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Shezhire: Kazakh Family Tree

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The legend goes that the Prophet Noah after the Great Flood left the arc and built the house, planted trees and the life took its own course. He was called ‘the second Adam’ and his three sons Sam, Ham and Japheth gave life to new generations of people. Kazakhs believe that Japheth became their progenitor, who in his turn had three sons: Chin, Turan and Chin-Mazhin. We believe that we descended from the middle son Turan, who gave birth to Turks, Massagets, Kassakhs, Sakhs, etc. 


To give to the English-speaking readers the feasible idea of Shezhire, the Kazakh family tree, is not an easy task. As Gerold Belger, a Kazakh writer of German descent wrote: ‘Shezhire reminds me the hare traces on newly fallen snow. There are many traces, some obvious, some vague.  But try to read or understand them! Where is the beginning and where is the end? Here one needs not only Ariadne’s saving thread, but also a special mindset, spiritual inclination and affection that are capable to disseminate a dense darkness of centuries.’  
The Kazakh history has many enigmas. One of them being the formation of Kazakh juzes (or ‘hundred’ in Kazakh). The etimology of the word  ‘juz’ remains unclear, however, some see ‘juz’ as an agglomeration of several clans, whereas others note its role as a military formation. With the decline of the belligerent prowess of the nomads, the military connotation of the term receded to the background. More importantly, all three juzes claim a common progenitor in Alash, the founder of the Kazakhs.
The knowledge of genealogy underscored the centrality of memory and was valued as the most precious possession. It also helped to maintain the strong gene pool of the nation, since it excluded marriage within the clan. It is also worth mentioning that the history does not recollect a single moment of hostility between juzes.


The majority of Kazakhs of modern-day Kazakhstan belong to one of the three juzes: the Elder Juz (Uly Juz), the Middle Juz (Orta Juz) and the Younger Juz (Kishi Juz). Each Juz consists of several clan groups called ‘ru’- the main axis of nomadic organization. As small springs make the ocean, so clans (ru) form the ocean of shezhire.
Each ru (clan) has also its own ‘shezhire’ (family tree) and ‘tamga’ (symbol of the clan). Tamga was used as the clan brand to mark the livestock, as quality seal on the items of weapons and architecture, or the clan symbol on the tombs. In old days each ru and each juz had its own flags.
There also Kazakh clans that exist outside of the Juzes. They are ‘the tore’ – the direct descendants of Genghis Khan. In addition to these traditionally political leaders, there were religious families outside of the Juzes called Kozha- the descendants of Arabian missionaries. In addition there are also the Tolengit – the descendants of Oirat captives and a few others.
These genealogical records are reflected on the Tor Shezhire ( the Main Shezhire)-  the kinship table or the genealogical tree that nomads gave an exclusive importance and that was fixed in epics, legends, parables and poems. The term ‘shezhire’ is taken from the Arab word meaning ‘the tree’ after Islam was adopted in the Steppe. It is synonymous with ‘jety-ata’ (seven forefathers). Each Kazakh should know his kinship affiliation and be able to trace his/her lineage, customarily back to 7 generations, as well as know the clan’s battle cry (‘uran’).
Historically this tripartite system of clan agglomerations (juzes) has been dispersed over three natural climatic zones.
The Kazakhs of the Elder Juz consisting of eleven major ru (clans): Kanly, Sirgeli, Zhalair, Sary Uysin, Shanyshkyly, Ysty, Shapyrashty, Oshakty, Alban, Suan and Dulat inhabited the southern and eastern regions.
The Middle Juz Kazakhs consisting of six major ru (clans): Argyn, Nayman, Kerey, Kipchak, Konyrat and Uak wielded control over the entire northern region and parts of the central Kazakhstan.
And the Kazakhs of the Younger Juz consisting of three major generical unities: Alim-uly, Bai-uly and Zheti-ru occupied the western region, from the Caspian area to the south of the Ural mountains.
Alim-uly had six ru (clans): Karasakal,  Kara Kesek, Kete, Tortkara, Shomekei, Shekti. Bai-uly had 12 ru (clans): Adai, Altyn, Zhappas, Baibakty, Maskar, Berish, Taz, Esentemir, Ysyk, Tana, Kyzylgurt and  Sherkesh. Zheti-ru had 7 ru (clans): Kerderi, Kereit, Tabyn, Tama, Zhagalbaily, Teleu and Ramadan.
The Middle Juz still remains the largest group in terms of population and the Younger Juz the smallest.
But the above said is a fundamental representation of Kazakh juzes and ru. In fact, the family tree of each ru (clan) can make a voluminous book, sometimes consisting of several volumes. More over, each ru (clan) is further divided into many branches.
At the top level of this hierarchical pattern was the Khan, who headed the three juzes and this position was not hereditary: he was elected by a gathering of sultans (heads of clan organizations), judges (biy) and clan elders (aqsaqals-‘white-beared’ in Kazakh).


