Before all, according to Kazakh traditions, a man and a woman wishing to marry each other had to prove they weren’t relatives in seven generations. Therefore every Kazakh had to know his own genealogic background very well, a rule which is still observed today – not knowing your own background counts as ignorance.
Early marriages were a normal thing – this kept the youth from obscene behavior and contributed to having healthy babies. Usually a bride’s age was 13-14 years and a groom was 14-15. Nowadays such marriages are not practiced.
A young man would propose marriage to his beloved girl not in-person, but through his brother’s wife, because the laws of the steppes did not allow open dating among the youth.
In some cases, a girl wouldn’t know who her future husband is, and their parents being friends at the same time.
There were two ways to achieve consent – either parents of both negotiate, kuda tusu [offer of marriage] or the groom steals the bride at her will, alyp kashu [grab and run].
Kazakh wedding process consists of an offer of marriage, a wedding, a kudalyk [a gathering of relatives from both sides to know each other better] and post-wedding rituals.
Offer of marriage may take two stages.
During an official suit a girl’s relatives may appoint additional talks, usually for the following week, in order to agree on the wedding date and specific wedding conditions.
An official suit [kuda tusu] begins with the arrival of matchmakers to the girl’s home.
Usually a young man’s parents invite their most respected by age and social status relatives to be their envoys to a girl’s parents.
A delegation may consist of five to ten persons. Meantime, the young man stays at home.
The girl’s parents organize tea for the guests. Sipping the tea the senior envoy approaches the subject in a roundabout way, adding humor and sayings to the dialogue, gradually leading to the true purpose of the visit.
Then begins the important part – the bride-show for what guests need to pay – korimdik.
A female relative of the young man puts golden earrings on the girl’s ears – uki.
This means the girl has now been marked and taken. The two are engaged now.
The groom’s mother gives to the bride’s mother a present called anasynyn ak suti, as a gratitude for mother’s milk and raising a good daughter.
After that, sides agree on kalym [ransom for the bride] and conditions of wedding.
Kalym, once known as a ransom for the bride paid to her parents, is now an obsolete tradition. Now it is just the money the groom’s parents pay to partly compensate what groom’s side spent on new furniture, homeware, bedding items, carpets and other goods as a dowry.
The tradition of giving 47 heads of cattle [kalym mal] for a bride in the past, now has transformed into a custom of presenting a korzhun [traditional bag] with 47 various things inside. Korzhuns are usually beautified with coins, rings, bead necklaces and tapes.
The groom’s parents also give presents [kit] to the envoys. Here matchmaking is over.
Kazakh wedding lasts two days: at the bride’s home first [kyz uzatu], then she is taken to the home of her future husband where the festivities continue.
Solemn marriage registration may be conducted either on the first day or the next. Usually registration takes place in the groom’s home. It is also the place of the wedding night.
Wedding itself is rich with traditional solemnities. Both the groom’s envoys coming to the bride’s or the bride’s envoys coming to the groom’s get showered with crop and sweets.
They bring a korzhun with presents. In turn, the receiving side gives them presents too.
Before the main wedding [the groom’s wedding] the bride’s side arranges kyz uzatu [farewell].
The festivity begins with guests standing in a semi-circle row; the bride accompanied by her unmarried female friends comes in and walks past the guests, by doing so, she farewells her father’s community. Then the groom and the best man join the bride. They receive blessing [bata] and the festivity begins.
After kyz uzatu the groom’s wedding starts. In the eve, the groom’s sisters-in-law bring to the bride’s home a wedding dress and shoes he bought for her.
Traditionally, Kazakh girls wear red wedding outfit, today it is replaced with a European-style white dress.
On the night before the wedding the bride gathers all her female friends. Bridal shower last till the dusk.
In the morning the groom’s relatives arrive and meantime the bride waits in the neighbors’ home. Her sisters and sisters-in-law meet the guests.
After playful disputes, the best man pays for entrance. But, it is just the first barrier – the delegation will encounter another two hurdles of younger brothers and the bride’s lady friends ahead.
The bride enters her home under accompaniment of singing and dancing relatives and neighbors. A relative of hers walks in before her and her brother ties a napkin around her waist, as a symbol of loyalty and obedience to her future husband and his parents.
Before the departure the Zhar-Zhar, a blessing song is sung to farewell the girl. It depicts the woman’s status in the family and a young girl’s sorrow upon leaving father’s home. The tradition requires that a girl walks past every yurt [felt house] in her native village before leaving it.
Right after saying goodbye to her parents she departs.
A wedding cortege visits a mosque to register the marriage in accordance with Muslim rules, and then the couple drives to registry office.
When the two near the groom’s home the bride veils her face and a meeting crowd led by the groom’s parents showers her head with sweets. When inside, the newly married greet the fireplace [oshak] and then bow to the senior relatives and the guests.
A singer praises the bride by portraying the presents she brought with her to the tune of dombra [Kazakh string instrument]. This is bet ashar – the ceremony of opening the bride’s face. The song also lists things a young wife must do – to respect the senior and husband’s relatives, obey husband, show respect to guests, keep smiling, look after him and his home.
In the song he names the groom’s relatives and the girl bows to every of them. Every person the singer mentions has to put money on a special plate placed in front of her.
In the end of bet ashar the bride’s face gets unveiled and the just married have a seat. The festivity begins.
Wedding ceremonies used to include toasts, horse races, wrestling and many other competitions, games and performances.
When the wedding is over, the bride, now the wife, is accompanied by her sisters-in-law to her new shelter.
After a while, the husband’s parents invite the wife’s parents.
The invitees bring the dowry with them.
The idea of dowry is that a young wife should come to her new house with her own property.
It usually consists of dishes, bedding, carpets, and today - furniture and home appliances. Besides, the girl needs to have a chest to keep the goods.
After the wedding, every relative invites the just married for beshparmak [Kazakh national dish made of meat and flattened dough] over rather a long time and give the girl presents for visiting their home in her new status.
Following the wedding, usually after a long time, both sides conduct kudalyk: they gather relatives from both sides for better introduction to each other. Normally done separately, this occasion requires strict observance of traditions inlcuding eating a piece of sheep’s liver by parents of the married couple, presenting clothes to each other and etc.
Traditional ritualism in the wedding process organically overlaps with new tendencies in modern wedding ceremonials.