If you happened to visit the BRIDGE Center this past January, you’d have been greeted by a riot of color. For an entire month, the center was home to a vibrant display of boldly-patterned Kazakh costumes, artwork, tapestries and, most unusual of all, a yurt.
Co-sponsored by the BRIDGE Center, the International Center and the Kazakh cultural awareness group Kazakh-Aul, the exhibit brought the country’s rich cultural heritage to life through traditional dance, storytelling, art and food.
The opening ceremony drew a diverse crowd, including curious students from JWU and neighboring schools, parents of adopted Kazakh children and representatives from Kazakh-Aul.
While Kazakh tea and cookies were served, co-organizer Daniyar Baidaralin answered audience members’ questions and talked about the true beauty of this large, ethnically diverse country of more than 15 million people. Since Kazakhstan gained independence from the Soviets in 1991, the country has grown increasingly Westernized, urban and technologically savvy. At the same time, the ancient traditions still flourish. A small number of Kazakhs still live like semi-nomads; still others incorporate aspects of nomadic traditions into their largely modern lives.
Nomadic culture was deeply ingrained into the Kazakh lifestyle. Traditionally, the Kazakh people lived in traveling nomadic villages known as auls, moving with the seasons in search of greener pastures. The yurt was their mobile shelter. Made of lightweight wood and double-faced, felted wool, it was well-insulated from the elements, yet remained warm in winter and cool in summer. Both sturdy and portable, it could be quickly assembled and easily transported across the Central Asian steppes.
As Daniyar Baidaralin explained, the symbolic meaning of the yurt was incredibly complex: “Kazakhs view their world in a holistic manner. Each element of the whole contributes to a deeper level of understanding. As a symbol, the nomadic home exists within the greater and more powerful world of nature.”
For example, the yurt's physical structure echoed the three levels of the universe, with the walls (Kerege) representing the Lower world, where humans and animals live, and the dome structure (Uysks) representing the Middle world of the spirits. Lastly, the Shanyrak at the top symbolized the Upper world, a source of life energy and the highest spirit.