My Chinese Village (Part-5)

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Our Nomadic Neighbours
In the fall and winter months, nomads camp on the hills surrounding our village. Most of them are either Kirghiz or Kazakh Turks. Although their language is a little different from ours, we can still understand one another. Each year the nomads’ children spend a few months in our school studying with us, so I even have a few nomad friends.

Nomads are a part of our life and al-Hamdulillah, we are all Muslims. I have visited them in their unique circular tents (called “yurts” in English) and have seen how they make and erect them.

Nomads for most part of the year are on the move, always looking for greener pastures for their animals. Therefore they should be able to move quickly, even with their homes! And thousands of years ago, nomadic people in Central Asia developed a very practical way of making a light-weight, portable dwelling.

By sprinkling water on layers of sheep's, camel's, or yak's wool, a very durable felt matting could be made. Lattice walls of the circular tent, called an oy in Turkic languages (modern Turkish ev means "house"), were made from branches that were bent until they met in a central "roof ring" called a tunduk. Felt mats were placed over the wooden frames. When the weather got cold, more matting could be applied and in warmer weather, mats could be removed for the circulation of fresh air.

The interior of an oy is very attractive. The doorway is covered with a colourful felt rug with beautiful stitched patterns on it. On the inside, long, narrow hand-woven  malbands are wrapped around the frame poles to hold the tent wall together. All the many practical floor coverings and wall hangings are hand-made by Kirghiz women.

The typical oy is divided into three parts. The older members of the family and honoured guests sit directly across from the entrance. Male family members stay on the right side of the oy. Women work in the left side in the ashkhana, or kitchen. This is screened off from the rest of the oy by beautiful reed matting.

A typical oy can be quickly and easily erected and taken apart. The wooden frames and all the inside and outside coverings can be loaded onto a single camel or yak.

MashaAllah, nomads as you can see, are very selfsufficient. They can live for months on end in very remote areas and live on the dairy products provided by their animals. Here you can see my friend's Kirghiz oy. A felt covering has been folded up to let in fresh air. On top of the yurt in front are cones of stone-hard cheese called qurut in our language. These are used to make a thick, nutritious soup in the winter months.

The circular nomadic yurt is truly an ingenious invention that enables its owners to be in total harmony with their environment. Wherever they happen to be-in the high mountain pastures in summer, the foothills in winter-they are Muslims and recall Allah's words in the Qur an in surah al-hadid, ayah 4 : wa huwa ma' kurn ayna ma kuntum. ("And He [Allah] is with you wherever you may be.")

To read the next part of this story, click here.

Luqman Nagy

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