The English-language website for the Salburun Federation, Kyrgyzstan’s largest falconry organization, was made by yours truly. I told Almaz Akunov, the federation leader, a few years ago that such a site would be a good resource for fundraising and PR, and he agreed.
The Canadian photographer Bonnie Folkins has taken several trips to Bayan-Ölgii to shoot its irresistibly photogenic eagle hunters. Her stark black-and-white photography is taken both outdoors and in a makeshift studio with a black backdrop – the resulting portraits are captivating.
Alan Gates’s site is one of the first I ever found when researching hunters in Mongolia, and he was an inspiration. He was that rare falconer who was able to see a spectacle he had always dreamed about, to trek all the way out to Central Asia (not just to Mongolia, but to Kyrgyzstan, too) to see the eagle falconry traditions there for himself. His website contains some great photo albums from his travels and a concise bibliography.
This short film from the “Sounds of the Nomads” series on Caspionet, an English-language Kazakh TV Channel, demonstrates the shyn, an ancient percussion instrument that they claim was used by eagle falconers to call their birds.
Madi Bekmaganbetov from RFE/RL’s Kazakh service did this video report on a falconry festival in Kazakhstan. As always, the footage of falconers using bagged game for hunting demonstrations is unpleasant, but the film is fairly well edited.
The Library of Congress somehow acquired an ethnographic photo album made by the Russians in 1872, and the whole thing is available online. I found one picture of a falconer. It’s titled “Syr Darya Oblast. Tashkent and the types of people found on its streets. Falconer (kushchi).”
Yesengali Sadyrbaev is a friend of mine from Almaty, famous for his realistic oil paintings of the national hunt. He did a beautiful series on Central Asian bazaars, too, and both projects are characterized by an obsessive attention to detail: he’d confer with falconers to check the posture of an eagle, or study the evolution of national clothing to make sure his hunters’ costumes were historically accurate. Lately, he’s taken several commissions from falconers who admire his work, painting them with their birds like khans of the past. He’s a talent but a modest man, and somebody whose work I’m honored to recommend.
Here’s an old article about my friend Bakyt Karnakbaev – how he came to become interested in falconry, how it has affected his life, and so on.
The Soviet magazine Vokrug Sveta (“Around the World”) published an article in 1975 about Gennady Klimov Demenchuk, a Russian man who earned respect in Kyrgyzstan as an honorary münüshkör, or local falconer. Demenchuk ran the Semiz-Bel falcon preserve in Issyk Kul, and was as knowledgable about local raptor populations as anybody.
A second article published in Vokrug Sveta in 1979 about the Russian münüshkör Demenchuk. It is written as a rather poetic narrative, following Demenchuk as he visits a münüshkör named Omur Khumaimedayev and a sayatchi, or bird-catcher, named Dzhologu.
This article for a Russian hunting magazine describes in fantastic detail the evolution of the falcon smuggling trade in Central Asia. In 1991, a Saudi prince came to visit newly independent Kazakhstan, and in the desperate years after, Arabs swept the landscape clean of Saker falcons and anything else bearing a resemblance. Central Asia sucked dry, the business moved up and over, with Russia and Mongolia now bearing the brunt.
The ornithologist Altai Zhatkanbaev and the falconer Abdolla Turlybaev wrote an article about Kazakh falconry for Fishing and Hunting Magazine in 1990. It’s quite original – one factoid tells that captured birds are so attentively cared for that nursing mothers may give their milk to sick chicks; elsewhere, a rare photo shows an ayakkap, a leather glove that can be put on an eagle to protect its feet during a grapple with prey.
Almaz Akunov, the leader of the Salburun Hunting Federation in Kyrgyzstan, did this interview with Eldiyar Elchibek from the newspaper Aikyn Sayasat. Especially useful are two quotes given by Akunov from the epic poem Manas, where falconry was described in an oral rhyme that was passed down for centuries.
