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Kyrgyz Culture Makes Its Way to Greenland

The kalpak comes to Greenland. Photo courtesy of Galya Morrell.

Brandishing ornate horsewhips, a horde of nomads wearing felt Kyrgyz kalpak hats roams the Arctic ice. They break into foot-stomping Kyrgyz dances. Surprise, these are not warriors from the Tien Shan, but Eskimo children of the Uummannaq Children's Home -- "the world's northernmost orphanage" -- celebrating Kyrgyzstan on a little island off Greenland.

The idea belongs to Moscow-born Galya Morrell, a journalist and Arctic explorer who works with the Uummannaq children.

Morrell, who visited Kyrgyzstan shortly before the April uprising this year, was struck by the possibility that the peoples of Greenland and Kyrgyzstan may both originate from Siberia. When she showed children in Greenland pictures of her friends in Bishkek, they “felt an immediate connection to Kyrgyz people – and this is what matters. They thought that the Kyrgyz people were beautiful, that they looked like them, and that they were related.”
 
She based her extravaganza on Kyrgyz fairy tale characters, including an adventuring orphan, Nuraika. 

“Nuraika, like them [the orphans], was parentless and homeless and came to an island looking for new friends. I did not design this script – for me Nuraika was just a regular girl from Bishkek going for a fun trip to the North – but the Uummannaq children had their own idea about it all. So, we took Nuraika for a whale hunt, she fed dogs with us and traveled to the most distant settlements.”

The idea culminated in a Kyrgyz dance competition and left its mark on more than just the children.

“From Bishkek I brought some khalats [Kyrgyz robes], kalpaks [felt hats], kamchas [horsewhips], and even felt slippers,” which became props in the dances, Morrell told EurasiaNet.org. “We had lengthy discussions on advantages of the Kyrgyz whip versus the Greenlandic one. And the khalats and hats, of course, stunned everyone. Women – hunters' wives – started talking of applying some of the Kyrgyz decorations to the seal and polar bear clothes they are constantly making for their husbands.” 


Kyrgyz Culture Makes Its Way to Greenland

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