òblack hatÓ in the Karakalpak language. When the ancestors of present-day Karakalpaks (who call themselves Qoraqolpoqlar) settled in the area during the 10th and 11th centuries AD, they came upon Turkic Qipchoq (sometimes spelled Kipchak) people, who referred to the newcomers from the Irtysh River areas in southern Siberia as ÒKarakalpaks,Ó supposedly because they wore black wool or high felt hats. From that time onward, the development of Karakalpak language, religion, and cultural practices has been influenced by the extremes of harsh desert and steppe existence as well as by military attacks by invading peoples such as the Mongols, Timurids, Kalmyks, Khorezmian Uzbeks, and Russians. With the exception of the Russians, who colonized the Karakalpak during the latter half of the 19th century, the other invaders were all Central Asian peoples of similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds who had formed themselves into diverse political states and conquering armies.
Various historical records prove that a Karakalpak people living essentially in today's Karakalpak lands existed by the 16th and 17th centuries. These people became a part of the Noghai horde (ÒarmyÓ or ÒconfederacyÓ in Mongol), whose forefathers had come into the area with Genghis Khan's forces from Mongolia. Scholars today acknowledge that the Karakalpaks are a composite of three cultural-geographical areas: the Khorezm oasis of southern Karakalpakistan; the Qipchoq desert steppe along the lower course of the Syr River, which is a part of Kazakhstan today; and the east European cultural areas including parts of the Ural mountains, the Volga river area, and the North Caucasus mountains.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Karakalpak are a people of Central Asia, who lived within the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR until it was dissolved in 1991. Today their territory is under the rule of independent Uzbekistan. Approximately 2.3 million people reside in Karakalpakistan, of whom approximately 350,000 are Karakalpaks. Most Karakalpaks live concentrated in the southern part of their republic in the Amu River delta. Other Karakalpak people live in the surrounding countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. Karakalpak territory occupies nearly 40% of Uzbekistan's overall territory. Karakalpakistan (Qoraqolpoqiston) lies in the northwestern part of Uzbekistan and is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north and Turkmenistan to the southwest. Much of its geography was dominated until recently by the Aral Sea, which took up a large portion of north-central and northeastern Karakalpakistan. Today, however, the Aral is drying up at a very fast rate.
The Aral Sea desiccation (evaporation) has become an international tragedy, so much so that any mention of the Karakalpaks immediately causes people to ask about the Aral. Indeed, the death of the Aral has destroyed the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of Karakalpaks, who depended both directly and indirectly on the sea. Its degradation has affected the lives of nearly 2 million people in both the Karakalpak and Kazak areas. Agricultural chemicals that were transported to the Aral via the Amu and Syr Rivers now blow across the land. Much of the fertilizer, pesticides, and defoliants used in agricultural production for decades eventually washed into the artificial network of canals that has served much of the primary farming lands of Central Asia, and those chemicals were deposited into the Aral Sea. In addition, salts from the sea have blown across farm lands and into local drinking supplies. Although many international agencies and experts have researched and attempted to solve the problem of the slow death of the Aral Sea, no real solution is has been found, and health problems and economic decline continue to plague the region.
The Karakalpak language is part of the Turkic linguistic family, so it shares structural and grammatical similarities, as well as a vocabulary, with modern languages such as Turkish, Kazak, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, and Uzbek. However, the Turkic family of languages is quite varied, and differences between them may be as pronounced as differences between the Romance languages. Therefore, there are further linguistic subdivisions. Karakalpak is part of the Western branch of this family and is considered a part of the Noghai-Qipchoq subgroup, so that its roots are found in the languages spoken by much earlier inhabitants of the Karakalpak area. Modern Karakalpak most closely resembles modern Kazak in the north and Khorezmian Uzbek in the south. Although there was no written Karakalpak language until the 1920s, the contemporary language is written in a modified Cyrillic alphabet (the alphabet used by Russians, Serbians, and Bulgarians).
Because language was always learned and passed on orally, literacy among Karakalpaks included a developed knowledge of songs, poems, and tales. Through such artistic oral expression, Karakalpak people were able to preserve their history and customs from generation to generation. This was not merely a matter of repetition and memorization. Those who learned well were able to engage and excite others as they spoke of the subjects and events important to their own people.
