Our Bonus Scene this week takes us back in time to Kazakhstan’s earliest years, featuring Genghis Khan and his descendents. And, oh yes, there is a beautiful white steppe goose too.
As happens whenever Kazakhs gathered, the animated conversation was in Kazakh. I sat quietly, content to observe them all talking at once, interrupting freely, and laughing heartily and easily with each other.
In between lengthy toasts of birthday wishes to Gulzhahan, in Kazakh, Galym regaled us — in English — with tales of the glories of Genghis Khan. He was earnest in his admiration for the man Western civilization reviles as chief barbarian.
To modern-day Kazakhs, Genghis Khan was not the schoolyard bully of Western lore, but a fearless and savvy warrior whose reach would extend to four times that of Alexander the Great. One-fourth of the world’s land and one-half the world’s people were once under his control. One factoid we could agree on: he was successful.
Upon his death in 1227, the conquered lands were divided among Genghis’ three sons, according to Mongolian custom.
China and Mongolia went to the youngest, Tole, who followed his father back home, the precedent that led to the still-honored custom of the youngest son staying home with his parents.
The middle son, Shagatay, got the land that is now Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and southern Kazakhstan.
Another son, Uketay, got Siberia. Genghis must not have thought much of him.
The bulk of the land that is now Kazakhstan went to Genghis’ grandsons, sons of his oldest son, Joshi, who had preceded Genghis in death. The oldest of these grandsons, Berke, divided his bounty into three groups, the precursors of the three zhuzes or hordes that continue to define Kazakh culture today.
In the early 15th century, Tamerlane (sometimes called Timur) defeated the last Mongol Khan, ending the “Golden Horde” era and leading the way for the three zhuzes of the Kazakh Khanate to form and modern Kazakh history to begin.
Or, a beautiful white steppe goose turned into a princess and gave birth to the first Kazakh (from KAZ, the Turkish word for goose and AK, their word for white).
Both stories were equally popular.