Kazakh Pastoralism

The Kazakh people now occupy the independent country of Kazakhstan, as well as parts of northwest China, westernmost Mongolia, and the Altay region of Russia. They are best known for their pastoral economy, which was largely nomadic before 1925. It is possible to observe their annual migration into the Tian Shan Mountains of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of northwest China, where their old way of life remains strong. In Kazakhstan today, most Kazakhs are sedentary livestock herders, but their original beliefs and traditions are still preserved to a great extent.

Sandra Olsen has been accumulating documentation of the disappearing Kazakh pastoral lifestyle in order to better understand prehistoric adaptation to and settlement of the Eurasian steppes. This is accomplished by interviewing and observing Kazakh people in China and Kazakhstan. The importance of the horse in Kazakh life is detailed in a chapter of Horses Through Time called "Hooves Across the Steppes," by Victor Shnirelman, Sandra Olsen, and Patricia Rice.


Kazakh men engaged in a lively competition known as Buzkhashi, or "steal the goat." The winner is the man who succeeds in grabbing the goat carcass and riding around the goal with it.


The nomadic Kazakhs set up camp in their yurts (felt houses) while migrating up into the Tian Shan Mountains of northwest China to summer pastures.

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