Nearly all adult Karakalpaks can read and write their language, and most people learned some Russian in school as part of the Soviet educational legacy. Newspapers, journals, and books are printed in the Karakalpak language. Although Russian remains an important second language for educated Karakalpak people, many young people are now studying other foreign languages such as English, French, and Arabic because they are international languages of commerce and diplomacy.
Folklore is divided into the lyrical tales and epics (zhyr and dostan), and Karakalpaks consider themselves among the first poets and singers of the steppe. Most folkloric tales deal with realistic matters. In the famous tales of Tarzshi, a bald orphan with few impressive qualities is able to pull the wool over the eyes of greedy and arrogant landlords and corrupt leaders. A similar set of stories make up the tales of Aldarkose, who is another boy everybody tries to outsmart, but who always comes out on top. There are also allegorical 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.
What makes the epics different from the tales is not only their length and poetic construction, but also the fact that they almost always concern historical events and heroic figures—political leaders and rulers—as well as the mythical origins of Karakalpak triumphs over invaders. The most famous examples of these epics are Kyrk Qiz, Er-Shora, Koblan, and Maspatsha. 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 rich beauty and unparalleled courage. Themes and values from Karakalpak life, such as love of one's homeland, defense of one's people, and a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of others, are all emphasized. An epic is typically composed of more than 20,000 lines of verse.
The religion of the Karakalpaks is Sunni Islam, which is the dominant school of Islamic belief throughout the world. As early as the 7th century, Arabs entered Central Asia to spread and propagate Islam, to which they had converted themselves only a century earlier. The first large-scale conversions in Central Asia were concentrated in cities and oasis areas, and the process was relatively rapid in comparison to the conversion of Central Asian peoples who lived in more remote or inaccessible areas. Deserts, mountains, and the steppes of Central Asia, historically home to nomadic pastoralist and semi-nomadic peoples such as the Karakalpaks, converted to Islam gradually. Among the Karakalpak, most conversions probably occurred from the 10th to the 13th centuries.
The Karakalpaks observe disciplined piety and have long been influenced by Sufism, which is a very tolerant and ecstatic branch of Islam. Universal Muslim holidays such as Ramadan (the month of fasting) and Kurban Bayram (The Feast of the Sacrifice based on Abraham) have long been among the most important. Until the collapse of the USSR and the economic and health consequences associated with the Aral Sea destruction, one could argue that religious practice and teaching played a minor role in the lives of most Karakalpaks. This has begun to change, however, as people search for answers, solutions, and comfort during a terrible period of deprivation and illness. Faith in Soviet Communist ideals is being supplanted by faith in the Muslim religion.
Many Karakalpak beliefs relate to the natural world. These are not a part of the Muslim religion, but rather connect to cults of saints or patrons who watch out for herds, fisherman, farmers, and so on. Many people believe that each type of herd or flock has its own patron. For cattle, the patron is Zangibaba, and people concerned for their herd may visit his grave outside Nukus to pray for help. Another example of a traditional belief here concerns the time at which shepherds release their flocks onto open meadows to graze for the summer. Many will not do so until they have been blessed by women who bring them yellow sashes to tie around their overcoats. They believe this provides protection for their flocks.
Four major nonreligious or state holidays are celebrated by the Karakalpaks and Uzbeks together. Novruz (New Day), celebrated throughout Iran, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, coincides with the beginning of spring on March 20 or 21. Although many Central Asians believe Novruz to be a Muslim holiday, its origins date back more than 2,000 years, long before there was a Muslim religion. The holiday is marked by festivals, contests, game playing, and especially eating. Schoolchildren celebrate with their teachers and put on a variety of skits. Afterwards, communities gather in the central square of their towns to continue the celebration. People dress in their very best clothing. Speeches commemorate the cultural heritage of the Central Asian peoples who are linked through this holiday. The favorite food of this holiday is sumalak, which is made from young wheat plants that are boiled communally in huge cauldrons. It takes about 24 hours to prepare this sweet, tasty pudding. Each year, one family will take on the responsibility of preparing enough sumalak for several families, and members of each family gather where the sumalak is being prepared, to take turns stirring the thick, bubbling mass and feeding the enormous fire needed to keep it boiling for so many hours. Sumalak parties are a standard part of the Novruz festivities. This particular food is considered vitamin-rich and portends the coming of all the new agricultural foods that warmer weather will bring.
