Friday, October 1, 2010

Family Tree

Before the Russians came to Kazakhstan, Kazakhs didn't have family names or patronymics. They had only their first name and the name of their tribe. In order to identify their tribe, people usually gave the name of a famous person who came from their tribe. Kazakhs only adopted last names and patronymics when the Russians made them. Therefore, most Kazakhs have Russian-sounding last names, or else, like my host family (Setkasim), the first name of some great-grandfather turned into a last name.

A patronymic, by the way, is a way to identify a person's father. Russians and Kazakhs don't have middle names, just patronymics. For example, if I were Russian, I would take my father's name (Jerry) and add “ovna” because I'm a girl: Anna Jerryovna Rodgers. (It sounds even more hilarious to Kazakhs, since they've never heard the name Jerry before.) My brother, on the other hand, would add “ovich” since he's a boy: Chris Jerryovich Rodgers. People here think it's really neat that I get to have two names, my first and middle name, but they don't really understand the point. Not that I do, either, so I can't really explain it to them.

The lack of last names never stopped Kazakhs from keeping track of intricate genealogies. In fact, all Kazakhs should memorize the names of their ancestors back 7 generations. My host father made my host brother memorize this when he was little. My host father also claims that he can recite his ancestors back 20 generations, and he takes great pride in this boast. Of course, this lineage only follows the male line. So when a woman marries, she must memorize the genealogy of her husband's family so that she can teach it to her children.

My host sister, who is very artistic, recently drew a family tree. She traced her family back through the male line, including all brothers and their children, to create a beautiful graphic of all the people that are considered her relatives. As you can see from the picture, that's a lot of people! And down at the roots of the tree are written the three ancient peoples that Kazakhs claim to be descended from: the Sakans, Sythians, and Huns.

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating! That's really neat that the Kazakhs keep such good "records" of their lineage. And your host sister is quite the artist!