Year: 2013

Uyghur Comedy, Abdukerim Abliz and Cultural Citizenship

It is difficult to understate the importance of the comedy of Abdukerim Abliz, the most famous of contemporary Uyghur comedians, in Uyghur popular culture. Abdukerim is a tall distinguished-looking man from Kashgar famous for his carefully groomed mustache. Like other suave comedians (Stephen Colbert springs to mind) Abdukerim not only embodies a masculine ideal, he parodies it. Yet for all his quick-witted use of language, metaphor and jaw-line, Abdukerim has something serious to say about Uyghur society. By making them laugh he is trying to mirror how his Uyghur audiences act, talk, and think about common sense issues in Uyghur society. The history of Uyghur comedy In an essay titled “A Brief History of Itot” the Uyghur writer Hoshur Qariy traces the genealogy of a Uyghur form of sketch-comedy or itot from its French origins in the 1860s to its arrival on the Russian scene in the 1920s, its derivation in Soviet Uzbekistan and eventually its arrival in Northwest China. According to Qariy the Uyghur word “itot” is derived from the Russian translation of the …

Qurban and the Social Effects of Uyghur Food

  The first indication that the Qurban festival has arrived in Northwest China is the pooling of sheep outside every block of Uyghur tenements in the cities of Xinjiang. Quivering clumps of fat-tailed sheep are tied to branches as men begin sharpening knives for ritual slaughter. After the throat is cut, a small opening is made in a leg and air is blown from mouth to shank. The sheep is then hung from the nearest available beam or branch and skinned. Under ideal circumstances, every part will be used. If you can’t afford a whole sheep yourself, or you can’t be bothered with butchering it yourself, makeshift slaughterhouses at the entrance to public parks will sell you a bulging sack full of mutton to take home and roast (or at times in the Uyghur case – boil) like an American with a Butterball turkey on Thanksgiving. This year Qurban Heyt or Eid al-Adha, the Islamic holiday which commemorates Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son through the sacrifice of a ram, coincides with the annual turning on of …

Uyghur Soccer, Äskär And Wild Bodies

In the summer of 2012, 46,000 (some estimate up to 60,000) Uyghurs gathered regularly for three hours of interethnic struggle. They came from hundreds of miles away, old bearded men, rotund mothers, young men and women clad in sky blue. They came to engage in identity politics, but even more important, they came because for 90 minutes in that southern Ürümchi stadium, they were free to be proud of their social positions.In this arena they were free to say what they wanted; to let off some steam. For three hours these fans could scream the old battle cry “VURRAAA” or “CHARGE!” as one voice while the armed police who provided security could only stand uncomfortably in their riot gear, ready to dive into armored vehicles at a moment’s notice. As one fan told me, it felt like that thing where you “slap someone while pretending that you are trying to kill a fly.” Soccer was providing an important release for people who felt blocked in their daily encounters with surveillance and voicelessness. Finally, in the atmosphere of the stadium, …

The Dreams of Uyghur Kids and the Film On A Tightrope

As the coils of economic development have tightened around the cities of Southern Xinjiang over the past dozen years, many Uyghur parents have increasingly found themselves without land, jobs and stable futures. In many cases the strain of existential insecurity is most sharply expressed in the lives of children. Kids who grow up in extreme poverty, speaking a minor language, are often left to fend for themselves as one or more of their parents leave to find odd and rare jobs in the city. If they are lucky these kids will stay with grandparents or uncles, but in some cases particularly if a father dies or disappears these children end up in orphanages or, per a dominant stereotype regarding Uyghur children born in the “balinghou” generation, they will be forced to join gangs of roving pickpockets. Trinh Min Ha once wrote that a stereotype is an “arrested representation of a changing reality,” that is, they are stories which have an element of truth but don’t necessarily neatly match the lived experience of those they address. …