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On the Move With Home in Tow – The nomadic lifestyle is made possible by the Kazakh yurt

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ASTANA- For hundreds of years, the nomadic pace of life has been defined by mobility and practicality right down to the choice of dwelling. The Kazakh yurt, also called kiyiz ui (felt house), is a portable, weatherproof and environmentally friendly house that allowed traditional Kazakh herders to maintain a nomadic lifestyle that saw them spend winters in the pastures and summers in the mountains.

Kazakh traditional yurt – kiyiz ui. Photo credit: 365info.kz

The history of nomadic man is intimately linked to that of the yurt. It has been home to Kazakh nomads for thousands of years, keeping it warm in winter and cool in summer. Kazakh kiyiz ui or boz ui in Kyrgyz, ak oy in Turkmen, ger in Mongolian became a traditional nomadic focus of the nations surrounding the regions of Central Asia.

Kiyiz ui has become an important part of Kazakh cultural heritage. In 2014, it was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Installation of a Kazakh yurt

Originally, yurts consisted of a felt blanket wrapped around an oval-shaped wooden frame based on sliding lattice sections, called kerege.

The process of setting up the yurt involved the whole family. Photo credit: ich.unesco.org.

The wooden frame also included wooden poles – uyk. In their multiplicity, they formed the roof of the yurt. The dome of the yurt is called a shanyrak, which serves as both a chimney and a window for the yurt.

The average yurt can measure up to seven to nine meters in diameter. The largest full-face “khan yurt” could reach 16 to 18 meters in diameter.

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Camel with a dismantled yurt on its back with the shanyrak on top, East Turkestan, 1920. Photo courtesy of British Royal Geographical Society, Instagram @re.yurt.

Since ancient times, the process of installing the yurt involved the whole family. The men and boys made a frame out of wild willow wood. While the men took care of the framework, the women made a protective material for the yurt from felts. This dense and strong material kept the heat in the yurt in winter and proved to be waterproof even on rainy days. Women were also engaged in interior decoration: they made carpets and sewed blankets.

“[They] Assembled the yurt by all over the world. Why is that? Because the Kazakhs believed that with each inserted uyk you bring a wish of happiness to this house. For example, if it is a yurt for a young couple [you would make a wish] that they would have many descendants. Or, if it is a woman’s yurt, you wish the kazan (cauldron) would not empty and would always boil with meat in it,” said Batyrkhan Zhumabayev, the head of the Kazakhstan research center. sacred in his interview with the television and radio company Mir.

A Kazakh family came together to set up a yurt in Turkestan in the 1870s. Photo credit: Lubov Poltorackaya, Instagram @re.yurt.

Shanyrak, the dome of the yurt, was a family heirloom, a symbol of the continuation of the family. It has been passed down from generation to generation. The Kazakh expression “shanyrak yesi”, which means the owner of the shanyrak, refers to a married man, who started his own family.

One could notice the image of the shanyrak on the national emblem of Kazakhstan on a blue background very much resembling the image of the sun.

As such, the yurt remains a symbol of family and traditional hospitality, fundamental to the identity of the Kazakh people.

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It would take a trained practitioner about an hour to set up a yurt.

The interior of the yurt

The interior decoration of the yurts involved the entire community of craftsmen, who made colorfully ornamented carpets, pillows and blankets, wooden furniture and tableware.

Once set up, the yurt is stocked with household items that are arranged along the kerege.

The interior of the Kazakh yurt is rich in colors and ornaments, reflecting the culture of craftsmanship. Photo credit: gov.kz

Kazakh traditional household items had a rich aesthetic value, creating a unified system of interior dwellings that represented nomadic tastes and culture as well as their utilitarian purposes.

A person entering the yurt would see the world of Kazakh ornamentation mainly on the art of weaving. The floor is covered with felt carpets called tekemet, while the syrmak decorated the walls of the dwelling, skilfully decorated with national motifs.

A fireplace occupied the central stage, around which the family gathered in winter. The beds were arranged along the walls: the owners’ bed was placed to the right of the hearth and for the unmarried daughters and sisters, the bed was placed to the left.

The cornerless life in a yurt would certainly impress modern visitors who are into the philosophy of feng shui.

Modern use of the Kazakh yurt

Nowadays, the yurt has not lost its practicality but has adapted to modern requirements. Yurts are widely used during national holidays and at major events like weddings, festivals and parties throughout Kazakhstan to showcase national customs.

The Louis Vuitton pop-up store in St. Moritz in a yurt design. Photo credit: Instagram @hashluxe.

Yurts also seem to have seen a resurgence in popularity overseas as the world embraces eco-friendly housing. Today’s yurts are made of wood and are lightweight and flexible, they can accommodate healthier heating options and helping families save on fuel costs and reduce emissions.

French luxury brand Louis Vuitton’s spectacular pop-up store has created visitors’ anticipation by unveiling details of its exterior.

Located in the fashionable resort town of St. Moritz in the Swiss mountains, the pop-up store was made in the form of a yurt. The exterior walls and uyk roof were decorated with the brand’s monogram symbols on white-colored walls with contrasting brown elements.

Those interested can visit until April 10 to experience a modern adaptation of an ancient dwelling used by many generations of proud nomads who came before them.