National Geographic : 1936 Jan
WITH THE NOMADS OF CENTRAL ASIA and is horrified when the two are indis criminately mixed. Even Ala Beg, whose tongue was ever on the rampage, seemed to become a different person as he sat before the meat bowl; he dipped and chewed, his whole being absorbed in the process. It was amazing how quickly a fat sheep could disappear. When the meat was eaten the men attacked the bones, breaking them and sucking out the marrow; then there was a veritable sucking chorus. The waiting women and children began where we men left off, and the powerful tongues and lips of the servants ferreted out any marrow which the children had left. The circle of dogs snarled and fought over what remained. Although everyone had more meat than he really wanted, the game of finding a shred of flesh continued until the bones were meatless and marrowless. Then the boy with the pitcher and towel made the rounds again. All eyes began to wander, the lolling feasters straightened up, we stretched out our palms heavenward, "Allah ekber rakmet," the motion of strok ing our chins, and the feast was over. So was all strenuous endeavor for the re mainder of the day. Days of feasting, racing, and visiting fol lowed, and the young bloods had their nights out. Sometimes when the host's wife spread the blankets around the central yurt fire in the evening there were only four of us: Sayjan Beg, Yacup Beg, Foo Ben Yee, and myself. "The boys must have their fling while they are young," laughed the jolly Tun gan; "when they become the head of a yurt and are raising a family they can no longer go a-courting." THE BRIDAL PRICE OF A KIRGHIZ DEBUTANTE The Kirghiz and Kazaks marry their daughters off for a price, just as Marco Polo relates that they did 600 years ago, and as they probably had been doing for untold centuries before the Venetian visited Asia. The rich man buys the daughter of a rich man for a high price; the servant, the daughter of a servant for a song. The prices are in units of livestock: so many cattle, sheep, and horses. The units are the kara and yanduk (like a system of dollars and cents). A kara is equal to a cow or horse (depending upon the quality); one yanduk is equivalent to a sheep. Bridal prices run from as high as forty kara and a thousand yanduk (forty horses and a thousand sheep) for the daughter of a very rich man, down to as low as one kara (a cow or horse) for a poor servant girl. "Now there," said Ala Beg, pointing to a little 13-year-old girl with a myriad of tiny, glistening, black braids of hair; "is a hold out. Our host wants 20 kara and 100 yanduk for his daughter." "But she's pretty enough." The girl was coquettishly smiling and shaking her braids at us, obviously enjoying the attention. He pointed to a little servant girl carry ing water. "Her price is but 16 yanduk (16 sheep); a servant boy from another camp is paying two sheep a year for her." The girl passed near. "When do you go to your husband's yurt?" Ala Beg called after the child, but she ran and hid behind a yurt. One of the servant women laughingly gave us the information. "Eight more sheep-four more years." I singled the little girl out later, and with a lump of sugar inveigled her into telling me her age-eight years. They marry from ten on up. An old priest in Kuldja told me how he had lost ten sheep on a Kazak bride. "She was homesick and cried incessantly until I finally had to let her go home." "How old was she?" I inquired. "Eleven, and her father wouldn't return the ten sheep," he added disconsolately. The highlands were becoming populous; groups of yurts sprang up overnight. Our party was kept in the saddle, visiting the yurts of the new arrivals and meeting with the more important stock owners. These men had puzzling problems to ask Sayjan Beg, the man who had had an education; they all wistfully envied him. Did he think it was a good time to trade sheep in the market at Kuldja? Was the new govern ment stable? Would the taxes be increased for the next year? Sayjan Beg was greatly respected and not a little feared by the rich Kirghiz. OFF TO VISIT THE KALMUCKS And then one evening, after we had lis tened for long hours to a twanging two stringed lute, Sayjan Beg announced: "We have found peace among the Kirghiz tribes men; we must keep our promise and visit the pastures of the Kalmucks." Next morning horses were rounded up, saddles thrown on, and we were off.