Abai and Unknown Spiritual and Cultural Values of Kazakhstan

Kazakh literature has been presented to British audiences for almost two centuries, but only recently is it really starting to get noticed. Great literature, old and new is coming to the surface of the literary world and with it bringing renewed interest and engagement. One such famous writer is Abai, and many researchers have dedicated their life’s work to his broader recognition. 

British people started to learn about the existence of the Kazakh state thanks to the efforts of the first Kazakh scientist, historian, ethnographer, folklore, geographer, and artist, Chokan Valikhanov in 1865. As one of the authors who presented such information, Valikhanov opened the door to the wider world and his works can today be found in the British library. 

The valuable contribution into the introduction of the Kazakh Culture to the British people was the house of Abai that opened in 1995 in London, thanks to the efforts of talented Kazakh writer, Rollan Seisenbayev. This year is the 131st studying period (1889-2020) of Abai and the Kazakhs are naturally very proud of Abai Kunanbaiuly.

 I consider, Abai to be unique with his specific peculiarities as a coach and tutor of all humans and the ideas of the group of “Abaeologists” help us accept him more confidently as he deserves to be distinguished among world celebrities. While surveying the long discovery thoughts on Abai’s works, I have found revolutionary attempts to portrait him as a phenomenon, but five such researchers stand out.

First, Mukhtar Auezov, a well-known writer, whose novel “The Path of Abai” has been translated into 114 languages. Although he had discovered the philosophy of Abai’s “Holistic man”, he was not able to share his ideas properly because of the politics during those years. As we know from history, the earlier efforts of Mukhtar Auezov, who did try to open our eyes to the nature of Abai’s world, the poet’s East was richer than his West.  The Eurasian Creative Guild (the UK) have made a significant contribution into the development and popularization of Mukhtar Auezov’s works to the European platform, especially during the cultural week of  the ECG dedicated to the 120th  anniversary of this great Kazakh writer in October 2017 in London. The ECG literature festival event in Brussels in 2019 was also full of content with cultural programs dedicated to the 175th anniversary of Abai Kunanbayev. 

Second, one of the strongest researchers, Professor Mekemtas Myrzakhmet is disappointed with the fact that researchers misunderstood Abai’s ideas for a long time during soviet period. The absence of a system work between Abai research institutions in the country today makes him sad. He has contributed a lot to the opening up of Abai. Professor Myrzakhmet points to the rude mistakes in the old Kazakh history books under the influence of the colonizers and he believes more in the written history of the Turkic people. He explains the meanings of Abai’s poems, as the main goal of Abai to have an “intellectual nation”. While reading Abai, we should pay attention to the deep meaning of every line in his poems and sayings. This is in contract to the large number of “parrots” who just recite Abai without efforts to understand. According to his consideration, the ministries of education and science, culture and sport should collaborate to prepare textbooks on Abai’s “holistic man” and introduce Shakerim’s ideas to encourage students to value them as our national heritage and accept them as spiritual food. Professor Myrzakhmet says that obsession and addiction to power and wealth make the people spoilt, forgetting their cultural upbringing and traditions. 

Third, another serious researcher, philosopher, Professor Garifolla Esim insists on analyzing Abai’s ideas through Islamic Philosophy. There clearly pointed directions of Sufism by Yassaui presented in Abai’s “Book of words” are an essential legacy of a nation and it should be valued as an eternal will.  

Fourth, a hardworking researcher, Asan Omarov defines Abai as a reformer of Sufism and he presents Abai’s literary period with the correct order. This year, a new edition of Abai’s works by Asan Omarov is seeking a publisher. He proved the correctness of the efforts of the historic Alkei Margulan, connected with 34 poems of “New law” and the collection of Abai added with 20 more newly discovered poems from Omsk archives.

Fifth, the years of independence in Kazakhstan have allowed anyone to obtain sources from Abai and create their own understanding in his philosophy. Well-known economist, Professor Orazaly Sabden, has presented an exclusive program with the right instruments on how to use the “Holistic man” in his book, “The mechanisms of Abai’s edifications realization in the XXI century”.  Professor Sabden suggests that the East Kazakhstan oblast should be given the name of a poet, none other than Abai Kunanbayev.

Text by Bakhtygul Makhanbetova

Author’s Note

I have tried to mention some important ideas from the Kazakh literary world to give a general picture. Popular British poet, translator, and composer John Farndon, is currently working on translating the opera “Abai” into English and we hope to enjoy a performance in London in 2021. John Farndon has collaborated with Central Asian authors fruitfully for a long time and his creative tandem with Rollan Seisenbayev presented beautiful results in 2019. I would like to thank other British authors, very talented people such as David William Parry, Caroline Walton, Steven Bland, Nick Rowan, Laura Hamilton, and many others. Big respect and many thanks to the vice–president of the ECG, Marat Akhmedjanov, who has made significant efforts to build the bridge between East and West.  I would like to recommend you Herold Belger’s book “Goethe and Abai” edited by David William Parry, to get the full information of the relations of Titans’ spiritual connection through the time like Goethe (1780), Lermontov (1840), and Abai (1892) based on the poem, “ Wanderer’s Night Song”.