Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks
Make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such…
It has been a long, rough ride for the cowboys of Kazakhstan, descendants of the nomadic herders who roamed across Central Asia until Russia declared in 1864 that it could no longer tolerate their “turbulent and unsettled character” and would force them to settle down.
Steadily stripped of their pastureland by Russian officials and settlers in the 19th century, and then of their cattle after Russia’s 1917 revolution, nomads became hired hands on collective farms. But they still knew how to ride, becoming cowboys for the state instead of themselves.
The state farms have now all gone, replaced by big private ranches and small family-owned herds, which also still need cowboys.
But so harsh is life on the steppe that today’s Kazakh cowboys, while proud of providing their rapidly modernizing nation with a link to its nomadic past, rarely want their own children to follow them into the saddle and instead urge them into more sedentary and better-paying work.