Ethnography of Central Asia and Kazakhstan

The Museum’s newly opened exhibition devoted to the peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan demonstrates the ethnic peculiarity of the region, whose culture was shaping over thousands of years in the constant interaction of towns, agricultural rural areas and the nomadic steppe, which brought about the prevailing forms of economic activity, i.e. irrigative agriculture and nomadic or semi-nomadic cattle breeding. Agriculture, which was limited to oases, was more typical of the settled population, the Tajiks and Uzbeks.

The fact that the main sections of the exhibition are organized on ethnic principles allows show­ing the vernacular character of each people’s traditional culture and emphasizing complexes peculiar to the traditional culture of every ethnicity found in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, e.g. A Central Asian Town, Handicrafts and Trade (the Uzbeks and Tajiks), On the Move, Falconry, and Felting (the Kazakhs). A display of rituals linked to the lifecycle runs through the entire exhibition, showing the ethnography of childhood (the Uzbeks and Tajiks), the wedding (the Mountain Tajiks and the Turkmen), and the funeral rites (the Kirghiz and Kazakhs).

The languages of the peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan belong to two families of languages, the Indo-European family (the Iranian group including the Tajiks) and the Altaic family (the Turkic group including the Kazakhs, the Kara-Kalpaks, the Kirghiz, the Turkmen and the Uzbeks). Today, the pop­ulation is as follows: the Kazakhs totalling 13.5 million (with 653,962 living in Russia), the Kara-Kalpaks totalling about 600,000 (with 1,609 living in Russia), the Kirghiz totalling about 5 million (with 31,808 living in Russia), the Tajiks totalling about 45 million (with 120,136 living in Russia), the Turkmen totalling about 3 million (with 33,053 living in Russia), and the Uzbeks totalling about 27 million (with 122,916 living in Russia).

Sunni Islam has the largest following in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, the Mus­lim traditions being historically more deeply rooted in the settled population. I he reli­gious practices of the nomadic and semi- nomadic peoples used to retain marked traces of shamanism, albeit influenced by Islam, until the twentieth century.