Home History of Kazakhstan Kazakhstan in the Russian Empire The culture of Kazakhstan in 18-20 centuries Abay Kunanbayev - poet and philosopher

Abay Kunanbayev - poet and philosopher

Abai was born August 10, 1845 in Chingiz Mountains Semipalatinsk region (under the current administrative division) from one of the four wives Kunanbai, senior Sultan Karkarala district.

Abay's family was aristocratic, his grandfather (Oskenbay) and grand grandfather (Yrgyzbay) dominated in their tribes as governors and biys (judges) 

Ibrahim was lucky in the sense of coziness and family education, as his mother Ulzhan and grandmother Zere were extremely gifted and charming natures. Due to his attentiveness and thoughtfulness, which differentiated him from other children, his mother changed his name topet name "Abay".

Homeschooling and introduction to the folklore, which were started in early childhood, was continued at madrassas of Imam Ahmad Riza. At the same time Abay studied at Russian school and by the end of the five-year study began to write poetry.

Hegel wrote that philosophy is an epoch grasped in thought. However, to grasp in thought the era, it must be a thinker in the highest sense of the word. Abay Kunanbayev was among one of these thinkers in the second half of 19th century in Kazakhstan.

In this case, under thinker we do not mean someone who works as a monk locked in a narrow cell, delving into ancient manuscripts and trying to fish out some important laws of social development. Despite that Abay belonged to the elite of Kazakh society, he never fenced himself from the disaster and needs ofordinary people. On the contrary, as a philosopher, he lived with what his people lived, shared with them their pain and deprivation. Joys were little, but how he could live and enjoy himself? Abay's feat, in fact his whole life was a real feat and only about the interest of his people, their pain reflected on his big heart, the heart of philosopher and person. 

Wealth and cattle did not concern him. As a thinker and patriot of his homeland, his heart was crying blood, as he knew all the needs and hopes of his people in order to be satisfied with surroundings. 

Communication with exiled Russian social democrats, E.P.Mihoelisom, N.Dolgopolovym and S.Grossom, gave impetus to his potential abilities. Abay's treatment of Russian literature, which experienced creativeimpulse at that time, was natural, where poetic in Eastern tradition was treated very high.

Morality and languages take paramount part at Abay's universal system. He considered that language opens a window into the vast world. Humanity and liberality oblige learn languages of other nations, as only in this way for  human-thinker can feel a connection with the geniuses of the spiritual world.

There are dozens of definitions of man. Certainly, the most acceptable usually relies on scientific: representative of the genus homosapiens. However, is it always that every man justifies such a flattering definition? It is says, that, person is that and that, but sometimes it represented that every definition is not accurate, as some people born to manage and others to obey. They are majority, but Abay as peak of mountain rises high above drab existence of reality of his time.

Abay did not become a follower of German philosophers, despite that he learned their works, for instance, Feurbach's anthropological materialism. On the contrast, he considered the anatomical structure of the human bodies and its organs not as a product of nature, but as a result of the creative activity of God, his wisdom and love to humans. On the other hand, such worldview position did not prevent him to represent a man as unique and high product of his philosophy.

Abay absorbed much of that carried the eastern and Arab culture: the Quran, the thousand and one nights. He was familiar with the works of Ferdowsi, Nizami, Saadi and Navoi, studied the works of Aristotle, Socrates, Spinoza and Spencer.

Poetry of Pushkin, Lermontov, Goethe, Byron and Schiller was extremely congenial to him. As well as he wanted to be introduce his people with top of the world spirit. In his translation into Kazakh languages Abay subtly conveyed the spirit of poems and adapted them into the outlook of his fellow tribesmen.

Within 20 years Abay bloomed as versatile genius. He won extraordinary authority and popularity which were unknown in steppe before. He was surrounded by Akyns (oral improvising poets), singers, composers and young talented people, socio-philosophical and literary schools being established.  

Abay's moral and ethical views were not just a figment of his imagination over the observation of life and social system of Kazakhs. Abay thoroughly studied the works of ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, as well as works of German philosophers of modern times like Kant, Hegel and Feuerbach. 

Ethical and aesthetic problems, despite their importance could not be resolved without reference to the decision of the more common questions of philosophy. One of such issue was the question of a common basis of existence and cognition, God and man.

Wise Abay used to love to repeat the words of the Prophet Muhammad: "A good man is one that benefits the people" ["Gakliya" - "Words of edification", the  thirty-eighth word] these words can be applied to him but not anyone else.

The essay "Gakliya"("Words of edification") or "Kara soz" (“Book of words”), take a special place in the Abay's art. Under these name combined forty five "Words" - small, carefully crafted, artistic, stylistic completed fragments. The term "penalty" (Black) in combination with the term "Soz" ("The Word") is extremely polysemous. This symbolize sadness, prose, unlike rhymed speech and text. As well as it means something significant, important and paramount in the Turkic tradition.

“Book of words” it is also direct appeal to the readers, like conversation and open talk, unique work “of observation of the cold mind and sorrowful heart markings” and philosophy of life of individual on the background of destiny.

