16 May 2013

Traditional Kazakh Children's Games

One of the biggest challenges of Expat life is finding enough reading material.  As a family we can easily get through at least 100 books a year each and I suspect many families will get through more.  When I was a child we traveled around the world with a travelling library of about 3,000 books, dropping some off at our European base and refreshing the collection each time we had a European posting.  We were the bane of the packing companies who used to refuse to pack them, it was my particular job, each move, to pack and unpack the books in their proper order.

When we moved to Kazakhstan we had a limited allowance so we only took a small library of about 400 books, mostly academic texts for work but luckily the kindle means that we are never stuck for reading.  I do sometimes visit the bookshops here though, usually to buy Russian easy readers for the children.  I rarely look at the English section of the bookshop because the imports are expensive compare to the kindle but this time I did browse and was lucky enough to find a translation of a guide to Kazakh traditions and ways.  It was written with the aim of introducing the younger generation to the traditions of their country and makes interesting reading.

During the time of the Soviet Union many Kazakh traditions were lost.  Forced collectivisation meant that the traditional way of life ended and many cultural and religious practices were banned.  The Kazakh language was also sidelined – so much so that many people have to take special lessons to learn Kazakh.  The younger generation is more fluent and there is a growing interest in reviving ancient customs.  It is for this reason that Nauruz has become such a popular festival.  The bookshops are filled with guides to ancient traditions and ‘teach yourself Kazakh’ courses but finding one translated into English is a rare treat. 

I started to read up on some traditional Kazakh games, I was amazed to read about some games that are almost identical to games played in England and Europe.  It shows how similar children are the world over. 
When I first came to England as a young child I learned a game that my friends called ‘Red Rover’.  Children form two teams and line up, holding hands in a row.  The first team calls a specific rhyme asking the other team to send a competitor over.  The player must run as fast as they can and try to break the line.  If they succeed they return with a member of the loosing team, if they fail they have to join the other team.  This game can go on for hours and is great fun.  I was amazed, on reading my new book, to find that ‘Red Rover is also a traditional Kazakh game although here it goes by the name ‘Ai Kerek’ meaning by moonlight as it was often played in the evenings.  Here in Kazakhstan it was, apparently, notable for being a game that bestowed nicknames because children would often be called to run, not by their own name, but by reference to some remarkable attribute.  The nicknames given in these games would then often stay with the children for life.

Hide and seek and blind man’s bluff are also played in Kazakhstan.  Hide and seek is called zhasyrynbak.  Here if one of the ‘hidees’ get to the goal post without being ‘found’ the seeker will lose the game.  The game was, apparently, much praised for encouraging logical thinking. Blind man’s bluff goes by the colourful name of sokyrteke meaning blind wild goat and was praised for teaching children to be careful and escape difficult situations.

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Always nice to find a book on culture and traditions, makes you feel more a part of a place.

    BTW, didn't know whether you had news of this Khazak anthology so am sharing a link about it. Deadline is around the corner but thought you might be interested. (You can always ask for a few more days.) http://www.joparfitt.com/2012/04/lived-in-kazakhstan-want-to-write-for-our-anthology/

    Jo Parfitt is my publisher and writing mentor.
    Linda (www.adventuresinexpatland.com )

  2. Hi Linda - great to hear from you and thanks for the heads up - I will get in touch. Hope all is well with you.