Kyrgyz Kalpak (Kyrgyzstan)

Area map of central AsiaKyrgyz Kalpak

by Risbek Richard Hewitt

courtesy of a special order from Auntie’s Bookstore

This is a strange little book. When you are writing a blog about reading one book from every country in the world, a small, thin book is appealing. (On a professional note, although I work in the book trade, I’ve never seen book without a Western ISBN or EAN number: this one lists a Russian and a Kyrgyz ISBN.)

Anyway. On to the writing. (Btw, lots of the publishing information is in Cyrillic. What fun! Thanks to the Rosetta Stone, I have about a kindergartner’s fluency in Russian, so I enjoy sounding out basic words.)

What I Thought I Was Getting

Ala Too Mountains with SnowA guide to Kyrgyz traditional dress, with side notes on culture and history.

Instead, I got a rambling religious treatise by a Westerner who seems to have converted to Islam and dedicates the book “to all who wear the white kalpak“. Reading it is a lot like going on a road trip with a planned agenda, and then detouring to somewhere bizarre but interesting. Here’s a sample:

“I am a descendant of the wild Anglos and treacherous Saxons who are some of the wildest, cruelest, and darkest people in world history. We are responsible for killing and enslaving many peoples, including the American Indians–a people very similar to the  honorable and noble Kyrgyz. My people are worse than the Russians, who are also responsible for the historical massacres of many of your fathers.

Ala Too Mountains, with poppies“I cannot cover my shame. A deep sense of regret, sorrow, and shame grips my heart. I ask you, my Kyrgyz hosts, to forgive me, and my fathers, and my brothers for the sins we have committed against you, and your fathers, and your brothers.

“I am unworthy to write this book, and would not assume such a presumptuous task if it were not for the voice of God…”

Is it just me, or does he sound like he’s writing to the Noble Savages from the 18th century…?

The Great White Kalpak

Men wearing the white kalpakThe ak kalpak is worn on the head of Kyrgyz men as a symbol of their being the head of the family, but it’s also symbolic of the “great Ala-Too Mountains, fatherland of the sacred Kyrgyz people and considered holy by those who live in them…” (in yurts).

(Mind you, Wikipedia says Ala Too translates as “motley”. The Motley Mountains.)

Lest you get the impression that Kyrgyz people live in some sort of medieval country, at right are a few photos of the capital, Bishkek. The author apparently taught at the Academy of Agriculture there. Capital of the countryYes, there are modern cities in Kyrgyzstan.

Back to the white kalpak:

  • Kyrgyz can’t kill a  man with a kalpak on.
  • Kalpaks can’t be put on the ground.
  • Kalpaks must be laid next to the head at night, and never by the feet.
  • Kalpaks are supposed to be warm in winter and cool in summer, with illness-reducing properties.
  • Kalpaks must never be lost or traded, lest you lose your head or your mind.

Apartments in BishkeshThe book then goes off into a rambling dissertation on how because the kalpak applies no pressure (or fear) to the head, the owner of the kalpak is broad-minded. “Surely God gave the kalpak to the Kyrgyz who love freedom and wisdom. But now, it seems that foreign teachers are challenging the authority of the kalpak and your freedom to think. Our world-view or religion is always the first place to be assaulted…”

Muslim fashion show in Bishkek
Muslim fashion show in Bishkek

The next chapter is called The 7 Responsibilities of Every Muslim. Then he goes off on a tangent about the Abrahamic faiths, Cain and Abel, and how hats made of plant material must be unpleasing to God while animal sacrifice and hats made of skin must indicate that the religion is pleasing God.

Then he asserts that the prophet Jacob in the Bible and the Jakyb of the Manas Epos could be one and the same, “…as you will realize when you read all the Muslim holy books and the Manas Epos…when you put on your kalpak and fulfill your Muslim responsibility.

“The Bible says Jacob adopted Manas and Ephraim from their father Joseph. You Kyrgyz still practice this same custom to this day.”

And What About Jesus?

The Islamic holiday of Eid
The Islamic holiday of Eid

According to the author, Jerusalem has experienced so much war because it didn’t welcome Jesus when he rode there on a donkey in Luke 19. “So you think Afghanistan, Tadjikstan, and Chechniya welcome Kydyr Jesus at this time? Could their wars be connected to their rejection of Jesus, the blessed Kydyr? Are they ruining the honor of all Muslims by ignoring the prophet of peace?…

Hijab ban
Schoolgirls protest a 2009 ban on wearing the hijab to school…in a country that is 75% Muslim

“You are the honorable Kyrgyz, descendants of the greatest people who ever lived; I beg you…make peace between the warring peoples of this world, then you’ll be the most noble Muslims of our modern times. ”

Rating: This book is super interesting, although the author is obviously delusional in a way that only religious fanatics can be. Although he did, according to Wiki, start a seed project in the high mountains and does love the Kyrgyz people.

Four yurts (the yurt is probably the mysterious House of Jacob’s God and Tent of David which God will use to enlighten many nations.) Uh, huh.

As for the picture at right and above, isn’t it strange for a Westerner to think that religious freedom is under attack in a far-off land…the Muslim religion?

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