SEMEY – Records found by staffers of the local Abai museum in the archives in Omsk, Russia, point to the indirect participation of Abai Kunanbaiuly, the great poet and educator, in the International Exhibition of Costumes of the Peoples of the World in St. Petersburg in 1902.
According to Shynar Sadykova, deputy director of the Zhidebai-Borelli State Historical-Cultural and Literary-Memorial Museum, as the Abai museum is formally called, it was Mukhtar Auezov, writer and author of the book “Abai’s Path,” who prompted researchers in Abai studies to search the Omsk archives. Following this clue through multiple trips there over many years, museum workers have little by little unveiled details of Abai’s life.
The latest find is correspondence between exhibition organisers and the West Siberian department of the Russian Geographical Society, explaining the importance of the upcoming exhibition, which was then being organised under the patronage of Her Highness the Grand Duchess Ksenia Alexandrovna, and requesting help in collecting exhibits. Among the few who provided Kazakh folk attire, which was referred to at the time as Kyrgyz, was Ibrahim Kunanbayev (Abai Kunanbaiuly), who sent the ethnic costumes of an adult man and a boy to St. Petersburg, which was then the capital of the Russian empire. Despite assurances, the owners were not given back the costumes, as they were lost after the exhibition. They were, however, offered money in compensation instead.
In 1998, a letter in Arabic was found in the museum collections. After a careful study and translation of the message, it was confirmed to have been written by Abai to his son Magauyia, a student at Semipalatinsk University. This one-page artefact is valuable, as it is the only manuscript of Abai’s stored in the museum named after him, one of the few in the world.
Today, there is little material evidence of Abai’s life left. What remains includes the Zhidebay wintering grounds, two photographs, one lifetime portrait, the letter to his son and 60 household articles that he sent through the Russian exile Dolgopolov in 1885 for the museum, which opened in 1883. The most valuable of them were handed over in 1940 to the Abai museum opened through the efforts of Mukhtar Auezov.
The contributions of Abai Kunanbaiuly have endured not through his manuscripts, which simply did not survive, but thanks to the efforts of activists, including Alikhan Bukeikhanov, who published a collection of his works in 1909. Another activist, Murseit Bukeuly lived in a tent in Zhidebay more than a year, restoring the legacy of his great countryman.