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Abai Kunanbaev

Abai Ibragim Kunanbaev (Russian: Абай Ибрагим Кунанбаев) (August 22, 1845 - July 5, 1904) was a Kazakh poet, composer, and philosopher, as well as an important cog in the development of Kazakh as a legitimate written language.

Abai was born in modern-day Karaul, the son of Kunanbai, a well-off feudal lord, and Ulzhan, one of Kunanbai's four wives. His father's economic status enabled the boy to attend a Russian school in his youth, but only after he had already spent some years studying under a mullah and in a madrash. At his school in Semipalatinsk Abai encountered the writings of Mikhail Lermontov and Aleksandr Pushkin.

Abai's main contribution to Kazakhs lies in his poetry, which expresses great nationalism and grew out of Kazakh folk culture. Before him, most Kazakh poetry was oral, echoing the nomadic habits of the peoples of the Kazakh steppes. During Abai's lifetime, however, a number of important socio-political and socio-economic changes occurred. Russian influence continued to grow in Kazakhstan, resulting in greater educational possibilities as well as exposure to a number of differing philosophies, whether Russian, Western, or Asian. Abai Kunanbaev steeped himself in the cultural and philosophical history of these newly-opened geographies. In this sense, Abai's creative poetry affected the philosophical thinking of educated Kazakhs.

Abai also translated into Kazakh the works of Russian and European authors, mostly for the first time.

Contemporary Kazakhstani images of Abai generally depict him in full traditional dress, holding a dombra, the Kazakh national instrument. Today, Kazakhs rever Abai as one of the first folk heroes to enter into the national consciousness of his people.


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