Seven things a modern Kazakh wants

Seven things a modern Kazakh wants

I moved back from Kazakhstan last year, but I still have posts that never quite made it to the blog. Here’s one on the good life: 

Seven is a popular numbers among Kazakhs, as our language teacher reminded us the other day. First, you listing your seven grandfathers (jeti ata), telling you which Kazakh clan and lineage you’ve come from. But there are a legendary seven treasures (jeti qazyna) that bring the Kazakh man a good life. These are:

  1. Er jigit, a brave young man
  2. Sulu eyel, a beautiful wife
  3. Ilim-bilim, useful knowledge
  4. Zhuirik at, a swift horse
  5. Kumai tazi, a loyal hunting dog
  6. Kyran burkit, a skilled eagle
  7. Beren myltyk, a good gun
Older Kazakh women on horseback. Photo from

Yet lives change, and values shift.  Colonized by the Russian empire in the 1840s, Kazakhs gradually began to live in villages rather than on horseback. And forcibly settled by the Soviets in the 1930s, they moved onto communal farms.

Now, even in the modern “free trade” economy, young people continue to migrate to major cities in the hope of education and a good career. Before, you needed a horse and gun to survive. Yet as we observe students sipping lattes in a campus cafe, we agree that the good life has changed. Half-jokingly, then, we give you a new list of what every Kazakh desires:

  1. Jas isker, a shrewd young businessman
  2. Sulu kyz, a pretty girlfriend
  3. Sheteldan Bakalavr, an international bachelor’s degree
  4. Kymbatti mashina, an expensive car
  5. Jana sotka, a flashy cell phone
  6. Kop aksha, lots of money
  7. And an okrannok (guard) in place of that gun, to guard everything above

As I look over this list, I’m tempted to say that Kazakhstan is more status-oriented than before. But it may be that all our ancestors were just as attuned to status. Now, our status markers have shifted. From horsemen to business men, and guns to cell-phones, saddles to cars:

A bride and groom pose for photos in Astana, Kazakhstan

It’s true, our Kazakh teacher smiles.

“Elu zhilda – el zhana.”  In fifty years, a country is new again.


  1. Asim Esen

    This is so interesting. I am a Fulbright Scholar teaching here in Kazakh Agrotechnical University, Astana. The other day, 7 of us (my wife and I, two Polish and one Scottish visitors, and three Kazakhs) took a trip to Burabay in a minibus provided by the university. After a wonderful day of sightseeing and hike and stay at a guest house, we returned to Astana. On the way back, the very same thing you wrote in your blog came up–the seven things that are important to a Kazakh. I know a little Kazakh. So, one of our Kazakh hosts wrote them for me on a piece of paper in the Cyrillic script. Today, I decided to copy them but could not decipher his hand-writing. It is a weekend, I could not wait until Monday to seek help. So, I googled it, there you were with the same list that I could read and transliterate back from Latin script to Cyrillic. Thanks a million.

    By the way, we are all members of that infamous, wise species Homo sapiens. We all love status and be admired and envied. So, what is important to urban Kazakhs is also important to anyone on this planet. We are all the same but in slightly different ways.

  2. Cee

    Hi Asim. Burabay is fun, so I hope you had a good time. I’d agree with you that these desires — both old and new — are pretty universal; it’s just the cultural markers of status that change in particular times and spaces. Thanks for dropping by!

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