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u I G H U R   C u s t o m s   a n d   t r a d i t i o n s 

The Uighurs have original and interesting rites and customs that in many respects have preserved traditional elements up to this day. We will describe rites related to the following: the birth, upbringing of children, wedding, and funerals.


1. Wedding. 

Wedding is the brightest celebration of the Uighurs. It has importance not only for individuals, but also for society, since the marriage means the emergence of a new family in society. 

Wedding ceremony consists of three stages - pre-wedding, wedding and post-wedding. 

As a rule, a ritual of asking in marriage precedes the wedding.  Father of the groom along with other senior relatives and respected men, whom it is difficult to refuse to, come forward as the matchmakers. 

Having arrived in the house of the bride, the matchmakers inform the households of the purpose of their visit. Usually, the parents do not give their consent immediately. After persuasions, and sometimes, in the following visit, the matchmakers finally come to consent. The obligatory condition is the approval of the marriage on the part of the bride’s close relatives. Mostly, it bears formal character, in a kind of homage to them. 

The large "toy" - festivity is preceded by the “tatliq çai “ - the sweet tea ceremony, (sometimes the  maqul çeji” - the consent tea ceremony, the “tazym çeji”, “kiçik çai” – the small tea ceremony), in which gifts are presented to the bride’s parents for the consent, and the parties arrange conditions and terms of "toy", and that is of specially importance, set the "seliq" – so-called redemption for the bride. 

The "seliq" consists of gifts to the bride, her parents and relatives. It also includes the "aniliq" - gifts from the groom to the bride’s mother, as gratitude for her taking care about her daughter. The “seliq” seems to replace bride-price, existence of which in antiquity is reflected in the Chinese annals... » 24

Besides the gifts, the "seliq” covers all expenses associated with the wedding festivities in the bride parents’ house. Amount and quality of the "seliq" always were different and were defined by well-being of the groom. 

At present, large role in social life of Uighur community belongs to “zhigit beşi” – the head of the men. It is an elective position, to which the assembly of a community appoints a respected man who perfectly knows all rites and traditions and possesses necessary managerial skills. 

In many communities, in the presence of the matchmakers, “zhigit beşi” announces amount of the “seliq” set by the parties, and can, under some circumstances, solve certain arguable issues in favor of the groom and bride. 

Even nowadays, sometimes one can observe an old form of marriage by elopement of the bride – the “qyz apçeqış”. This phenomenon takes place when the bride’s parents would not give their consent for marriage. However, as frequently it happens in life, the parents soon after their daughter’s elopement would come to consent and celebrate wedding.

The wedding lasts three days. The day before wedding the groom’s party delivers foodstuffs for festivities in the bride’s house – the “mal-gürüç" – cattle-rice. Along with foodstuffs they bring a bull-calf, with a white kerchief tied round his horns. The bride should have the same kerchief on the wedding day. 

During the day the groom’s relatives are shown around in the bride’s house and hand over the brought foodstuffs. Close relatives and friends are invited in the house of the groom and the bride to cut carrots - the “sävzä qaläm” for a dish called “polo” – pilaf. The festivity and ceremony of the parties’ introduction – the “täg malisi” take place in the evening. There is an interesting detail - at the beginning of the festivity the bride’s relatives lay down the table for their new relatives, and later on the groom’s relatives assume the rights of the hosts and attend to the bride’s party. 

The day before the wedding the bride’s girlfriend and her mother come to the bride’s parents. They bring two trays of sweets and take the bride to their home on the bride’s parents’ consent. In their house in the wedding day they have hen party – the “qiz mälisi”. The groom has a bachelor party in his friend’s house. 

Morning of the wedding day, the guests arrive, first men, and then - women. Music, dances and plentiful feast accompany the wedding. 

After the festivity has ended the groom’s party begins a ceremony of the dowry chest opening – the “sanduq eçiş”. Contents of the chest including groom’s dowry and gifts from his relatives are shown to the guests. Afterwards contents of the bride’s chest are shown. On the part of the bride, a highly respected woman appointed for the show displays her dowry. After the ceremony, the gifts and chests with contents are handed over to the groom’s mother. 

The crucial moment of any wedding is the ceremony of wedding – the "neka". Despite that in the earlier days, the presence of the bride in the ceremony was not necessary, at present, both the groom and the bride take part in it. Therefore, the ceremony of neka is preceded by the bride pricing of the bride from her girlfriend’s house by the groom’s friends with the help of "yanga", the wife of the groom’s brother or uncle, most glib and eloquent woman. 

