Friday, November 13, 2015

Carpe Diem #857 The Kobyz or Kyl-kobyz

Dear Haijin, shamans, and travellers

Your M. Gunn here today covering for our Masutā, Kristjaan. Our prompt today is the Kobyz (Kazakh: қобыз) or kyl-kobyz, and is the first episode with some connections to the concept I like to label shaman haiku, though here in this post not necessarily in style, but more in content.

The Kobyz or Kyl-Kobyz is an ancient Kazakh string instrument with two strings, made of horsehair. The resonating cavity is usually covered with goat leather. Traditionally kobyzes were sacred instruments, owned by shamans and bakses (traditional spiritual medics). According to legends, the kobyz and its music could banish evil spirits.

It is believed that these instruments spread to China, India, the Byzantine Empire and the Middle East, where they developed into instruments such as the erhu in China, the rebab in the Middle East, the lyra in the Byzantine Empire and the esraj in India. The violin emerged in early 16th-Century Northern Italy, where the port towns of Venice and Genoa maintained extensive ties to Central Asia through the trade routes. The kobyz, from the heart of the Altai region and via the silk road, is therefore the direct precursor of the classical violin and viola, and by extension the cello, which gives it quite a pedigree.

A stamp from Kazakhstan featuring the Kobyz

Nature is full of music. We have enhanced these melodic sounds, challenged them, disputed the concept of tunes and melody at times, but the chirps of birds in the trees can never be replaced. The Kobyz merely echoes what nature says.

A 1 Som bank note from Kyrgystan, the Kobyz figuring as a major part of the design.

Today, make your haiku carry some of the sounds you imagine exist swirling around the Altai mountains, be it through musical instruments like the kobyz, or the famous throat singing (post soon), or the wind.

It may be the rush of breeze through the trees, or the waterfalls tumbling down the mountainsides, or it may be the hooves of the horses galloping across the steppes. It might be the cry of a solitary eagle or hawk, or the owner of the hawk calling it back from the mountains, or the sounds of the horsemen spurring on their horses as they ride by, though secretly I must tell you that a lot of that is done in silence. But still, the horses ‘hear’ their masters, for the language is there.

Accordingly, let us ‘hear’ your haiku. The best way to write is while listening to the Kobyz itself. Remember it is the sacred instrument of the shaman, and the precursor of the violin, that arguably single-handedly brought classical culture to Europe from the shaman of Central Asia, for what form of higher culture existed before that?

So bring classical culture to Carpe Diem on a haiku transported by the shaman sounds of the Kobyz. Following is my effort.

sound of a waterfall 
— the merge of galloping hooves
in this lonely meadow

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions, and will remain open until November 16th at 12 noon (CET). A new post will look at another aspect of Central Asia culture tomorrow, and I hope to get a short essay about shaman haiku to you in later. So show us what you have for us to read - and/or interpret, here at Carpe Diem Haiku Kai!


  1. What a great post and prompt!! Your haiku "resounds" in my mind after imagining the galloping horses, so very realistic!

    1. Thank you - lovely is somewhat nerve-wracking following in the footsteps of Chèvrefeuille!

  2. Very interesting! Totally new for me this instrument :)

  3. What a beautiful post my friend. You have introduced a wonderful instrument, the kobyz, here and it sounds great. Thank you Pirate ... for being my guest host at cdhk ... I will contemplate for a while listening to the kobyz ...dank je wel

  4. I heard the call :-)
    Sadly, imagination is lacking at the minute so I have to make do with remembrance.

  5. Lovely post Hamish ... very inspiring. Bastet

  6. Sorry I haven't been able to participate ... these posts are so rich with information and feeling. So interesting!