Victory Day celebrations commemorating World War II take place on May 9. This day is associated with both solemnity and merriment. Parades of military personnel and World War II veterans take place. Later, people go off with family and friends to celebrations of their own. Victory Day is celebrated by all the former Soviet peoples because of the enormous sacrifices and suffering they endured in their defeat of Nazi Germany.
Uzbekistan Independence Day, September 1, has been celebrated since 1991. This day features parades and carnival-like events in all cities and towns throughout Uzbekistan. Political speeches, poems, songs, dances, and games are featured. Everyone in the community participates in the town square and outside municipal administrative buildings. Food is served to all, and most people dress in fine clothes out of respect for and pride in the new independent status of their nation.
Constitution Day, December 8, is another holiday that commemorates the creation of the Uzbekistan constitution in 1992. Most people treat this day simply as one to relax, and most workplaces and businesses are closed.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Parents with newborns visit relatives constantly for the first few months as they introduce the infant far and wide. Boys undergo circumcision at approximately age five, and a big celebration known as the sunnat toi occurs.
The most major event of adulthood is one's wedding. Called the kelin toi, this is the biggest celebration and rite of passage an individual ordinarily experiences. Marking 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 at various locations of both the groom and bride's families.
Death and funerals are marked by ritual wailings and outpourings of grief at the home of the deceased. Mourners come and cry purposely to empathize and commiserate with the bereaved. Afterward a local clergyman called a molla leads a procession of men or women (depending upon the sex of the deceased) to the local cemetery, where the closest relatives perform the actual burial after prayers are said.
It is customary for one person approaching another at rest or in a stationary position to offer the first greeting. This practice is typical of Karakalpaks and other Central Asian semi-nomads. Typically, the greeting is "Assalomu alaikum!" (Arabic for ÒMay peace be upon you!Ó). The person being greeted responds with, "Valaikum assalom!" (ÒAnd may peace be upon you, too!Ó) Then men will shake hands, using either one or two hands, depending upon their personal closeness or the respect they have for one another. Women typically hug one another after greeting. Ordinarily, men and women may exchange greetings, but there will be no further physical contact between them. A rapid succession of questions concerning health and family usually follows. A younger person typically bows slightly and may cover the lower part of the chest with the right hand to show reverence for an older person. Respect for older people, even those who are only a few years older, is an extremely serious matter in Central Asia. Another common gesture, associated with leave-taking, is for the person leaving to wrap his arms around himself as he nods to the person exiting. This is a gesture of deference and respect.
Visiting neighbors, friends, and family members is an essential part of Karakalpak life. It expands the concept of the home. Karakalpaks enjoy guests and, like other Central Asians, are always ready to welcome any number of guests into their homes. When visiting, Karakalpaks always bring presents or food. Neighbors constantly visit with one another to chat and snack, and sometimes to borrow food or bring food to families who may be in need. Dating, especially among teenagers and young adults, is rare among the Karakalpaks, save for in large cities such as Nukus. Ordinarily, parents keep a careful watch over the children's outside activities.
The health of the Karakalpak population began a steady decline more than 30 years ago. All of the problems have been associated with the drying of the Aral Sea, intensive irrigation for cotton, and the use of pesticides such as DDT and defoliants. The residues from these chemicals, along with the salts from the evaporating sea, have led to a variety of cancers, eye illnesses, internal organ poisonings, and so on. Hospital facilities are poorly staffed and stocked, and neonatal care is practically nonexistent. The major result of the ecological devastation is that Karakalpaks have moved away from the worst zones, especially near the sea, to other cities in Uzbekistan, including the capital Tashkent.
The economic deterioration of post-Soviet Karakalpak life has affected nearly everyone, and few people are able to afford more than the bare essentials such as tea, rice, vegetables, occasional meat, and the most necessary housewares and clothing. It used to be that people spent a great deal on wedding parties, but even those elaborate celebrations have become a thing of the past. Today most of the monies are spent on foodstuffs, and the diet is heavy in carbohydrates, including rice, bread, pasta, and potatoes.
