The many faces of the Tajik celebration

By Rosalind Piggot, KF10, Tajikistan

At 7 am the other morning, I was deafened by rhythmic Tajik dance tunes.  After squirming around on my floor mattress to try to wake up fully, I opened the window.  On the street 4 stories below, one young man was dressed in a suit holding flowers.  Thirty odd neighbors were standing around watching, dancing as the songs blasted out.

zang-e akhir

The extended family of celebrations

This celebration, zang-e akhir, is just the latest in a number of celebrations I have been introduced to.

The wedding  is the king of parties – read former fellow Carrie’s blog for more on weddings.  But it is by no means the only one.  The wedding has relatives: births, nowruz and sumalak , talbon (celebration after the wedding when the couple visits the bride’s parents’ home for the first time), New Year (complete with Grandfather Snow, who is a bit like Santa Claus), circumcision, and of course zang-e akhir (which is the last day of school, and is like graduation).  There are also various informal parties, of which I attended 2 last week.  From the videos and celebrations that I attended live, most of these events involve a lot of dancing, a lot of people, and probably a lot of food.

I have seen most of Tajikistan’s official celebrations through the magic of home cinema.  When going around to someone’s house, I would say 80% of the time, the host proposed watching the video of someone’s wedding or other celebration.  And I usually watched the whole thing.  Sometimes more than once, if I stayed for a couple days and subsequent guests arrived. The first time a host asked “Do you want to watch my wedding video?” I thought  it was a bit of a weird thing to be watching.  But since then I’ve come to enjoy them.  You can even “relive” the moment by dancing along to the music in the video.

What’s the catch

Well, cost can be an issue.

I tend to apologize for the inconvenience I cause people.  For example, when they insist on driving me somewhere and then waiting for me.  They tell me that “guests are a gift from God.”*  So somehow, there is always a way to provide for them.  I recall that the Lonely Planet even cautions tourists that in some areas, even those in poverty may slaughter a sheep for you when you arrive.

So, when you are expecting guests, even for a smaller party or gathering, you have to buy food.  Meat and chocolates—relatively expensive items—are generally part of the deal.  Interestingly, if the guests are relatives, they may even scold you for spending money on luxuries (e.g. new clothing for your children) while happily eating chocolates.

Debt related to weddings became an issue, and so a law limited wedding guests to 150.  However, when you hold the wedding outside in a village, the whole village will inevitably show up.  As for zang-e akhir, the celebrations used to be more lavish.  Until a couple years ago, when a law cut down on that too.

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*When I was verifying this data with a colleague, he told me another Russian expression that “guests are a bone in the throat.”  Apparently people don’t say this much in Tajikistan, but I thought it was interesting.

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