The Yurt : mobile home of the Kyrgyz pastoralists
Extracted from M.Nazif Shahrani

"The Kyrgyz 'Aq Oey' (white house: Yurt) is the mobile abode used [traditionally] year round by the Kyrgyz. It is a round tent made up of a circular, perpendicular wall of collapsible wooden latticework and a domed roof. The roof is formed by light poles that are tied at one end into the lattice wall frame and the other end fitted like spokes of a wheel into the rim of the circular chimney frame. The chimney frame, which is the highest point of the domed structure, stands about three to four meters from the floor of the yurt, which varies from about four to eight meters in diameter. It is covered first by a layer of straw mats around the latticework and then by a layer of thick felt especially made for the yurt. The entrance to the yurt is always placed opposite the persistent northwesterly wind, and fitted with a flexible felt-covered reed mat door. The structure is also equipped with an adjustable piece of felt for a chimney cover. By adjusting the cover it is possible to control the level of indoor lighting and the amount of smoke in the yurt, and to prevent snow and wind from erntering.

When the yurt is covered with new felt and is well kept, it is a very well-insulated and comfortable shelter. It is fairly airtight during the winter and easy to adjust for air circulation during warm days, of which there are very few in the Pamirs. During the winter a fire is kept going on the floor in the centre of the yurt for most of the day from sunrise to late in the evening. Generally the Kyrgyz have a single yurt per household unit so that all of the household cooking is done in one place. This is particularly important with the extreme scarcity of fuel. With the help of fire and the relatively airtight and well-insulated felt-covered yurt they have created an adequately protected microenvironment for the household against cold. Even at night during the winter the indoor temperature rarely seems to fall below the freezing point, while the outside temperatures are always at least twenty centigrade below freezing. […]

The arrangement of space in a Kyrgyz oey (House/Yurt) is simple and uniform. A section of the yurt to the left of the entrance is always partitioned off by a high screen for use as the kitchen area and storage space for household pots, pans, milk, and milk products. Opposite the entrance the family chests (wooden, leather, or tin), containing the possessions of individual household members are lined against the yurt wall. These chests are generally topped by a pile of family bedding that is placed there each morning after use. Saddles and other riding tackle, and sometimes skins containing various milk products, are stored on the right, close to the entrance. The fire is built on the ground in the centre of the yurt, directly below the chimney hole. […]Most of the household activities, including weaving on a long, horizontal loom, are done within the yurt, particularly during winter. […]

Many household items, particularly light articles in common use, are tucked into, fastened onto, or hung from the lattice frame of the yurt walls, in clear view of the occupants."

(Shahrani, M.N., "The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan. Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War"; University of Washington Press; Seattle/London 2002; Page 127/129)

The sitting order in a yurt is also uniform: the guest(s) of honour or the most senior men present are seated on the best mattresses with the back to the chests, embroidered cushions tuck to their backs. Women and men usually eat separately when guests are present. When they do eat together, women are seated to the right of the entrance, the most senior woman sitting closest to the guest of honour.

In the Eastern Pamirs colonized by the Russian and later Soviet empire, the all year round habitation of yurts has given place to steady winter accommodation, be it on winter pastures (Qeshloo) or in towns. It is only in Spring/Summer that the families move out to the summer pastures (Jailoo), usually by motorized means, to stay and tend to their herds.

The fire place has given way - in the Tajik Pamirs - to light, mobile stoves and tubes for exhaust. This has noticeably improved the climate within the yurt and decreased eye irritations quite common in the Afghan Pamirs. During the border barter between Afghan and Tajik Pamirs one could observe that stoves were becoming being bartered by the Kyrgyz of Afghanistan.

The wood for the yurt frame usually has to be imported from lower areas. In former times, Chinese Turkestan was a main source of the frames. During the barter day between the Afghan and Tajik Pamirs I could observe that the wooden frame still is a marketable good: the isolated Afghan Kyrgyz purchase them from the Tajik Kyrgyz (who can get them through Osh).

building/undoing of Yurt, charging and transport of Yurt
Details of Yurt (painting, reed mat; door; straps and felt)
Interior of Yurt
Border barter: latticework for sale; buying a stove