The people of Karakalpakistan suffer from acute health problems due to the spread of fertilizers, pesticides, and defoliants that have been blown about from the dry parts of the Aral Sea bed. These chemicals were transported to the Aral via the Amu and Syr Rivers, the main sources for artificial irrigation throughout much of Central Asia. Diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, and leprosy have increased at unprecedented rates among the Karakalpak compared to other peoples of the former Soviet Union. The latest statistics show that more than 70% of Karakalpaks suffer poor health and illnesses. Karakalpakistan once had the highest growth rate of any Soviet territory, but it now has the highest death rate.
Traditionally, Karakalpaks lived in flat, clay homes resembling those of southwestern Native Americans. Most homes had two or three central rooms with an attached kitchen area. The house would be surrounded by a wall of mud that enclosed a small garden plot. Within the enclosure, there was also space for the dome-shaped felt tent, known as a yurt. Yurts contain a wooden-lattice frame over which huge pieces of felt are thrown and then carefully arranged. They are ideal for summer living, because they keep people cool indoors and they keep mosquitoes away. The felt acts as a good insulator. Inside Karakalpak homes, some European-style furniture is found, but most people relax and sleep on thick, dense quilts called kurpas. Kurpas are often placed on raised platforms built into the home, and this is where a family will take its meals, listen to music, and watch television. Kurpas are easily moved and stored. Large wooden cabinets known as sandal are used as storage chests. Sometimes the sandals are decorated with carvings or painted designs.
Buses have served as the chief means for traveling from village to village as well as between cities and villages. Developed rail travel also exists, but it is more expensive, less frequent, and does not make nearly the number of stops as buses do. Ozbekiston Havo Iolari is the new national airline company, and flights from major Uzbekistani cities such as Tashkent, Andijon, and Samarqand to Nukus are available, although they are too expensive for the average citizen. During a period when gasoline and spare parts are increasingly expensive and hard to come by, many Karakalpak people are turning to bicycles, piling into friends' cars, or riding on the backs of motorcycles.
Karakalpak families are generally large, with anywhere from 4 to 10 children; however, most women prefer to have 4 or 5 children. Extended family living is common, and a family of four generations may reside in a single home. Beyond the extended family is the koshe, a loose organization uniting a number of families who claim descent from a common male ancestor four or five generations ago. The koshe enables people to claim a common territory. Several koshe make up an uru, a kind of clan. One finds these formations on modern Karakalpak collective farms today. More than 20 clans claim origins to ancient tribes that are among the ethnographic groups of today's Karakalpaks. People marry exogamously, which means to people outside of their own clans. This may be very difficult for the brides, who often are treated as servants initially by their new in-laws.
The residence patterns after marriage are uxorilocal, which means that the bride moves in with her husband's family. This often makes the situation for young wives difficult as the husband's mother often rules her life with a strong hand. In the domestic sphere, women do most of the work that deals with cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. Women work outside of the home, too, in agricultural fields and as teachers, doctors, accountants, and so on. The working sphere for men is in agriculture and administration, but men are also usually responsible for most market shopping, the preparation of certain feast dishes, and fixing up or repair work that needs to be done around the house, especially electrical or carpentry work.
Girls marry early, usually from the age of 16, and these marriages are arranged through consenting sets of parents. Women are given dowries by their parents and are presented with all sorts of bride gifts by the groom's parents, including clothing, porcelain tea sets, jewelry, and household wares. Boys and men are usually of the same age or a bit older than the girls they marry. Although polygyny (the practice of marrying more than one woman) is illegal, some men do it secretly. On the whole, this is rare because it costs a great deal. A second wife entails a great deal of extra economic support.
Karakalpaks may keep dogs or cats, but they don't treat them as pets. They are instead working domestic animals, serving the purposes of guard duty and pest control. Some men train eagles to hunt rabbits and other birds on the steppe and in the Kyzyl Kum (Red Sand) desert.
