Dungan Traditions and Customs
In a speech to give the people of Kazakhstan inspiration for the coming year 2014, Head of State Nursultan Nazarbayev said, “We are the people of Kazakhstan! We share the destiny of Mangylyk El, our great and most decent Kazakhstan! Mangylyk El is the national idea of one home, the dream of our ancestors. Over 22 years of independent development, chief values have been created to unite all Kazakhstani people and make the basis for our country. They are no lofty ideals. The values are the experience of the great Kazakhstani Way, which has withstood the challenge of time. National unity, social peace and consent result from shared history, culture, and language.” Sharing home, the Turkic communities of Kazakhstan have similar culture and language, religion, and legacy of customs.
As the saying goes, a man with no Fatherland is like a bird with no wings. Many ethnic groups were destined to leave their ancestral land to find shelter in stranger parts. The Dungans are one of them. The Kazakh hospitality attracted the Dungans. The expatriate community was able to adopt the local traditions and learn the local trades. Migration did not prevent the Dungan people from preserving their customs and traditions. For instance, they have a number of traditions related to musical instruments, such as the sykhuzkh, the erkhuzkh as well as wind and stringed instruments. They were traditionally used not only for festivities but also before departing for war. Victories were accompanied with cheerful marches, while defeats were indicated with a sorrowful melody. Music is a way to lament for the deceased, as it is with the Kazakhs.
Turkic traditions and customs are generally similar. So are those of the Kazakhs and the Dungans. Let us look at marriage. When the bride comes to the groom’s house, a feast is arranged. The table shows an abundance of food; people sit to it and make edifying speeches. First, tea is served. It is followed by the traditional dish called Dungan noodles. Mostly men cook festive dishes, while women are in charge of easier jobs, like peeling carrots and potatoes, or washing the dishes. It is meant to express a respect for women and wish the newlyweds a life as clear as the dishes are. The gathering receives sweet treatments, and the seniors congratulate the new couple. Another wedding tradition is water pouring. It is done to symbolize a love for the bride as pure as the water.
Under the Dungan tradition, the groom comes to his bride’s house, takes her hand and asks her parents to bless them. When the bride’s father has blessed them, the groom’s friends and family enter the house to collect the dowry. At that moment, the bride’s young male relatives make a fire in the center of the house to prevent them from getting the dowry. The bride can only take her dowry if the groom’s people win. Sometimes the latter give money instead. The rite is both fun and a commercial activity. The flame is meant to symbolize a sparkling love to light the newlyweds’ life. The Dungans celebrate wedding all together. Another interesting tradition is that of walking the groom around the shed. The bride is taken there to welcome him. He gives her a gift from his pocket. When the celebration is over, the two families visit each other and pay homage mutually with the help of an eight part treatment.
Source of information: “Sons and Daughters of the Model Family”. Almaty, 2000. Sanat Publishing House