~ Abai Kunanbaev ~

Word Two

page separator

Sart schoolchildren, Samarkand. Photograph taken in 1907 by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky

In my childhood I used to hear the Kazakhs jeering at the Uzbeks:
"You Starts in wide skirts, you bring your rushes from afar to thatch your roofs! You bow and scrape when you meet someone, but you insult him behind his back. You are afraid of every bush; you rattle on without stopping, and that's why they call you Sart-Surts". [1]

Encountering Nogais [2], the Kazakhs would ridicule and scold them, too: "The Nogai is afraid of the camel, he soon gets tired astride a horse and takes his rest walking. Runaways and soldiers and traders — all of them hail from the Nogais. Nokai [3] is what you should be called, not Nogai!"

About the Russians they used to say:
"The red-headed Urus, once he spies an aul,
[4] gallops fit to break his neck towards it, permits himself to do whatever comes into his head, demands to hear all the rumours and gossip, and believes everything he is told." "My God!" I thought then with pride. "It turns out that the whole wide world has no worthier and nobler people than the Kazakhs!" Such talk rejoiced and entertained me. But this is what I see now: there is no plant that the Sarts cannot grow, no land that their merchants have not visited, and no such thing that their nimble fingers cannot contrive. Their laymen live in peace and seek no enmity. Before there were any Russian merchants around, the Sarts provided the Kazakhs with clothes for the living and burial robes for the dead, and they would buy up from the Kazakhs droves of cattle that father and son could not agree to divide between themselves. Now, under the Russians, the Sarts have adopted the innovations more quickly than others. Exalted beys [5] and learnt mullahs, I look at the Nogais and see that they can make fine soldiers and that they bear deprivation stoically. They face death with humility, protect schools and honour religion — they know how to work hard and grow rich, and to dress up and have fun.

Not we Kazakhs, though: we labour for their beys for a crust of bread. They will not let our beys into their homes. "Hey, you Kazakhs," they say, "our floor is not for your dirty boots to trample on." I will not speak of the Russians. We cannot hold a candle even to their servants. Where has all our erstwhile joyfulness gone?

Where is our merry laughter?

page separator


[Footnote 1: Surt-Sart- rattle, overtalkative person] Back to text

[Footnote 2: Nogai- Kazakh name for Tatars] Back to text

[Footnote 3: nokai- dull, stupid] Back to text

[Footnote 4: aul- village, nomadic community] Back to text

[Footnote 5: bey (bai)- in Central Asia, a wealthy owner of land and livestock] Back to text