Karakalpaks often wear a mix of traditional and European-style clothing. Boys do not wear shorts, even in the hottest weather. Girls never wear dresses cut much above their knees; nor will they wear sleeveless dresses. Some sort of headwear for both men and women is almost always essential due to the extreme temperatures and merciless sun. Men wear silk or cotton embroidered skullcaps (duppi) or thick sheep hair hats (the namesake karakalpak). Women wear long cotton or woolen scarves (rumol) that cover their heads, ears, backs, and shoulders. The usual foot coverings for older people are leather boots and rubbers (etik va kalosh), whereas younger people wear more fashionable sandals, sneakers, and dress shoes.
Koilek (a long, loose white shirt with an open collar and no buttons) and loose trousers tucked into boots compose the man's typical summer outfit. If men spend a great deal of time outdoors during the winter months watching cattle or flocks of sheep, they wear an enormously heavy pustin, which is a sheepskin and sheep hair overcoat with extremely long sleeves. Lighter, long quilted coats known as sholpan are worn around the home and outdoors when the weather is not quite so cold. These come in numerous colors and patterns.
Women wear the kiimeshek—white is worn by older women and red by the younger. This is a long dress with a head covering but no sleeves whatsoever. It has a cape-like quality and is made of wool with geometrical patterns. Tunic-like shirts and baggy trousers are also typical women's garments. Many Karakalpak women today wear the famously colorful atlas tie-dyed silk dresses in summer. These patterns and styles come from the Uzbeks.
Historically, the Karakalpak diet is quite varied. People have tended to rely on grains, especially rice, sorghum, barley, and millet. From these grains, wonderful breads, noodles, and dumplings are made. Bread-baking (Nan-iapish) is done in the tandir, the ubiquitous outdoor, spherical oven that is used throughout Central and South Asia. Women stick bread dough on the internal curved clay walls of the fiery ovens, and when the bread is ready, it practically falls off the sides of the oven.
Fruits and vegetables, while not quite as plentiful in other oases areas of Uzbekistan, still include onions, carrots, plums, pears, grapes, apricots, and all kinds of melons and squashes. Pumpkin is often included in turnovers prepared in the tandir, and they are known as samsa. Milk products include yogurt, butter, cream, and curd cheeses. Cow's milk is the preferred type.
Meats have never been a part of ordinary daily fare but were eaten in honor of guests or during wedding and male circumcision parties. Boiled beef, mutton, and smoked horsemeat are among the favorites. Beef and mutton are also ingredients in palov, which is the favorite dish of millions of Central Asians. The best palov recipes consist of rice, meat, carrots, garlic, steamed quinces, and mutton tail fat (dumba) (The fat ranks as a real delicacy.) In the past, Aral fish were very popular, and fried dishes included bream, grey mullet, wild pike, and sheat fish. Today breakfast is an important meal, but it is often very simple. Children often head off to school with tea and bread in their stomachs and occasionally cream, raisins, grapes, or a few almonds. Summer and fall breakfasts feature a richer variety.
Following is a recipe for durama (shredded mutton):
Use sorghum groats and mutton and boil separately. Next, the men begin carefully shredding the meat. Then carefully shred the boiled dumplings separately. After that, carefully combine your shredded foods. You are now ready to add a bit of broth to the top, and for extra flavor add duzlyk, a mix of chopped green onions and boiled fat.
As Muslims, Karakalpaks do not eat certain foods, with pork being one of the most prominent dietary restrictions. Other food taboos have little to do with religion, but more to do with customs. For example, a pregnant woman must not eat a rabbit's head for fear her newborn will have a harelip, and the consumption of camel meat for a pregnant woman may result in a longer than normal term pregnancy. Children must not use large spoons for eating liquids, as the result may be marriage to someone with a large and unattractive nose.
Karakalpaks eat most meals with their hands, so ritual washing beforehand is imperative. After three washings, one must use one's own hands to wipe off the excess water. To shake off the excess is a sign that one's hands are dirty and one is spreading uncleanliness. No one should begin to eat until the eldest person at table begins.
The Soviet educational system remains in place, so almost all children receive a high school education. Some then go on for technical and university training. Karakalpakistan has only one university, located in Nukus. Recently, medresses, schools for higher religious instruction, have opened. Most parents want both boys and girls to obtain higher education, or receive some technical training, if possible. A small percentage of parents would rather their girls get married and start a family directly after finishing high school. In recent years, Karakalpaks have received less and less education in Russian and more in English as their primary foreign language. However, the overall education decline since the Soviet period has led many to speak only Karakalpak or Karakalpak and some Uzbek.
