Tusau Keser (Cutting of Fetters) Ceremony

Tusau Keser symbolizing the beginning of a new stage in a child’s life ⓒ Nazym Malibayeva

Today, the issue of preservation and popularization of national traditions, customs, and rituals associated with the human life cycle is relevant. Kazakhs have many ceremonies that must be carried out throughout a person’s life. One such significant rite of initiation into a new life is the Tusau Keser ceremony.

Tusau keser is fetters cutting on feet, symbolizing the beginning of a new stage in a child’s life—the ability to walk and to learn about the world. Kazakhs believed that if this ritual was not performed, the child would often stumble and be insecure and awkward. This custom is carried out when the child first begins to walk. In most cases, this will be when the child turns one year old. Our ancestors believed that if this custom is not carried out, the future of the child would be bad and if it is held, then a bright future awaits and brings luck and happiness. To hold this ceremony, the child’s parents organize toi (party). To do this, the day before the ceremony, they send invitations to relatives and friends. The next day, the invited people come with gifts as well as sweets for shashu (a festive throwing of sweets). A festal dastarkhan is set for guests and a feast begins. After the festive table, the tusau keser ceremony itself begins.

Rite Attributes

For holding of a tusau keser a colorful flagellum is prepared—ala jip, or colored interlaced from several woolen threads of different bright colors. This flagellum is called tusau—fetters. The threads consist of three colors: white (a symbol of purity), green (a symbol of health and longevity), red (a symbol of wealth). There is also an old form of fetters called ala jip, which were made of white and black threads symbolizing the philosophy and reality of the world—good and evil, light and darkness, and warmth and cold.

Superstitions and Beliefs

The toddler’s legs are tied with black and white threads. These colors are chosen to distinguish black from white in the future, to be a respectable citizen, and not to cross the road from anybody. Some people, instead of a striped rope, tie the legs with the fatty intestines of an animal so that the child would be rich and authoritative in the future. Such a superstition exists to this day. Sometimes they use a rope woven from grass so that the child would grow up quickly, mature faster, have a large family, and so on.

There are two ways to decide who will cut the fetters of the child. One option is for the parents to choose. This right is mainly granted to a multi-child, energetic woman or grandmother. The person who cuts the fetters should be smart, energetic, and respected. Our ancestors believed that if such a person cuts the fetters, then the person’s energy will be transmitted to the baby. The person entrusted with this process must bring a knife and a rope. After the feast, everyone goes out into the street. A special carpet is laid. They put the baby on the carpet and the chosen person cuts the fetters. Then two people take his hands and lead him off the carpet. When the baby is led, the people throw gifts and coins in a solemn atmosphere. In some regions, special items like books, mirror, or a whip are placed on the carpet, and the child chooses one of the items to determine the future. For example, if the child chooses a book, he or she will become a scientist or enlightened person. And if the child chooses the whip, he or she will become belligerent man.

A second variant to decide who will cut the fetter is a fast-walking competition among boys. The boy who wins first place will do the cutting. This is done to transmit the energy of this boy to the baby. The boy is then given gifts, most often a sledding horse or a foal.