Today in my Uyghur language lesson my tutor was teaching me how to say the body parts of animals that humans don’t have, like hooves (tuyakh), horns (munguz), etc. When he taught me how to say wings (khanat), he also told me about a Uyghur saying:
“Khanat-khuyrukhi yitilip khaptu.”
Directly translated into English, this sentence is:
“His wings and feathers have grown.”
Uyghurs use this sentence to refer to a young man who has just reached manhood and is ready to leave home, just as a young bird is ready to leave the nest once its wings and tail feathers are grown.
I wouldn’t push the analogy too far, though. Unlike some birds, I don’t think many Uyghur parents would actually push their son out into the street, just because he’s become a man!
Tonight I went with a Uyghur friend to a restaurant on the other side of Xi’an that was supposed to have good Uyghur food. The food turned out to be okay, but the company was great.
As we discussed many different topics, he told me about a traditional Uyghur holiday called Choka Tal Festival. This festival takes place around the time when the willow trees put out its new growth in long slender switches, called “tal” in Uyghur. Apparently, the way the Uyghur boys celebrate this festival is that each boy breaks off one of these long switches, goes to find the girl he likes, and proceeds to whip her with the switch!
Obviously, since the switch is new and tender, it doesn’t hurt at all. After all, it’s supposedly intended to be a way for the boy to show the girl that he likes her. My friend told me that he distinctly remembers the first time that he did this, when he was in junior high. After he expressed his admiration to the girl he liked, she went out, found a bigger switch, and proceeded to beat him with it! He said, “The first time I tried, and I failed miserably!”
Hmm…maybe he should have woven the switch into a circle and given it to her as a wreath to put on her head instead of beating her with it. But then, you never know. Maybe she was just returning the admiration!