For a relatively small ethnic group, the Karakalpaks have a very complex tribal structure.

The Karakalpaks as a whole are divided into two divisions, known as arıs, the Qon'ırat and the On To'rt Urıw. The term On To'rt Urıw, which means fourteen tribes, is somewhat misleading since the On To'rt Urıw are actually composed of just four tribes: the Qıtay, Qıpshaq, Keneges, and the Man'g'ıt. It is possible that the Karakalpaks adopted this term from the On To'rt Urugh tribe of the Aral Uzbeks who were already occupying the Aral delta prior to the arrival of the Karakalpaks. We know that the Uzbek On To'rt Urugh were already well established in region at the time of Abu'l Ghazi Khan's tribal reorganization of the Khorezmian Uzbeks in 1644.

The Qon'ırat are divided into two bo'limi or sub-groups: the Shu'llik and the Jawıng'ır, the latter name being remarkably similar to the Mongolian term zuun gar, meaning left wing. It was traditional for many Turkic and Mongol tribes to be divided into right and left wings.

The Shu'llik are composed of eight tribes or u'lken urıw: Mu'yten, Qıyat, Ashamaylı, Qoldawlı, Qostamg'alı, Balg'alı, Qa'ndekli, and Qaramoyın. Each of these is in turn divided into clans or urıw, there being 63 clans in total. The Jawıng'ır are composed of just seven clans.

The four tribes of the On To'rt Urıw are also divided into clans: the Qıtay into 12, the Qıpshaq into 13, the Keneges into 8, and the Man'g'ıt into 4.

The difference between a tribe and a clan is defined by matrimonial alliances. The Karakalpaks practice exogamy. It is not possible to marry within one's own clan, but it is possible to marry into another clan within one's own tribe. Clans are sometimes divided further into tiıre, and tiıre are sometimes divided into patrimonial family groups called ko'she.

The traditional lifestyle of the Qon'ırat revolved around the breeding of large livestock, mainly cattle, while that of the On To'rt Urıw revolved around irrigated agriculture. This was not an absolute division since the Qon'ırat engaged in some agriculture, mainly on the floodlands and sometimes using irrigation, while the On To'rt Urıw maintained some livestock, including cattle, some of which were used to plough their fields. Some northern Karakalpaks specialized exclusively in fishing, an activity that was also of some importance to the Qon'ırat.

Pronunciation of Karakalpak Terms

To listen to a Karakalpak pronounce any of the following words just click on the one you wish to hear. Please note that the dotless letter 'i' (ı) is pronounced 'uh'.

arıs Ashamaylı Balg'alı Jawıng'ır bo'limi    Keneges
ko'she Man'g'ıt On To'rt Urıw    Qa'ndekli Qaramoyın   
Qoldawlı    Qon'ırat Qostamg'alı Qıpshaq Qıtay
Qıyat Shu'llik bo'limi    tiıre u'lken urıw  

Visit our sister site, which uses the correct transliteration, Qaraqalpaq, rather than the Russian transliteration, Karakalpak.

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