21 February 2006

Kyrgyz Funeral

We went to a funeral today for the grandmother and mother of some good friends of ours. It was a little different than other similar things we've done while we've been here or in the Middle East because we were invited not to see a funeral, but because we're friends of the family. I hope it makes sense what I mean. It was a beautiful day.

They set up a yurt in the yard in front of the house. People came for something like a viewing and to visit the family in the morning, then the family prepared the body for burial before noon. The imam was there and there was a lot of praying, chanting, and mourning over the body. A lot was familiar from the Qur'an. It was beautiful to hear again. Then the men went with the body to the cemetery and the women went to a meal at a hotel. This family is better off than many, so they were able to do the meal at a nice hotel with plenty of horse meat.

I did try some today (tasted a lot like beef), but I couldn't bring myself to try any of the unknown pieces. Luckily, they have a handy system here- you take home all your leftovers. They loaded up our plates with all kinds of horse parts (and I mean all kinds), we all ate a bit, then we loaded up the plastic bags provided by the hotel. After we got home, we gave our meat to one of the people on the street who would appreciate it far more than we would.

I do love the salads here. One in particular is my favorite- thinly sliced cabbage, onions, garlic, and carrots. I need to get a recipe for that one.

They said several prayers at the meal also. Some were from the Qur'an, others were in Kyrgyz. They prayed specifically for the family members, including the ones we know, which was nice to hear. The men came to the hotel after the women had finished so they could have their meal. Handy system. Several of the closest female members of the family weren't at the women's meal though, although one of the daughters was in charge of the meal. Since our friends weren't at the meal, they assigned other relatives to keep track of us at the hotel.

The woman who died was 96 years old. She was born in 1909 and it's interesting to think about all the things she saw during her life. She was born 8 years before the Russian Revolution, saw the entire history of the Soviet Union, then lived her last 14 years in the uncertainty of the new Kyrgyz Republic.


  1. Brave.

    I am not a very exploritory eater.

    What an interesting experience. When you said, dressing the body, are their religious aspects to that?

    In a way, that is very simular to many of the funerals I have experienced here.

    Dressing the body. The viewing. A service. Cemetary. back to the church for a meal.

  2. Yes, it was very much the same in many ways as funerals are all over the world. I especially liked how the family was so involved. Certainly we're involved in the US, but there was a sense that this was the last thing the family could do for her and they were going to do a good job and do it themselves. I think we've lost that a bit in the US with our funeral directors and everything.

    From what I was told by several Kyrgyz friends, there really wasn't any religious aspect in dressing the body. But there could be and they just weren't that specific.

    A Kyrgyz friend of ours who is a Mormon was asked what his family would do for his funeral since he wasn't Muslim anymore. To me though, I didn't really see anything at the funeral that would be inappropriate at a Mormon funeral. Besides, most of the people here, at least in Bishkek, aren't really very Muslim anyway.

  3. Wouldn't you just have loved to have met that woman and talked to her and plumbed her memory?

    My mother has dementia at 75. I so wish I'd asked her more questions before her mind went. I asked her the other day if she remembered when my father used to beat her up and she said, "no."

    I don't think she does, either. which is probably a blessing.

    But I think this is a good reason for a good honest history of oneself. I sure would have benefited.