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~ Abai Kunanbaev ~


Word Thirty-Nine

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Brothers may quarrel,
but not forswear each other.

~ ABAI KUNANBAEV

Proverb from The Book of Words,
Word Thirty-Nine



Yes, our forefathers were certainly inferior to the present generation in learning, civility, neatness and tidiness. Yet they possessed two merits which we have not. Overcoming, little by little, the shortcomings that we inherited from our forefathers, we have lost those merits. Had we possessed determination in our character and done our utmost to safeguard the old virtues while acquiring new qualities, we might have been the equal of other nations. But since we lack resolve and force of character, we have let the newly acquired qualities foster demonic, rather than human, properties in us. This is one of the main reasons why we have forfeited our national virtues.

What character traits do I have in mind? In olden times there used to be people known as yel-basy
[1] and top-basy
[2], who judged disputes and governed the life of the community. The common people somehow managed to look after themselves. They were not accustomed to dispute the rulings of the yel-basy and top-basy, or run from one to another of these dignitaries with complaints. We say: "Take a stick if it fits your hand, and then make it into a bat." Or: "When everyone is his own judge, people cannot live together even in a boundless land; when a community has a chief, no one gets burnt even in a fire." Acknowledging this truth, people would bring their offerings to the holy spirits and, having uttered their prayers, would hand the reins of government to one they had all elected, thenceforth supporting him in all his undertakings, even to the extent of hushing up his faults and praising his merits. They showed due respect for him, they heeded his words and obeyed him without fail; then even influential men did not transgress the bounds of reason. How could they fail to care for people when all were brothers and wealth was held in common?

And another point our people treasured their unity as the holy of holies. If someone called on others for help, invoking the names of the forefathers, everyone would rush in, forgetting all offences and quarrels, to lend a hand, ready to make concessions and sacrifices. As people used to say:

"He who cannot forgive the fault of his neighbor will be offended by a stranger.",
"Brothers may quarrel, but not forswear each other."
"If six men are in conflict, they lose whatever they have in their hands; but if four are in accord, heavenly grace will descend upon them."
"He who seeks the right path will find treasure, but he who seeks quarrels will find woe."

Where is that noble community spirit and concern for honor?

These were safeguarded by staunchness, good conscience and valor. We have them no longer.

Among people today, friendship has nothing to do with friendliness; it is but breach of trust and perfidy.

Enmity stems not from the love of truth, but from our inability to live in peace.

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FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: yel-basy- tribal chief] Back to text

[Footnote 2: top-basy- tribal elder] Back to text