An entry in the blog of the Kazakh National Sports Association lays out the scoring system for falconry competitions. One event, for example, is a kind of falconer beauty contest: if the hunter doesn’t have a national robe and hat or a bag for meat, he’s deducted points. Calling the eagle to the fist, you get 5 points if the bird flies between 50 and 75 meters, and 7 points if its between 75 and 100. Now, how many of the judges have read the rule book?
Nadezhda Plyaskina, writing for the Kazakhstani newspaper Vremya, gives a report on a falconry festival in Nura. The most interesting part of the article comes at the end, where it’s revealed that there was some controversy surrounding the decisions of the judges. Points were taken away from some of the eagles because of their ruffled legfeathers. The hunters, one judge explained, should take off the birds’ jesses at night. “Otherwise, it’s like a runner sleeping in his sneakers!”
This article from the newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda tells of a tragedy in the falconry village of Nura. One of the first Kazakh falconry schools, Zhalayir Shora, was established there in 1998, and they were awarded hunting grounds by the state. Soon after, a mysterious industrial group with counterfeit papers ripped up their land, devastating the local prey population.
This huge table gives the scientific names for birds and their Kyrgyz language equivalents, a great reference. It was taken, apparently, from the new edition of the Red Book of Kyrgyzstan, a conservation document slash ecological encyclopedia.
Foto.kg is an amazing project, an online archive of historical documents and photographs from Kyrgyzstan. Just searching for golden eage, “беркут”, you can find dozens of old photos of hunters with their birds.
Nurlan Kumar wrote this summary of a falconry festival for the Kazakh-language newspaper Ana Tili (“Mother tongue”). The title comes from a famous poem by Abay, Kansonarda Burkitshi Angga Shyghady, “At the first snowfall, the eagle falconer goes to hunt.”
The journalist Baghdaulet Batyrbekuly, writing for the Kazakh language news portal Baq.kz, gives a fine report on Kazakh falconry and its techniques. A couple of his photos are from the Zhety Kazyna museum in Nura, so they must be a major source for his info.
The Kyrgyz Wikipedia isn’t as strong as the Kazakh one, but there are still plenty of articles related to the theme of falconry, most of which have no correlates in the English edition. The Algachky aikash article, for example, describes an episode in the oral epic Manas that glorifies various kinds of hunting birds.
In Kazakhstan, “national sports” like kökpar (horseback polo with a goat carcass), audaryspak (horseback wrestling) and falconry are organized under an umbrella organization that’s controlled by the state. The Kazakh National Sports Association’s website, in both Kazakh and Russian, frequently publishes news items on falconry-related events in the country.
I was excited to find online this essay in Kazakh, by a Z.D. Adilbaeva from Western Kazakhstan State Technical University, about the use of falconry metaphors in the national art of aitys. The aitys is an improvisational poetic duel, and Adilbaeva shows how specialized terms for different-aged eagles were used by poets to surreptitiously comment on the maturity of a competitor. I’m working on a translation of the relevant commentary.
This article in a newspaper from Aktobe, Kazakhstan, takes its title from a famous poem by Abai Kunanbaev. I don’t often trust these kinds of pieces, as they tend to just rip off information from more reputable sources, but there seems to be some info here I haven’t seen before, like a list of famous Kazakh literary figures who wrote about falconry.
In an article on traditional Kazakh professions, the ethnographer Seyit Kenzheakhmetuly singles the falconer our for praise. To show the breadth of the falconer’s knowledge, Kenzheakhmetuly quotes “The Test of the Berkut”, a poem by the famous Kazakh poet Abay Kunanbaev. This hard-to-find work lists the qualities of the perfect hunting eagle, from its blue beak to its black tongue. I’ve given a shot at translating it here.
The Astana journalist Maksutbek Suleimen has done a good job gathering information about hunting with eagles, and as his work is written in Kazakh, the findings are particularly useful from a linguistic perspective. For example, the terminology used for eagles of various ages in Kazakh, and the poetic attributes of the finest birds, is quite fascinating.
On the forums of the Russian birding site mybirds.ru, somebody has left a beautiful bibliography of Russian-language falconry texts, with obscure articles on Central Asian falconry from 19th century hunting journals. One can only wonder how to track them down.