Articles » Dombyra in Kazakh culture

Dombyra is plucked instrument present in many Turkic nations.

Dombyra in different countries.

The variations of this plucked instrument is met in many national cultures but with essential differences such as Dumra in Russia (first mentioned in historical documents dated 14 century), in Tadjic culture it is Dumrak, in Uzbek culture it is Dumbyra, Dumbrak, Dutar; in Kyrgyz Culture it is Komuz, in Turkmenian Culture it is Dutar, Bash, Dumbyra; in Bashkir culture it is Dumbyra, in Nogai Culture in the South or Russia near Azov sea it is Dombyra, in Turkish culture it is Saz.
Etymology of Dombyra.
Etymology of the word is still an open topic for researches. In Tatar language Dumbra is a Russian babalaika and Dombura means Guitar; in Kalmyk language Dombr means the same instrument Dombyra like in Kazakh culture, in Turkish Tambura means guitar, in Mongolian language Dombura means Dombyra like in Kazakh. There are many opinions about etymology of the word.

History of the instrument.

In 1989 Pofessor Mr. Akitaev S. with the help of ethnographer Mr. Zhagda Babakuly found a picture varved on a rock in the Republic of Kazakhstan in the plateau “Maitobe” (Almaty region). The carved picture contains four dancing people and a musical instrument very similar to Kazakh Dombyra. The picture is dated by Neolithic period according to archeologist Mr. Akishev K.  Now the picture is in the museum of the national instruments after Yqylas Dukenuly in Almaty city, Kazakhstan. Basing on the fact we may say that the instrument’s birth might take place more than 4000 years ago on our continent.
Also during the excavation of the ancient Horezm archeologists found a terracotta sculpture (little figure) of the musicians playing on plucked instrument with two strings which was 2000 years old. The scholars say that the instrument looks exactly like for instance Kazakh dombyra and was widely spread all over  the  territory of Kazakhstan among Turkic nomad tribes.
According to the historical documents existing on the continent, it is known that this kind of plucked instrument was widely used long time ago amongst people that lived on the continent. It is also known that this instrument was used by Huns and Scythians. Cuman (Kipchaks in the past)  used the instrumeny as well. There are many kuis that came from those centuries like: ertis tolqyndary-waves of Irtysh river), mundy kyz-a sad girl, tepen kok-lynx), aqsaq qaz-lame goose),  bozingen-white female camel, zhelmaja-dromedary),  qulannyn tarpu’y-tramp of onager),  kokeikesti-deep disturbance and others.
Also in the works of Marco Polo (1254-1323) it says that nomad Tartar tribes used to play two stringed plucked instrument before the battle, they sang and thus were tuned to the fighting. It was in 1298. It is very important to say that even though this article’s chapter is about Kazakh Dombyra still this kind instrument also belongs to many Turkic peoples of the continent.
Dombyra is the instrument to play Kui.
Kui is a musical composition in traditional culture of Kazakh people and Kyrgys people. Usually Kui is 1.5-2 minutes long. There are two types of it: folk’s and by authors. Kui may be played with different national instrument but mostly with Dombyra. Kuishi (the one who performs the kui and composes it) were respected very much in Kazakh culture and were always famous far beyond their villages and towns where they lived.

The structure of dombyra.

During all the time Dombyra keeps it is basic form. Nevertheless Dombyra craftsmen used to vary some parts of it to achieve certain acoustic effects of it. For instance, Dombyra made in Central Kazakhstan  had two strings and was flat. Typical and widely spread Dombyra has oval body as it is shown on the picture.
Body shell- is called shanak in Kazakh language. Boy may be made in two ways: carving out in a singly piece of wood and assembling from parts.
Front cover of the body shell is called Kakpak in Kazakh language.
Internal arm bar- is a new part designed by Soviet craftsmen like in violin. In German it is called «der bassbalken». It was not used in the past in Dombyra production. The lenth of it in violin is from 250mm to 270 mm and 295 mm. Dombyra has the arm bar sized from 250mm to 300 мм.
Sell parts are 1-1.2 мм thick.
Bridge – is called tiek in Kazakh language and it is always movable along the strings.
String- were originally made of the dried sheep’s and goat’s guts. They were tuned as follows: G-c, A-d, B-es, H-e. The sheep and goats from western Kazakhstan were popular for their specific quality of guts for string production. That kind of organic strings could not stand higher tension and used to tear up from tuner stretching. Then in 1940-s Soviet craftsmen used fishing plastic line for higher tuning. Till now it is used as standard in Dombyra production. The change of organic strings to plastic ones made Dombyra lose its unique human voice lice touchy sound.

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