All posts tagged: Masculinity

Singing Back to the Steppe: Kazakh Poetry Battles in Contemporary Xinjiang

  On a summer evening in 2015, when I was attending a friend’s wedding after-party in a small village in Mori in Northern Xinjiang, a professional aqin – an oral poet who improvises while performing – sat next to me playing his dombra (a Kazakh two-stringed instrument). He was singing a song with the refrain: “ahaw sar qiz, pisqan darbiz, darbizingning qizilin maghan jarghiz” (Hey, fair-haired girl, you are like a ripe melon, let me cut your red ripe melon). It was clear he was directing the song at me. I felt my face begin to turn red. I was tongue-tied. I didn’t know what to say or do. How do you respond to lyrics like that from a poet? A Kazakh girl sitting nearby tried to sooth my discomfort by making excuses for him. She said he was just joking around and that the lyrics were supposed to be funny. That is just the manner of a poet. A while later, the poet received a phone call from his leader to go entertain some visiting officials who would attend …

Uyghur Sports and Masculinity

Excerpts from an essay on Uyghur sports cowritten by Parhat Ablet and Darren Byler. It first appeared in Pop Culture in Asia and Oceania published by ABC-CLIO/Greenwood (2016). Traditional Uyghur sports can be thought of as two interrelated categories – children’s games, traditional competitions – both of which are played primarily by men and boys. From “goat-pulling” on horseback to “rabbit-pulling” on sleds, Uyghur traditional sports are part of the weave of everyday life from youth to middle-age. Over the past two decades the increase in formal education in the Uyghur homeland of Southern Xinjiang coupled with the spread of television and Internet media has led to a greater popularity of Western sports such as soccer, basketball and boxing. Yet despite the recent overlay of Western sports, the traditional games and competitions of rural Uyghur life continue to play an important, yet diminishing, role in Uyghur masculinity. A prominent feature of Uyghur children’s games is that everyday objects are turned into tools of play. The team sport known variously as chukchuk-kaltek, gaga, or walley (hereafter walley) that is …

What It Means To Be A Uyghur Man

Watching the leaked surveillance video of two men walking with a sea of migrant workers in front of the train station in Ürümchi makes your blood turn cold. You want to look away but you can’t. You want to understand what was going through the minds of those men with their hats pulled low as they moved in step with the crowd – but you can’t. Only after the shock of the fireball and the smoke clears can you stop looking, but then you can’t un-see it. You can only play it over and over in your mind. Xi Jinping said that what those two men at the train station on Wednesday, April 30, 2014 were feeling was an “overweening arrogance.”  I don’t know what they were feeling; none of us can really know. It is in times of grief and shame like these that Uyghurs might turn to people like the late-poet Rozi Sayit for a clearer understanding of themselves and what Uyghur life should be. In his lyric (performed above by Abdulla), Rozi …

The Fog of Drugs

Although the use of hashish has been a part of the Uyghur pharmacopoeia for centuries, drugs appear to have become a widespread problem for Uyghurs only in the early 1990s. It was only then that young men in their twenties began dying of overdoses and needle-borne disease. As Ilham Tohti mentioned in 2011, in the intervening decades drugs along with theft, pickpocketing, trafficking and prostitution “have gotten so bad that our entire ethnic group is suddenly perceived as a crime-prone community.” These are issues which Uyghurs discuss among themselves and feel embarrassed about when they are raised among outsiders. Rumors are a major part of this discussion. Many people point out that the drugs come from the Golden Triangle and tell tales about the way they are trafficked by Hui middleman. They suggest that there is a general conspiracy operating among non-Uyghurs—with the tacit support of the government—to poison young Uyghur men and thus curtail their futures. These stories are supported by popular media. A famous Uyghur writer, Jalalidin Behram, vividly describes the life paths …