More of the Kazakhs met by the Atkinsons in 1849

In my last posting I mentioned five of the Kazakhs that Thomas and Lucy Atkinson met on their journeys in Central Asia in the middle of the nineteenth century – Sultan Souk, Sultan Boulania, Sultan Alie Iholdi, Sultan Beck and Sultan Sabeck. I have now had a chance to research further and below you will find five more of the tribal leaders that the couple met during their travels. I will continue to publish further details in batches of five. There are no existing drawings of the leaders mentioned, but Thomas’ descriptions of their clothing and personalities are detailed.

My aim is to find the descendants of as many of these great Kazakh sultans and khans as possible. This should be possible, even after 168 years. Kazakhs, like other central Asians, generally know their genealogy very well for many past generations. So, I appeal to my readers, particularly those in Kazakhstan, to help me in this project and to let me know if you can identify these historical figures or their living relatives. In some cases the spelling may not correspond with present-day usage. This is hardly surprising, as Thomas would only have heard the names being pronounced and did not know enough Kazakh to be able to interpret the names properly. So, if you see a name that looks similar, please let me know anyway.

Most of these khans and sultans lived in the Semirechye region in today’s Eastern Kazakhstan, or possibly even further east in what is now the Djungaria region of Xinjiang. Some lived north-east of Lake Balkash (which Thomas called Lake Tengiz), but most are from the area south of the Tarbagatai Mountains, down to the Ili River. In each case I will give the name and any biographical details provided by Atkinson.

The Atkinsons met most of the leaders mentioned below during the spring of 1849 as they migrated with their vast flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and camels from their winter camps on the littoral of Lake Balkash into the jailoo (high pastures) in the Djungar Alatau Mountains for the summer.

Sultan Kairan: Thomas met him in his aoul (encampment), consisting of 13 yurts and 90 inhabitants as he was making his way with his flocks from Lake Balkash into the Alatau Mountains during the annual spring migration. Aged about 50, “with broad and heavy features, a wide mouth, small and deeply-set black eyes, a well-formed nose and a large forehead. His head was shaved and he wore a closely-fitting blue kanfa cap, embroidered with silver and coloured silks. His neck was as thick and as sturdy as one of his bulls; he was broad-shouldered and strongly built: taking him altogether, he was a powerful man. His dress was a Kokhand cotton kalat striped with yellow, red and green, reaching down to his feet and was tied round his waist with a red and green shawl.

Urtigun: Thomas met him close to the place he met Sultan Kairan. “He was a tall, well-built man, about 40 years old, with the audacity of a captain of freebooters; indeed, he would not have disgraced with illustrious robber chief (Kenisary) whose region I had just left, by claiming descent from him. It was obvious that we were to each other objects of interest, while to his followers, who had crowded into the yurt, I appeared a great curiosity…I spent more than an hour with this chief and then departed with the usual salutations. When outside the yurt, I observed a fine bearcoot (eagle) chained to his perch and several splendid dogs ranging about; they were of a particularly fine race, somewhat like the Irish wolf-hound, were powerful animals and exceedingly fleet. Urtigun held my horse and gave me his hand to the saddle; he then mounted his own steed and accompanied my party to a small stream about a mile from his aoul. Here we parted, when he expressed a wish that we might meet again in the mountains and hunt deer with his bearcoot.

Thomas’ drawing of the gorge of the Ac-Sou River

Sultan Djani-Bek: Thomas met him twice, close to the Ac-Sou River in the plains at the foot of the Djungar Alatau, not far from Kapal. He was “a man about 40 years of age, with a burly figure and a jolly, Friar Tuck-looking face, which showed that abstemiousness formed no part of his creed. Four other Kazakhs were sitting in front of us, his boon companions; beyond these there sat a small number of his retainers and herdsmen scanning my face and figure with their small sparkling eyes, evidently wondering from what part of the globe I had come.”

Kal-matai: This chief was also first seen between the Ac-Sou River and the Bascan River, shortly after Thomas left the aoul of Djani-Bek. Kal-matai’s aoul consisted of seven yurts, but this was only part of his tribe. “The aoul belonged to a rich chief, Kal-matai, and some of his children, with one of his wives, were here, with their numerous attendants and herdsmen. In four days the chief was expected to join with his other herds, by which time this part of his tribe would have selected the pastures and established themselves in the upper valleys of the Alatau. All the camels, horses and other animals had been assembled close around the yurts, as the space on which these had been pitched was limited.

Thomas also described one of Kal-matai’s wives: “My hostess was a woman about 45, with strong Kalmuck features – showing that she had descended from that race and most probably had been stolen from them when young. She wore a black kanfa kalat, a scarlet and green shawl round her waist and a fox-skin cap; yellow leather tchimbar (trousers) embroidered round the bottom and the usual high-heeled boots…. Notwithstanding her finery, she was occupied with her domestic duties, preparing cheese from a mixture of sheep and cow’s milk. It is formed into squares like our cream cheese, and then dried in the sun on a rush mat. I have eaten it and when fresh the flavour is not bad.”

Amoor10 12-Jan-15 17.06
Each spring the tribes moved from Lake Balkash up to the pastures in the Djungar Alatau Mountains.

Barak: This was the next aoul after that of Kal-matai, located closer to the Bascan River. Barak gave Thomas and Lucy a warm welcome. “From him I learned that it was utterly impossible to ascend to the glaciers in which the Bascan has its source, as the route was still deep in snow and the river so much swollen that it had stopped their march. I therefore accepted his offered hospitality to remain the night…Few people possess such a spot: Barak could sit at the door of his yurt and look at his tens of thousands of animals feeding on the mountain slopes. He could also enjoy a view of his domain in which beauty and savage grandeur were combined.” Thomas added: “My host was a Bee (magistrate) and had great influence with the people. During the evening a man was brought before him, charged with having stolen five horses and two camels. The theft was observed by a couple of witnesses and the animals were discovered among his herds.” Thomas describes the trial of the man in detail, how witnesses described the colour of his robes, which appeared not to match those the accused was wearing and how his three kalats were removed to expose the one he was wearing during the theft. “This condemned him and the Bee ordered the restitution of the stolen animals, at the same time imposing a fine of ten horses and four camels. The trial did not last more than an hour and speedy justice was awarded.  Thieving of this kind is instantly punished among the Kazakhs.”

I will soon publish further details of the tribal leaders the Atkinsons met in Semirechye.


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