For a people who had no literacy until relatively recently, the Karakalpaks have a rich oral tradition of folktales and epic poems. Select and talented individuals would roam from village to village as bards, reciting stories and verses to music performed on the stringed instruments such as the two-stringed dutar, and the qobyz and ghypzhek, which were played with bows. In fact, music, singing, and storytelling were usually one in the same thing.
Two of the greatest traditional Karakalpak literary figures—Azhiniaz Kosybai uly and Berdakh Kargabai uly—have been ranked among the greatest Central Asian litterateurs. Both poets lived during the 19th century. Azhiniaz's famous work is Boz-Atau, a poem that recalls the capture and enslavement of the Karakalpak people at the hands of Khivan (of the Khivan Khanate or Kingdom, located in Khorezm) and Turkmen invaders. Berdakh-shair wrote many verses dedicated to the dark side of life that affected poor people. Modern writers have adopted Western literary genres such as novels, short stories, and plays.
Dance was never a part of Karakalpak cultural heritage, although the Soviets created a dance for them.
Prior to the Soviet period, the economy of the Karakalpaks was characterized primarily by agriculture, cattle herding, and fishing, depending on the terrain and climate of a particular area. Those living in the oases near the Amu river in the south practiced agriculture, which included cultivation of grains and fruits, such as rice, sorghum, wheat, millet, melons, and squashes. Those living out on the steppe and in desert regions kept herds of sheep, goats, camels, and cattle. Those living in the Aral region fished.
The majority of work in Karakalpakistan is agricultural, and almost 70% of the population is rural. The only real industrial jobs are centered around the cotton industry, and these jobs include ginning, baling, and pressing cotton seeds for their oil.
Silk manufacture also plays a significant role in the local agricultural economy. Farming people feed silkworms mulberry leaves from nearby trees. The worms in turn create cocoons, which people then bring to regional cocoon collection centers. Profits, depend on the quality of the cocoons. Silkworm feeding is very arduous. The insects require constant attention, and most people would rather not spend the long hours this work requires, but in today's economy every extra bit of income is vital. Death of the fisheries industry has led to rising unemployment.
Agricultural workers work 12 to 15 hours a day at harvest time. They will work seven days a week, no matter how inclement the weather. Work for the Karakalpaks is cyclical: during late fall, winter, and part of spring, work is minimal and takes place primarily around the household. Professionals and administrative workers work year-round and receive about six weeks paid vacation each year taken during July and August.
Sports for the young are similar to those of Westerners. Volleyball and soccer are popular at school, and boys also test their strength at a kind of wrestling that involves grabbing one another around the back of the neck and thigh. The object is to force one's opponent to lose his grip, and thus his balance. This is known as Qurash. Unfortunately, girls and women are rarely if ever encouraged in sports.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Movies and television are popular and have become dominated by imports from the West, especially action movies and Latin American soap operas. Karakalpak television tends toward the lackluster, with much in the way of folk, music, documentaries about refining cotton planting techniques, and long-winded talk shows with camera-shy scientific guests. Theatrical plays on humorous or historical themes that are Karakalpak-centric are popular and well-attended.
Adults entertain themselves by getting together with friends at rap sessions known as gap, which means Òtalk.Ó Here men and women meet separately, perhaps twice monthly, to eat, play games, sing songs, catch up on community happenings, and offer advice to one another.
Pop music is as important to Karakalpak young people as it is throughout the world. Both international and local stars are widely appreciated. Iulduz Usmanova is one of the most popular young singers, and many of her songs deal with the human condition in contemporary society.
Children enjoy an elaborate game of riddles called askiia. Two children try to outsmart one another with a series of questions about a particular thing. One child starts with a description, and the other must ask relevant questions about what is being described or else be quickly lead astray by the describer.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Some of the greatest traditional representations of Karakalpak folk arts are in the applied arts, especially in rug-making and jewelry production. Most rug materials are used to adorn yurts. A number of geometrical and antler-horn motifs reflect regional styles that in some way parallel the development of famous Turkmen tribal rugs. Karakalpak rugs are narrow and not usually used as floor coverings. They are hung as doors to the entrance of yurts and used as wall coverings or saddlebags. Vibrant blues, yellows, and greens are common colors.
