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  • Aizhuzim Makhanbetazhiyeva

Exogamy in Kazakh Culture: The Principle of 'Zheti Ata' and the Importance of Knowing the Bloodline

Zheti Ata in Kazakh culture, exogamy
The family tree (by male side)

Disclaimer: The permission to share the academic work of my sister, Aizhuzim, as part of her curriculum in undergraduate studies, with a wider audience to raise more awareness about Kazakh culture, has been granted and references provided at the end.



Human diversity, which encompasses different ethnic, cultural, and social elements, is a fundamental feature of cultures everywhere. In this context, the ideas of exogamy and endogamy are crucial for establishing cultural norms and preserving social cohesiveness. Kazakhstan, an ethnically diversified nation in Central Asia, offers an engrossing case study to comprehend the significance of these traditions. Furthermore, we might consider the possibility of inclusivity in the framework of human diversity because of the cultural and religious significance of Kazakhstan. An example of such belief and practice to promote exogamy in Kazakh society is Zheti Ata. This essay's objectives are to define and examine Kazakhstan's human diversity as a result of this practice.



Diversity of Human Settlements


The remarkable diversity of human settlements is demonstrated by the ways in which different civilizations have adapted to their surroundings. The Kazakh people's nomadic lifestyle serves as a powerful illustration of this. The remarkable capacity of the Kazakh people to adjust to various situations is evidence of their tenacity and ingenuity.


Kazakhstan offers a difficult environment to live in because of its large steppes, deserts, and mountains. Nevertheless, the Kazakh nomads have succeeded in building auls, transitory villages, that blend in perfectly with their environment. The nomads can travel with their herds and obtain food in many locations since these auls double as their temporary houses.


The Kazakh people's resourcefulness and perseverance are demonstrated by their nomadic lifestyle, which also reflects the remarkable diversity of communities found within Kazakhstan. The opportunities and challenges posed by the terrain of Kazakhstan have a unique impact on each settlement. The Kazakh people exhibit extraordinary adaptability to a wide range of temperatures and terrains, spanning from the vast plains of the steppes to the hard terrain of the highlands.



Geographical Basis of Culture and Society


Geography, culture, and society are linked because the environment influences how people live, interact, and pass down customs in groups. Kazakhstan's diverse topography, which includes mountains and steppes, has encouraged a nomadic way of life that has a significant cultural impact. The strong ties to the land that define Kazakh society's geographic foundation have traditionally influenced its customs and social institutions.

In Kazakhstan, individuals share a special bond with their surroundings because of their nomadic lifestyle, which has traditionally involved moving constantly in search of pastures for their livestock. Because of the grandeur of the Kazakh steppes, several clans, and tribes were able to coexist while retaining their unique identities in a decentralized society. Zheti Ata's significance was further enhanced by the nomadic way of life, since ancestral knowledge acted as a unifying element in a community that was always in motion.



Trends in Population and Migration


Gaining an understanding of the dynamics of human variety requires an understanding of population and migration trends. In the case of Kazakhstan, a large and sparsely populated nation, there have been notable trends in migration and population distribution. Clans and tribes used to have nomadic lifestyles, which led to a dispersed population in different parts of the country.


The collapse of the Soviet Union marked a significant turning point in Kazakhstan’s demographic landscape. A significant amount of internal migration occurred in the nation as people relocated from rural to urban areas in search of employment opportunities. The original nomadic style of life was altered by this transformation, which resulted in a rise in sedentary settlements.


Although migration inside the nation has influenced the distribution of the population, Kazakhstan has historically served as a crossroads for many cultures and ethnic groups. The Silk Road, which cut through the centre of the nation, promoted trade in products, services, and people, adding to Kazakhstan's diverse fabric.




Exogamy and Endogamy in Kazakhstan


Throughout history, two practices - exogamy and endogamy - have influenced societal norms and traditions. These traditions have been essential to preserving cultural heritage and social cohesiveness in Kazakhstan.


In traditional Kazakh society, it is encouraged to marry outside of one's social group, clan, or community. This practice is known as exogamy. People form social bonds outside of their immediate community when they marry outside of it. This enhances society's social structure and encourages cultural variety. Exogamy has the advantage of preventing inbreeding within small gene pools. People who marry outside of their social group give birth to children with a greater genetic diversity, (Marriage and Family - Kazakhs, 2019).


This contributes to avoiding the negative consequences of inbreeding, such as an increased incidence of genetic defects, (A.Z. Bró et al., 2009). Exogamy therefore serves to ensure the physical well-being of future generations.


On the other hand, endogamy is the practice of marrying within the same social group. Endogamy of lineages is strictly forbidden in Kazakhstan. However, endogamy exists in terms of the same socioeconomic classes, education, and etc. Endogamy helps to retain cultural identity and practices unique to a given community. It protects the social and economic interests of the community by ensuring that resources and opportunities remain within the community.


