Kyrgyzstan: The Nomad Yurt

Nomadic tribes lived all across Central Asia, from Turkey to Mongolia.

The yurt is the symbol of life for the Kyrgyz people because that was where life was lived – even today, when a family member dies, the Kyrgyz pitch yurts in private yards or public courtyards where family and friends pay their respects to the body awaiting burial.

The yurt above is in the Urkh-Ordu, the cultural center in Cholpon-Ata. To serve nomad tribes, it had to be quick to assemble and disassemble. Generally, a yurt was about 6 meters in diameter (about 20 feet.) Setting up a yurt goes like this:

1. Using a centerpoint, a length of rope, and a marker, the edge of the yurt area is marked.

2. The “bosogo,” or doorway frame is set. The “kerege,” a collapsible lattice frame, is fastened to one side of the bosogo, set up along the marked circular edge, and then fastened to the other side of the bosogo, using a rope passed around the kerege.

3. A tape is run around the top of the kerege, taking care to maintain the correct diameter of the frame.

4. A “tunduk” is raised in the center on a pole. This is a wooden circle criss-crossed by wooden ribs. This will provide ventilation and a place for smoke to escape. A stylized tunduk is part of the Kyrgyzstan flag.

5. Set the upper part of the ribs to the tunduk. Fasten the lower part of the ribs to the frame by a “jabyk bash,” a strip of cloth wrapped around the top of the kerege in a way that stabilizes the frame into a unified whole.

6. A “kyrchoo” is fastened around the wall of the framework, and the first felt is fastened across the front portion of the roof.

7. From there, the felt pieces are layered on. When there is no fire, the tunduk may be covered.

To make enough felt to cover the average yurt requires shearing about 25 sheep, and the average weight of a yurt is about 400 kilograms, or almost 900 pounds, and can be transported by two horses. As used for nomadic living, a yurt will last about 25 years.

A yurt can be assembled by two people in about an hour. The world record for assembling a yurt is 17 minutes (!), set by a Kyrgyzstan team at the 2014 World Nomad Games.

Taking the yurt apart is more difficult, and takes about two hours. Here are some photos of a scale-model (with some plastic pieces, I think) yurt being taken apart by some children on the last day of the WNG:

I noticed that some of the yurts at the WNG used canvas to cover their yurt, a recent innovation I think, as the fabric is more available than it used to be here, and has some weight advantages for summer use.

The decorative patterns are developed using traditional symbols for humans, water, earth, descendants, ancestors, and animals. These patterns are used in many ways – on clothing, rugs, and blankets, as well as in modern home decorations such as tile, wood, and carpets.

The inside of the yurt is divided traditionally in a specific way. The “female part” is on the right, and is used for home utensils and food storage. The “male part” is on the left, and is used to store hunting tools. The hearth is in the center, directly under the tunduk. The area directly opposite from the entrance is for guests, and the “tor,” in the center of the place opposite, were the most honored seats, males and females toward their respective parts of the yurt.

The tor was the most decorated area, using wall hangings and stacking blankets and carpet for use when having guests. Traditionally, the higher the stack, the more it indicated the prosperity of the family living in the yurt.

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