“Book of words” by genre similar to what in Genghis Khan’s tradition called "Bilik" –is a precise expression, a story about life example, having the shape of the sample.

The name “Book of words” or “Words of edification” of Abay, inaccurately transfers the meaning of the philosopher. In European tradition, “Book of words” belongs to the genre of aphorisms and maxims. In fact, it is confession – extremely deep and responsible genre, which requires integrity and sincerity from the writer, in other way, we are facing with “nakedness of soul” of man, poet and philosopher. 

Forty five “Words of edification” is the philosophical reflection of the poet about life problems and deeply sad “face to face” conversation with his audience. Addressing to them, the poet ask himself: maybe “Should I rule the people?”, “Should I multiply knowledge?”, “Should I do religious rites? or “Should I educate the children?”. 

Finally, in this way Abay explains his decision to write down “own thoughts”: “Paper and ink from now on will be my consolation…Maybe someone will like some of my word and he will rewrite it for himself or just remember. If not, then my words, as it says, will stay with me [First word].

Many lines from the “Book of words” became immortal: “Man born crying and grieves when he leaves” [Fourth word]; “Man becomes intellectual, remembering the words of the wises” [Nineteenth word]; “He who seeks praise from loved ones, I am sure he will achieve it, praising and lifting up himself to heaven”[Twenty first word]; “Scientist and philosopher are the pride of humanity. They are those who have more senses and mind. We do not invent science, it appears as a result of our feelings, observation and thoughts about the creation around us and organized world for us” [Word forty third].

On the behalf of Socrates Abay in the “Book of words” said about what he thought thoroughly before, disputing with Aristotle, the philosopher says: “Certainly, you will agree, that the top creation of the creator is a man. However, does not the creator give him five senses, being confident in their necessities for man? Do you find that a man has random organs?

For example, we have eyes to see. If they were not existed, could we enjoy the beauty of the world?  Eyes are gentle and there are eyelids to keep them. They open and close when it necessary from a wind and mote, whereas eyebrows withdraw sweats trickling down from forehead.   

If ears were not existed, people would not be able to hear noise, rattling, would not be able to guard against rustling or cry and would not have enjoyed the sounds of songs or tunes.

If a nose does not smell, people would not able stretch incense and turn away from stench. He would not care.

Finally, if a person would not have palate and tongue, he would be able to recognize sweetness or bitterness of food.

Is that all bad for human?

Eyes and nose are located not far from mouth to man to see purity and could smell a food. However, other necessary to person holes, which spew out waste from body and located away from the head. “Could it be possible to say that it’s all random manifestation of the mind of the creator?” [Wordtwentyseventh]

If only in science everything was so clear, so that to know with confidence in which direction to go and what to do. When we are in trouble, we can always rely on a help of wise, we just need to turn to him: “Once power, mind and heart argued, who among them is necessary to person. After they found out that cannot reach the agreement, they turned to Science for help. As I said, get together let heart guide you! If this happens and all of you gather in one person, so he will become righteous.  Dust from the soles of his feet will heal the blinds. Harmony and purity of life is the main meaning of the great world. If you won’t be able to unite, then I will give preference to the heart – the king of human life, thus Science resolve the dispute” [Word seventeenth].

 “Words of edification” is like conclusion and result of life. “Lived I good life up until now, but when we can already see the end of the path, when the soul exhausted and tired. I am convinced that my good intentions being ineffective in the vanity and frailty of human life.

“I am truly dead, despite that I am exist. I cannot understand the reason: whether weak disappointment to relatives, whether in the rejection of himself or something else. In appearance I am quite healthy, as dead inside. Even if laugh I do not feel joy. No matter what I tell you, if I laugh - all this as not mine, but someone else”.

“I do not understand how do I treat my nation: do I dislike or love them? – If I loved them, without any doubt I would agree its morals and among other characters found out even one to be proud of. My love would not allow the faith to go out, as if my people have such qualities inherent of great people. However, I do not have that faith”, – draws a line Abay.

Nine years passed before Abay wrote forty-five “Words-talks”, and expressed in them innermost thoughts, aspirations, mournful complaints indifferent to the poet’s voice contemporaries. “Life is lived – I argued, fought, judged, having only troubles and exhausted on them, tired and convinced in aimlessness of everything done”.

I shouted from the cliff,

Space answered me

But when he heard the sound

I was looking around:

How, where this sound come from?

Was the same rock or different,

There is response, but the response is empty.


I have a great,

Wide kin,

No reason to be alone,

Great family, but I was not understood

And I live alone among,

As the tomb of the shaman,

I am alone - that's my truth!

A careful and thoughtful reading and studying of “Words” will be a tribute to the great and wise Abay, whom can be referred lines, once written by him:  

Can be called the one,

Who gave to the world immortal words.

Abay Kunanbayev is the great poet, writer, public figure, founder of modern Kazakh literature, reformer of culture in the spirit of rapprochement with Russian and European culture on the basis of enlightened Islam.

Gongalo V.M.

(NKSU named after M. Kozybaev)


1.  Abay, “Book of word”.Almaty, 1992. 


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