The bride and groom are taken into the bride’s house, where in the presence of the proxies, the Muslim wedding - neka takes place. Mullah carries out the neka. The bride and groom are given to drink from a bowl with mixed water, salt, bread and sugar. The salt is a symbol of strength of their feelings. Sugar is a symbol of sweet life, the bread - welfare. That who has eaten up bread first, believed to be ruling their family. 

After the neka, the bride is taken into the groom’s house. She says good-bye to her parents and the latter bless her for the family life. 

The brightest moment of the wedding ceremony is the kindling of a campfire in front of the groom’s house before new wife enters the house of her spouse. Newly-weds, hand in hand, go around the fire thrice. The purging by fire means to protect from adversity and bring happiness to the new family. The rite is similar to the ancient rite of many Turkic nomads to walk a newly wife around the fire for three times in the yurt of her husband. The fire as the aversive force is used by many peoples of Central Asia. 

The day after the wedding festivities, the groom’s parents receive the new wife’s relatives and friends. The custom has different names. Some call it “uzaşqa", the others - "çilaq". The purpose of it is to get closer for the relatives of the newly wedded. 

The young husband with his friends visits his wife’s senior relatives – the “salamğa keliş”. The latter give him presents and things necessary in use. 

There is another interesting traditional custom, which exists nowadays. It is the visiting of the new wife’s parents by the newly weds on the first Friday after the wedding. The Uighurs have been observing this custom from time immemorial. After the wedding the young married woman visited her mother every Friday. This day the mother combed the daughter’s hair and braided it. The roots of the tradition could be traced to matrilocality. 


2. Birth of a child


The birth of a child is one of the most important moments in the life of a family. Nowadays, the Uighurs observe the following traditions, related to the birth and upbringing of a child such as the birth, the giving the name, ceremonial putting of a child into a cradle – the “böşük toy”, forty days – the “qiriq süyi”, boy circumcision – the “sünnät toy” and others. 

Due to the custom, the woman gives birth for the first time in the house of her mother. This custom also has the matrilocal roots. 20-30 days prior to the delivery the mother of the woman in childbirth accompanied by some relatives and friends comes into the house of her son-in-law and asks him to let his wife to go to her house – the “tiläp eliş”. Nowadays, after a woman has given the birth at the hospital, she and her child are taken to her mother’s house right from the hospital. 

After delivery, mother of woman who recently gave birth takes care of the child and her daughter. It is believed, that newborn and his/her mother are subjects to the evil forces during the first forty days and consequently they have to be protected. In general, all rites related to motherhood and childhood, pursue one object, that is to keep a baby alive. 

The access to the new mother is limited during the 40-day period. On the 12th day the baby is being given name. The relatives of the husband and mullah are invited for the event. During this period other women come to the house and bring gifts and meal to help the hostess in her care for the newborn and his/her mother. 

On the 40th day, the child bathing (the qiriq suyi) takes place. A pinch of salt, ädräsman, half a lump of sugar, and coins are added in a saucepan. Then all present add water in the saucepan by two wooden spoons. Every woman participating in the ceremony should make her wish for the baby. In this water, after warming it up, the child is bathed. After he/she has been bathed his/her hair and nails are cut for the first time. 

The birth of following children and their “qiriq suyi” takes place in the house of the child’s father. 

In the fixed day after the “qiriq suyi”, parents of the husband come into the house of the young mother’s parents and bring gifts and foodstuffs for the “böşük toy” - ceremonial laying of the child in a cradle. Female relatives and friends are invited for the ceremony. Usually, the mother of the young mother covers the expenses associated with this rite. Besides, she makes gifts for the daughter and dowry for the newborn. This day the young mother’s sister or "yanga", who help look after the child during the period, receives many gifts. 

Nowadays, a custom called “çuşav toyı” is being restored to life in many families. As soon as a child starts walking, his legs are being hobbled. A respected older woman cuts the hobble. It is believed, that after this the child will not fall or stumble. The gathered for the rite people express their glee. The merrymaking and festivities for the women and children accompany the rite. 

The boy circumcision, the “sunnät toy” is organized in a solemn way. Usually, boys of the age of 5-7 go through circumcision. A big celebration is organized only for the first son. As a rule, it is the first celebration organized by the young father, an original examination for maturity. 

Usually hero of the occasion himself invites his relatives and friends to this holiday. In the earlier days, the boy with a relative visited all people he wanted to invite. In a village he visited literally every house, where he was given presents, sweets and kerchiefs. He would come back home all covered with the kerchiefs. At present, the invitation ceremony is much more simple. 