Talking about Shezhire, one has to mention the three Kazakh ‘biys’ (sages) Tole Biy (1663—1756),  Kazybek Biy (1667—1764), and Aiteke Biy (1644—1700). Each of them represented a certain juz: Tole Biy – the Elder, Kazybek Biy – the Middle and Aiteke Biy- the Younger Juz.  
The institute of biys played an essential role in the Steppe. As Chokan Valikhanov, the Kazakh scholar and ethnographer (1835-1865) wrote in his “Note on Judicial Reform”: “Election as a biy….was not an appointment by the ruling authority; only deep knowledge of judicial custom, capability to solve conflicts united with eloquence, gave him this honourable rank...’  
These three Biys played an important role in our history and in the unification of Kazakhs juzes in the battles against the Kalmyk invaders.


- Who are the six generations of Alash nation? - asked Tole Biy a young man.
- Six generations of Alash - are the children of Kazakhs, Kara-kalpaks, Kirgiz, Uzbeks, Turkmen and their offsprings - answered the Biy.
 - And what are the three juzes? - Three juzes - are the children of three Kazakh brothers.
- How is it possible to wash away the hurt feelings from the relatives? – kept asking the young man.  
- With the re-union after the long separation, - said the Biy.


As any historical monument the shezhire underwent the ruinous effects of the history. Especially the hardest times were the first decades of the Soviet rule. According to the stories of the elderly people, the old books written in Arab scripts that were once used by the Kazakhs as their alphabet, were burnt. So, together with the old manuscripts the knowledge of genealogy was nearly destroyed.


All these legends and stories about the re-union of three juzes, the wisdoms of three judges, the clan symbols, the flags and the battle slogans heat the imagination and haunt the minds of the contemporary Kazakhs, who are trying to restore their roots and very seriously study their genealogy.
According to the tradition the blood line of Kazakhs runs though the male line.  But nowadays more and more Kazakhs are including into these records the names of the famous women. Besides, these records contain the biographies, history and geography of the most significant events and legends.
There are Internet sites where the genealogy trees of various ru (clans) are posted, as well as the unified data base of Kazakh juzes that serves to find the relatives or the information about their ancestors.
There is a saying that ‘the person who knows his roots will always be fed’, meaning that he can always find his relatives and in-laws among all the existing clans (ru).
Besides that, the knowledge of his or her own roots is always inspiring and gives you the sweet felling of belonginess.


Tole-Biy said:

‘The crowd of poor, gathered together, will not make fertile the field of grain.
Gathered together a hundred of sultans (rulers) will not make the crowd wise. The thieves gathered together will not make the nation. You can praise the ‘pigmy’ to the skies, but he cannot become a man’s man.’

‘The happiness of the nation is not in the wealthy people, but in the wise ones.’   

Kazybek Biy said:

This is what Kazybek Biy said when he visited the Khan of Jungars in order to save his own people from capivity:
‘We are the Kazakhs, we graze cattle in the steppe. We don’t threaten others, we are a peaceful nation. But we hold our spears ready if the enemy attacks us. We know the value of a good word. We are faithful friends, hospitable and generous…
The son who is born to a noble father will never be a slave. The daughter born to an honest mother will never be a salve too. We are free people, the children of the steppe. We will not keep our sons and daughters in captivity.
You are the Kalmyks – a reckless nation, but we will not surrender to you in an honest battle. If you are the iron, then we are the coal that could melt the iron. We are for peace and not for war. If the need be we can clash in an open battle. You are the leopard,  I am the lion, you are the race horse and I am the falcon. We will not give up. We came with peace and please respond with peace. If you want the war - you will get the war.’
The legend says that the Jungar Khan was taken aback and lost his courage from the power of words of Kazybek -Biy.  

Aiteke Biy said:

‘If you are rich, then do good to your country. If you are a warrior, then crash the enemies. If you being rich will not do good to your country and being the warrior will not crash the enemies, then you will become the outsider, the foe of your country.’


September 7 2012, 15:59

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