However, excessive endogamy, can result in inherited illnesses, social isolation and fewer opportunities for people to interact with people from different backgrounds and experiences. Recessive genetic features, which can result in inherited genetic disorders, are more likely to be passed on when individuals within a closed group share a substantial quantity of genetic material. Moreover, individuals who marry only other members of their social group lose out on opportunities to interact and learn from people from other backgrounds. This may impede the progress of creating a society that is more inclusive. 




Zheti Ata – A Symbol of Cultural and Religious Inclusivity


 “From the immemorial, Kazakhs have been sensitive to their past and traditions. A Respectful attitude to history was instilled in them through the knowledge of Zheti Ata - Seven Ancestors”, (The Kazakh Tradition “Zheti Ata” – Seven AncestorsInformation Portal DimashNews, 2021).


The Seven Ancestors, or Zheti Ata, is an ancient genealogy system that is highly significant to Kazakh culture. This system, which involves tracing one's ancestry back to seven grandfathers, serves as the foundation for the identity, legacy, and sense of community of the Kazakh people.


In the old Kazakh civilization, people took great care to include their forefathers' names in their genealogy. They would list the seven grandfathers who came before them, beginning with their father, grandpa, and further ancestors.  The nation of seven clans is built upon a family tree that stretches back through the years, represented by these seven grandfathers. Moreover, there is a strict senior-to-junior line of succession for all inheritances, including those involving property, money, or even spouses. In order to maintain the lineage of the family and protect the ancestral heritage, the eldest son is entitled to inherit the family's possessions, liabilities, and obligations. This tradition serves as a way to honour and recognize the efforts made by earlier generations in addition to ensuring the preservation of wealth and property.


Zheti Ata is regarded as a representation of harmony and togetherness among Kazakhstan's various communities. It emphasises the value of fostering understanding and tolerance amongst various communities by promoting the notion that love and acceptance are not limited by cultural or ethnic differences.


For the Kazakh people, calling on the names of the seven grandfathers has great cultural significance. A Kazakh educational tradition that has been passed down from grandfather to son is to teach seven grandfathers to offspring. Children are taught to recite the names of their seven paternal ancestors at an early age. Knowing one's family history and being able to respond to the question, "Who are your seven grandfathers?" is regarded as a source of pride and honour. Consequently, it is considered shameful to be ignorant of one's seven grandfathers. Beyond just promoting exogamy marriages and stressing the value of doing so in order to preserve the purity of bloodlines, the relevance goes beyond family ties. 




Challenges and Possibilities


Even while Kazakhstan welcomes cultural variety, inclusion yet faces certain obstacles. Addressing prejudice and discrimination based on social class, religion, and ethnicity is one of these challenges. Pervasive prejudices based on social class, religion, and race make it difficult to accept and encourage intergroup marriage. Some groups in Kazakhstan continue to be disadvantaged despite initiatives to foster inclusivity.


The protection of heritage assets presents another difficulty. Many people have a strong sense of cultural commitment, which occasionally deters them from getting married outside of their group. Concern about losing one's culture, language, and customs can discourage people from getting married outside of their own group. In order to promote exogamy in Kazakhstan, people must be encouraged to accept variety while maintaining their cultural identity. 


Kazakhstan has put laws in place to promote social cohesion and inclusivity in an effort to address these problems. In order to encourage tolerance and cultural understanding, the government has funded education and awareness campaigns. Still, it takes constant work to achieve true inclusion. Encouraging equal opportunities for everyone, irrespective of their cultural or religious background, is vital. Policies that promote diversity in the workplace, in the classroom, and in public services can help accomplish this. Kazakhstan can establish an inclusive society that honours its rich cultural legacy by welcoming variety and offering forums for discussion and cooperation.





Important insights on the relationship between human diversity and inclusivity can be gained from exogamy, endogamy, and the Zheti Ata in Kazakhstan. In order to promote cross-cultural dialogue, preserve cultural legacy, and create social cohesion, these traditions and cultural sites are crucial. In spite of Kazakhstan's best efforts, there are still challenges to be faced in the struggle against bigotry and discrimination. Kazakhstan may make consistent efforts, including awareness-raising, education, and legislative actions, to develop a more inclusive society that welcomes its diverse people and ensures equitable opportunity for everyone.


In conclusion, the examination of Zheti Ata, exogamy, and endogamy illuminates the value of human diversity and the potential for inclusivity in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan can work towards a society that embraces its rich cultural legacy while protecting rights and opportunities for all of its residents by comprehending and appreciating cultural traditions and encouraging communication among varied communities.





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8.  K. Z. in P. on 20. (2016, August 20). Many Kazakh Traditions and Customs Still Relevant Today, While Some Fade Away. The Astana Times. 

9. Werner, C., & Barcus, H. R. (2015). The Unequal Burdens of Repatriation: A Gendered Analysis of the Transnational Migration of Mongolia’s Kazakh Population.


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