Jewelry is mostly silver, consisting of various plaited or mesh patterns from which baubles dangle. Muted blue and red stones, such as lapis lazuli, are often inlaid. Necklaces, earrings, and bracelets are most common. Men never wear jewelry.
Men specialize as smiths, woodworkers (especially carvers), and shoemakers. Hat makers may be either men or women, but almost all sewn skullcaps are made by women. Some of the most revered craftsmanship goes into the woodcarving of house doors and on the top and bottom of building support beams. Central Asian wood carving distinguishes itself by unique floral and geometric patterns that require incredible dexterity and concentration on the part of the craftsmen.
Hobbies are common among Karakalpaks as they are among Westerners. Stamps, coins, pop star photos, and tape and CD collections are the stuff of young people's hobbies. Some young people have pen pals.
During the Soviet period, agriculture and fisheries were developed and emphasized to the detriment of cattle rearing and the raising of food crops. In agriculture, cotton became a major industrial cash crop at the expense of food crops and the area's water supply, much of which was used for the intensive irrigation required for cotton growing. During the 1950s, the Aral Sea provided about 7% of all the fish consumed in the USSR. Unfortunately, a non-diversified economy, combined with the intensity of the effort, has left Karakalpakistan in a ruined state. Few people have safe drinking water, and local food production is inadequate. Not only do people suffer from acute health problems associated with their poisoned environment and inadequately balanced diet, but alcoholism and drug addiction (primarily heroin) are growing problems for the middle aged and young, many of whom suffer from depression. Criminal activity—from petty theft to organized drug smuggling and mafia-style murders—is dramatically higher than it was before the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The Uzbekistani state is itself a police state, and the government is authoritarian. There is little tolerance for dissent with official views or for independent political activity. Since 2001 the Uzbek government has become increasingly repressive toward any expressions of economic or religious expression, and minority groups, such as the Karakalpak, face discrimination. For this reason, when Karakalpaks are among Uzbeks they often try to hide their identity. For the tens of thousands of impoverished Karakalpaks, the only real relief from the stagnation of the economy in Uzbekistan has been to seek work abroad; labor migration is the latest social phenomenon in this area. Unconfirmed reports indicate that more than half of the able-bodied population spends at least some part of the year working abroad, in countries such as Kazakhstan and Russia. The future of the population of Karakalpakistan—especially its cultural continuity—hangs in the balance now, and the near future does not seem to be particularly positive. The government of Uzbekistan has shown very little inclination to maintain the distinctiveness and territorial integrity of these people.
Because Karakalpak culture is similar to the Kazakhs, there historically has been slightly greater gender equity among Karakalpak men and women than one finds, say, among the Uzbeks. Nevertheless, older girls and women are hardly treated as equals by men. Domestic chores still remain the purview of women, and, as mentioned above, Karakalpak women fare poorly when first married, especially as they no longer live among their own clansmen. While most girls receive an education just as boys do, there is little expectation that girls should go on to university or enter professions, although one certainly finds more professional women in the capital Nukus as opposed to the countryside.
The historical and Soviet gender relations have given way of late because of the mass exodus of Karakalpak owing to labor migration. This process causes the breakdown of gender relations to some extent as women necessarily are more in control of what they do if they decide to go abroad for work. While migration gives women greater autonomy as well as wealth, its effects also can cause havoc within families, especially when children have to do without a mother and father for lengthy periods of time.
One phenomenon that has been on the increase since the late 1990s, and that we also see among the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, is bride kidnapping. Just as the term implies, young women are taken by men in order to marry with no courtship or formal family arrangements. To some degree, this is due to the terrible financial predicament most people find themselves in. Weddings are costly affairs, and by kidnapping a young woman many of the expenses of traditional weddings can be avoided, and a family gets a new member for its own workforce. Still, young women can and do successfully resist these efforts. If the value of education continues to wane, it is unlikely to see any gains in gender equity soon.
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—by R. Zanca
"Karakalpaks." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks-0
"Karakalpaks." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Retrieved September 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/karakalpaks-0