A mullah carries out the circumcision in a separate room. The boy is being diverted by gifts and money so that he does not have fear for the circumcision. The gathered people celebrate the holiday in other rooms with glee, music, dances and singing. 

The "mäşräp" is an ancient Uighur custom, which could be interpreted as the evening of rest. The series of it begins in the late autumn and ends in springtime.  Usually, men of the same age who live in the same region or village and have common interests gather for the "mäşräp". The participants of such gatherings are called “ottuz oğul” - thirty guys. 

The "mäşräp" is a school of ethical and aesthetic education. It reveals people who possess musical or poetic talents. The "mäşräp" is also a school of discipline and responsibility to the collective. The first thing participants of the gathering do is the election of the chairman  - "zhigit beşi", who has the right to appoint the musician, dancer, and cook. Then they elect the judge - "qazi" who can penalize an offender-"mäşräp" member. 

Such gatherings are accompanied by the singing of songs, performing muqams, and common dancing. During the "mäşräp" participants not only relax and have fun, but they can obtain a lot of new and useful information from conversations and discussions about all areas of life. Perhaps, that’s why the Uighurs call an ignorant man "mäşräp körmigän"  (that who has not seen the "mäşräp"). The "mäşräp" is also a circle of friends who are always ready to help in joy and trouble. Sometimes, participants of the same "mäşräp" are closer to each other than the relatives. 


3. Funerals 

Uighur funerals concern not only the family of the deceased, but rather the community in which he/she lived. The funerals are organized and controlled by the “zhigit beşi”, an elected chairman of the community. 

The funerals are arranged with the special respect for the deceased. The deceased is buried on the second day after the death. The households immediately inform relatives and acquaintances, who arrive right away at the house of the deceased. 

During the funerals the women wear white kerchiefs around their heads. The men tie white girdles around their waists as a token of mourning. In the next rooms to that one with the body, the women settle down and mourn over the deceased. The men meet the arriving condolers and cry out load in the courtyard or in front of the house 

Before the burial the body undergoes the procedure of washing. Four people out of the relatives and volunteers are appointed for it. The washing is considered a blessed deed, therefore volunteers could be always found. A relative from the fatherly line is always at the head of the deceased. He or she directs the others, and pours water from a jug. The others are appointed for different parts of the body, the top is washed by one, the middle - by the second, and the bottom – by the third. After the burial the washers receive some belongings, a headgear, shirt and footwear of the deceased to keep memory about him/her. 

After the washing, people are allowed to make their farewell to the deceased whose face is uncovered. After that the body is dressed in a white shirt and trousers or a gown that is sewn the day before, and shrouded in a white fabric called "kepin". 

After the farewell, the body is taken out of the house on the "taout" (a stretcher with a bow-shaped fixture). The "taout" is placed outside the house, and all gathered do the “namaz” – a prayer. After the prayer has been done, the young men lift up the "taout" and take it to the cemetery, replacing one another as they get tired. The women remain at home. 

Young men start digging the grave in the morning. The Uighurs dig the graves with an internal niche on its east side, a little bit higher than the bottom. The body is being laid in the niche, so that the head is slightly turned westward. Then the entrance to the niche is laid by bricks and the grave is covered with ground. 

The memorial services are held on the third, seventh, fortieth days and a year later. Meals are not cooked in the house of the deceased before the three-day memorial service. It is believed, that the soul of the deceased hovers around the house for the first three days and can take offence – “ärva körilidu”. The relatives, friends, and neighbors bring the food in this period. The immediate relatives of the deceased have no any duties and obligations prior to the seven-day memorial service. They are preoccupied with the mourning over their loss. The remote relatives, other kin and friends take up all the duties and obligations for organizing and arranging the funerals and memorial services. Every community has utensils bought for community dues. They also have the "taout", tables, benches, shovels and all the necessary for fulfillment of the rite. 

The mourning is lifted up from the relatives on the seven-day memorial service. The men remove the girdles from their waists and the women remove kerchiefs from their heads. Their friends and relatives take them to their places and cook the memorial dinner in their houses. Friends from the "mäşräp" actively participate in the funerals during those days. 

The light is lit for forty days in the house of the deceased in memory of him/her. Every night relatives gather in this house, pray and cook memorial round cakes - "zhit". The women bring meals for the immediate relatives of the deceased during forty days. 

During the 1-year memorial service, the relatives receive gifts -"qarliq” and the mourning is lifted up from them. 

The funeral rites have been preserved well throughout the centuries. They are most conservative rites. The wedding rites and the rites related to upbringing of children have changed a bit. Even though the Uighurs of different regions might have slightly different procedures, the fundamentals of the rites are the same.




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