The poetry of the Kazakh people reflects their life, views, and ideals. The main styles of verbal-poetical art are: heroic, social-domestic poetry, lyric-dramatic epos and lyric poetry, historical songs, shepherd's lays, magical chants, wedding and funeral songs, fairy-tales, legends, stories, bilichki, aitis, proverbs, sayings, riddles, rhetoric genres and others. All these styles arose at different times and each of them developed greatly.
The history of Kazakh national folklore is closely connected with the ethnogeny of Kazakhs, which had lasted for ages and ended mainly in the beginning of the 15th century.
National poetry accompanied nomadic inhabitants of the steppes all their lives. The song reflected all-important events: birth and death, military conflicts and peaceful work, feasts and migrations.
Among the type of the traditional verbal-poetic art are:
"Kirik, batiri" ("Forty Crimean batirs").
A collection of eposes including 40 parts on feats about forty batirs (heroes). The singing of each part lasted for 7-10 days. For the first time the epos was written down in 1942 basing on the words of a Myrin jirau story-teller.
"Kirik, batiri" dates to the epoch before an independent Kazakh political union was established, but clan-tribal unions later formed the ethnic basis of the Kazakh people, appearing in the composition of the Gold Horde, Crimean and Kazan khanships. In the epos every batir embodies the strength and bravery of nomads as well as the national ideal of a leader of a clan or tribal union.
The ideas of the epos are: defending the independence of the country, singing praise for the struggle with foreign invaders, and glorification of the unity and cohesion of the people. The traditions and temperament of the Kazakh nation are revealed in the epos, which personifies such qualities as bravery, justice, wisdom, conscientiousness, and love for the native people.
A thorough study of this monument of culture is of great importance for the spiritual revival of the Kazakh people, the strengthening of their historical self-consciousness and popularization of the heritage of the nomadic civilization and all Turk people.
Aytis (song of poetic competition).
Kazakh "yelendp" (singer) deserved the title of "akin" only after he had participated in several aytis competitions and won one of the notable akins (akin -improviser, a bearer of high poetry). The one who won by rapid, skilful, resourceful, witty and joking improvisations were named akin.
Ritual jarjar is a wedding song, which is performed in turn by choirs of young fellows and girls when a bride enters the house of the bridegroom.
Spell badik is performed in turn by male and female choirs to exorcize the spirit of illness; also there is pure "badik aytis", during which the fellows and girls use a form of spell badik for joke singing and poetry competitions.
Kiyim aytis - during which a competing young fellow and girl use common national poems and improvise only the last lines of them.
Aytis of a fellow and girl , which is of two types: Kayim aytis and aytis, during which competitors improvise the whole of the text.
Aytis with riddles, which is improvised in a poetic form.
Competition in performance of musical plays kyuy (kyuy tartiz or epos)
Aytis of orators sheshens and biys, when deciding different disputes between tribes and clans.
ak, pas, mas, during which every participant tries to continue a poetic line suggested by another participant of this poetic game, trying to find an appropriate rhyme and complete the line.
Aytis of akins , which demands high skills in poetic improvisation and an exceptionally high level of development of poetic tradition.
ytis genres still exist in the social domestic life of Kazakhs. Kazakh traditions of verbal competitions reflected the reality of characters, the concrete historical events typical for the given socio-cultural situation. Aytis traditions represent a real cultural continuity, because past experience is mobilized in it in the interests of the present.
Akin improviser competitions are characterized not only by singing but also verbal (speech) elements. The most celebrated akins were awarded the title of sal or ser by the people (birjan sal, akdin ser). Sals and sers were performers and bearers of nomadic civilization and had a high status in traditional Kazakh society. They differed from others not only in the clothes they wore, but also in their original manner of behaviour. Sals and sers were always surrounded by improvisers - akins, narrators, strong fighters and musicians. The most celebrated sals and sers, accompanied by their retinues, used to travel much in the steppes and participated in national feasts. Thus sals and sers coming to auls were bearers of news and culture of the outside world.
Considering all the described features of aytis, which point to its originality, aytis can be classified as ancient, unique, authentic and one of the most dynamic types of Kazakh national art.
There are no analogies to aytis in any other cultures; that shows its uniqueness as a phenomenon of culture and confirms the contribution of Kazakh tradition to the treasury of world civilization.
Oratorical art is closely linked to the development of society. In the formation of Kazakh clans and tribes, individuals who were inclined to deep thinking, improvising and who possessed a gift of eloquence, evolved from different strata of society.
The stages of the development of Kazakh oratorical art are connected to their names. Sayings, statements and edifications of orators of the earlier period were kept not on paper but in the memory of the people. Being spread by word of mouth, they underwent quite a few changes and editing. Being transferred from generation to generation, they were subjected to constant change; speaking with the help of images and characters, their very essence, the "seed" was kept "having turned into a knot the size of a "knee-cap", which absorbed 90 spoken words each, and became national sayings.
The Mayki was an orator of the early period. This is a concrete historical person, whose contribution to uniting separated Kazakh clans and creating of the first Kazakh khanship under the rule of Alasha khan, was enormous. The Mayki was a notable public figure of his time; he has eft samples of eloquence, weighty edifications and wise sayings in the memory of the people.
According to national legends Ayaz bi was firstly a khan's advisor - a vizir; then he was declared a khan, having become famous as a public figure and a head of the whole nation. Wise, "winged" sayings, edifications confirming his eloquence, the aphoristic and metaphoric character of his sayings - these aspects of Ayaz bi have been preserved in the memory of the people.
Asan Kaygi (mournful speaker) and Jirenshe sheshen (orator) were famous for their neat and colorful answers to the Janibek khan. The flourishing of Kazakh oratorical art is dated from the 18th century, which was the period of khan Tauke's rule. The 18th century was a time of endless raids of jungar, juta and hunger. Biys and national leaders, who united and were leading warriors capable of opposing invaders, became especially important at that time.
At this time the code of laws "Jet Jargi" (7 bylaws) was adopted and published. It defined social and political relations of steppe men who were striving for unity in order to oppose to foreign invaders. This code was based on mutual agreement of 7 main biys, which facilitated the immeasurable growth of their authority in the eye of the people. Tole bi, Kazibek bi , and Apteke , famous and influential biys of their epoch, whose oratorical skills were close to perfection, became especially famous in this period.
In the 1880-90s an outstanding public figure, Sirim Datov , a leader of the first opposing movements to Kazakh sharua against imperial colonization policy and violence, a famous batir and orator whose popularity amongst the people was extraordinary, was well known for his poetic skills as well.
Kazakh national oratorical sayings are closely connected to the genres of verbal literature. Sayings and proverbs represent the quintessence of national oratorical sayings. Historical legends are very close to oratorical words and sayings.
The high moral character of the Kazakh people, their love of work, honesty, and patriotism are reflected in aphorisms, sayings etc. Often they are satirical, involving mullahs, bais, and leaders.
Since independence, Kazakhstan has turned its attention to the renewal of its cultural spiritual heritage, preserving eposes, legends, fairy tales, reflecting historical events and their way of life, and world outlook.
Special interest is devoted to the traditional stories about Korkyt, Asane-Kaipy, eposes about heroes (Alpamys, Koblland etc) and their feats.
Many social and domestic features of the life of the people are reflected in their lyrical-epic poems.