Biography of Abai

Abai was born in 1845 in Zhidebai of Semipalatinsk county (now Semipalatinsk region, since 1845), of West Siberian Governor-General (now administrative district of Abai region of the East Kazakhstan region), in the foothills of Shyngystau. His father is Kunanbai, grandfather is Oskenbai, great-grandfather – Yrgyzbai. Abai’s upbringing at a young age takes place with old grandmother Zere and with mother Ulzhan who has a softer character than his father. Abai grew up in the village until he was ten years old and studied under a local Mullah. When he was ten years old, his father brought him to Semey to study in Madrasah. Abai studied in Madrasah for three years. Reading is certainly old-fashioned; there were only lessons about religion. He was a more attentive, receptive, and diligent student compared to his peers. The children who studied with him were elder and younger than him.

He chooses great poets among the Arab, Persian and Turkish poets for reading. Also he gets acquainted with the works of great scientists of the East – Nauai, Nizami, Sagdi, Ferdowsi and others. He reads every word of their work and memorizes many poems. Then there are literary heritages such as fairy tales, legends, poems written in Arabic, Iranian, Chagatai languages. While studying for a third year in madrassa, Abai entered the “Prihodskaya school” in Semipalatinsk and began reading in Russian. But the learning will not continue here. His studies lasted only 3 months. Upon reaching the age of 13, his father took Abai from school. He accustomed his son to new responsibilities; and he saw his son as a follower in the rule of the people.

When he was thirty years old, he remembered all of his knowledge and took up for reading books in Russian. After learning a great deal of language, a variety of books are beginning to read.

After thirty years old, he remembers all his knowledge and begins to study Russian literature in depth. After a significant study of the language, he begins to read more meaningful books. Especially in order to study the books of the city library, he stays in Semipalatinsk during the winter months, and deepens his knowledge by his own efforts. At the age of 35-36 years, Abai met a young Michaelis, who was exiled from St. Petersburg in the 1870s. Due to Michaelis, he met other Democrats who had been exiled in the 1980s, among them gross, the young doctor Dolgopolov and Leontiev. Some of them went to the village of Abai to visit and became friends with Abai. Until that time Abai read everything, but then after Michaelis’s suggestion he put in a certain order and began to read according to plan fiction, criticism, philosophy, natural sciences, etc.

It should be noted that Abai broadens his horizons, worldview and honed his knowledge, of course, reading works of such prominent writers and public figures as A. S. Pushkin, M. Yu. Lermontov, L. N. Tolstoy, E. Saltykov-Shchedrin , N.A. Nekrasov, I. S. Turgenev, I. A. Krylov and directly getting acquainted with their advanced ideas. In addition, he read critical thinkers and democrats: Belinsky, Herzen, Chernyshevsky, Dobrolyubov, foreign poets: Goethe, Byron, philosophers: Spencer, Spinoza, Lewis, Darwin, Draper. In the 1860s, Abai was free to do creative work. At that time, Abai wrote his poems under other names, but only in 1886 began to write his name under the works, starting with the poem “Summer”. The poems “Summer”, “Autumn”, “Winter”, “Spring”, as well as “Jasymda Gylym bar dep eskermedіm”, “Gylym tappay maktanba”, “Internatta okyp zhur”, “Segiz ayak” are very important for understanding of social status of those times.

Due to Abai, the works of Krylov, Lermontov, Pushkin, Goethe and Byron sounded in the Kazakh language. From 1882, in 85-86, he began to translate some poems of Pushkin and Lermontov into Kazakh. Abai from 1886 to 1889 wrote a lot of works; in particular, he wrote his poems and also translated from the Russian language. It was 1889 that became the most fruitful and productive year for all of Abai’s work. The poems of that time are not just a legacy, but also love, pictures of nature, songs, music, his own sorrows and inner experiences.

Speaking about Abai’s works, we recall not only his poetry, but it is also important to mention his musical (composer’s) works, which occupy a significant place among the cultural heritage of the great thinker. Abai devoted several years of his life to writing songs. Abai wrote the 16-17 songs. Songs “Segiz ayak”, “Ayttym Salem, Kalamkas”, “Zhelsiz Tunde Zharyk AI” and others occupy a special place in the hearts of the Kazakh people. He also wrote the music for his translation of Pushkin’s letters of Tatiana and Onegin.

Since the 1890s, when Abai was engaged in teaching and mentoring, he wrote few poems, but wrote a lot of “Words of edification.” Abai was the founder of the new realistic written poetry, literature of the Kazakh people. Abai wrote 170 verses and 57 translations, poems, «Book of Words».

On June 23, 1904, Abai died in his native land. The poet was buried in Zhidebay near his wintering. To perpetuate the memory of Abai, there was awarded the State Prize of Kazakhstan in the field of literature. Many administrative districts, streets, theaters, libraries are named after Abay.


Abai. Encyclopedia.- Almaty: Main edition of «Kazakh encyclopedia», Atamura, 1995. – 720 p.

Akhmetov Z. Abai’s poetic world. – Almaty: Ana tili, 1995. – 272 p.

Alimkulov T. Mystery man: Literary criticism.- Almaty: Zhazushy,1993. – 221 p.

Auezov M. Abai Kunanbayev. Monographic studies and articles. – Almaty: Sanat, 1995. – 339 p.