A soulful poet, deep thinker, educator and democrat, the founder of Kazakh written literature, composer, and the protector of people - all of this refers to Abai Kunanbaev, the personality towering over the course of time. His legacy hasn’t lost its relevance, and therefore gets easily passed through the centuries and reverence for his talent grows stronger over time and becomes brighter and more profound.
Abai Kunanbaev lived, created and defended his views in a troubled time. The severity of the feudal patriarchal society was further exacerbated by the increased power struggle in the steppe. However, it was also a time of development of the progressive social thinking. It was a sharp turn in the history of national literature as it ceased to serve the government, and turned to simple human values. We are continuing to this day to draw from his works the most important and the most necessary guidelines for our existence. The poet’s spiritual work was particularly felt in a difficult time for the people as he was able to strengthen the national spirit, taught perseverance and patience, appealed to the teaching and learning.
Abai was referred to as the founder of Kazakh written literature. Although he had turned 40 when he finally took courage in both hands to start signing his works and showed some discipline in collecting and organising his work archives. It was really strange for that time, because until then the steppe poetry was deeply improvisational in character. The most favorite poems circulated among the people by word of mouth, including many of those written by Abai – the reason why part of them have been lost irretrievably. Abai’s later works came to us intact. This is work of the last 20 years of his life, the period when he disengaged himself from all earthly things, got totally immersed in work trying to comprehend the reality.
Contemporaries are deeply in tune with the idea of Abai that people should live in peace. Abai perceived the unity of humanity as a whole, not dividing it into East and West. He was convinced of the need for constant striving to rich cultural heritage of each other. His whole life was an example of selfless service to this idea. Like no other he brought his people closer to the heights of the world culture translating Pushkin, Lermontov, Goethe and Schiller, Byron and Mickiewicz. Abai had a particular attitude to Russia and the Russian culture. Moreover, Abai appealed to Russia. The best Russian writers, including Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Neyman, and Mikhail Tarlovskiy showed the feelings of this great man via their translations. This is genuine social and philosophical lyrics, which is popular both today and a century ago. Abai’s poems are one of the most important landmarks; they can provide an opportunity to get on with today’s difficult life and complex moral problems. Abai at all times remains the thinker who can help you find appropriate responses to the most important questions of life.
Abai Kunanbaev was born in August 1845 in the Semipalatinsk region, in the family of Kunanbai Oskenbayev, the most important feudal lord, the head of an entire clan and one of the local counties. This is the man whose virtues have yet to be explored because in the Soviet times for ideological reasons his image was distorted, and undeservedly so. He was not just a primitive and cruel tyrant. Even though he once broke the relationship with his son, he, nevertheless, was proud of his gift and respected him for his firmness in defending his viewpoints. There is evidence that once Kunanbai, waving off compliments to his son, said: “Let him have the powers to produce a son similar to the one I have?”.
Kunanbai, Abai’s father, was an overbearing person, but his mother Ulzhan was gentle and tender. She gave him her all-absorbing and passionate love. There was also grandmother Zere, like a deep well of folk wisdom, which Abai absorbed with the unusual for child insatiability.
And the more Abai delved into the essence of the cases, the more aware he grew of how deeply injustice and lawlessness of the rich and powerful was ingrained in the steppe. Abai associated knowledge and work with the liberation of his people from spiritual slumber and economic stagnation. Reviewing various lawsuits for many years, Abai made a lot of enemies among the steppe magnates and damaged relations with his father. And at the same time he deeply pondered over the question of how to educate his people, to raise their spiritual culture, to attract them to knowledge and means to progress.
Upon realising that even by fair resolutions of thousands of disputes he would not break the situation in a society which cultivated class strife and honored brutal patriarchal traditions, Abai decided to retire and go into a difficult and lonely path of spiritual quest, completely surrender to creativity and reflection. Time has shown that Abai had made the right choice, since what he created during his reclusive years does not lose its sharpness to date, whether it’s soulful lines of poetry, the words of edification or thoughts about the optimal social, political and economic systems. A better society is the society which is based on freedom and equality of rights, peace and harmony. A mature Abai reveals the deepest multi-faceted processes of human existence, the inner essence of a man. He had overcome his formative years, the search for his identity, the true realisation of spiritual values and the fight against imperfections of his time.