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Family Matters

December 5, 2010

The last time I was in Issyk-Kul, Meerim’s belly had a baby in it. Now, the baby lay sniffeling in a stroller. Every time the little one wailed, somebody would go and push the stroller back and forth. It would quiet down without fail.

I asked the proud mother how she had met Rustam, grandson of my hunting master Sary and a hunter himself. “He saw me in Bishkek,” she said “and kidnapped me.” She said this matter-of-factly, almost wistfully, for bride kidnapping is nothing strange around here. If a man sees a woman he wants, he needs only to grab her and take her to his parents’ place. There, she is pressured with threats of shame-to-your-family if she leaves without acquiescence. My friend told me that he knew a girl who had been kidnapped six times, but always escaped. One time the suitor’s grandmother had laid across the threshold of the house – “if you step over me, you will be cursed to solitude.”

Sometimes, though, a kidnapping could be romantic. That very same day Abay had gotten a call from his friend. He had kidnapped his long-time love, with only token resistance. It was kind of like eloping, Kyrgyz-style.

It was a barbaric tradition, perhaps, but not without its success stories. Meerim and Rustam seemed genuinely happy, and their baby sure was cute.

The birth of the new baby made Sary Satylganov a great-grandfather three times over. Yet if great-grandfathers seem rare to you, then allow me to introduce you to to Sary’s zaddim – his great great great great great great grandfather. Yes, the Kyrgyz have a word for that, and every great grandfather in between. His name was Tynym, and he probably lived in the 1600s. Sary knew Tynym’s brother’s name, too, and their family history – they had lived in the mountainous region of Naryn before being forced out by a local khan. So when Sary spoke of his eagle hunting ancestry, it was not an abstraction. He knew them all by name – Bokchu and Zhentai, Zhaman and Abylabey. They had all been hunters.

Here is a chart for your reference. Can you even name your kubarim?


1. Father – ata

2. Grandfather – chon ata

3. Great grandfather – baba

4. Great great grandfather – kubarim

5. Great great great grandfather – jotom

6. Great great great great  grandfather – pushtum

7. Great great great great great grandfather – narkym

8. Great great great great great great grandfather – zaddim

9. Great great great great great great great grandfather – zalim

10. Great great great great great great great great grandfather – tegim


It is considered an obligation in Kyrgyzstan to at least know up to your narkym. Your own personal list of ‘zheti ata’, or seven fathers, is passed down by any good Kyrgyz dad. My idea of drawing out a family tree seemed strange to Sary, for genealogy here is not a matter of written records but of oral history. Thinking of it all left me awestruck – a family spread over hundreds of years;  a memory of a man, undying.

I tried to help keep the tradition alive. Hovering of the stroller, I whispered to the newborn. “You never got to meet him, but there was once a man named Tynym. He was your great great great great great great great great great great grandfather. Remember him…”


3 Comments leave one →
  1. E lin permalink
    June 24, 2012 6:01 am

    I wonder if they will kidnap foreign females for a bride?? That is a scary thought!

  2. Beth permalink
    April 18, 2014 7:04 pm

    And do any of them know their seventh mother?


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