The largest minority group in Xinjiang are the Uygurs, a Turkic-speaking people who number close to six million. They give their name to tile vast Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang but live, for the most part, south of the Heavenly Mountains (Tian Shan), in the cities and farmland of the Tarim Basin oases. Tile name Uygur means 'united' or 'allied'. Their origins can be traced back to the early nomadic Tujue tribe (the Chinese version of the word 'Turk'), whose homelands lay south of Baikal Lake in the region of the Selenga and Orkhon Rivers in preSent-day Buryalskaya S.S.R. A legend states that the Turks are descended from the union between a boy and a she-wolf. Enemy soldiers appeal to have killed tile'boy, and the she-wolf took to the mountains near Turpan, where she gave birth to ten boys. One of them, marrying a human woman, produced the forebears of the Turkic tribe.
By the sixth century, the Turks were centred in the Altai Mountains as farmers and herdsmen. They were a growing power until, in the seventh century, they 'split into the Eastern and Western Turkic Khanates, of which the East was ultimately to triumph. The Uygur Empire rose from the ashes of the Eastern Turkic Khanate in the eighth century by maintaining friendly relations with the Chinese. Uygur soldiers assisted the weakened Tang Dynasty during the An Lushan Rebellion of 755-63. But the Kirghiz drove Ihe Uygurs from their Iands in Ihe ninth century, and the tribes split, some settling in the Gansu Corridor and establishing kingdoms at Dunhuang and Zhangye, others moving westwards into the oases south of the Heavenly Mountains, then occupied by Indo-European peoples. The Uygurs came to control the trade routes, supplying horses to the Chinese and establishing independent kingdoms. Abandoning Shamanist beliefs, they adopted first Manichaeism, then Buddhism and finally,
in the tenth century, Islam. The able, civilized Uygurs heavily influenced the politics, economics and cultural affairs of the Mongols. Their alphabet was adopted as the basis for the Mongol written language.
The square mud-brick Uygur homes are comfortable and quite spacious. Rooms are heated in winter by a brick kang, a platform for communal sleeping.
It is covered at all times by colourful wool and felt rugs, as are tile walls, which have decorated niches for food and utensils. The villagers use their flat rool's for drying melon seeds and grain and the many families who lend vineyards have an open brick-work drying room for grapes, either on the roof or nearby. An open courtyard, frequently shaded by trailing grapevines, is swept clean, and in the intense heat of the day families relax there or in a deep cellar under the
house. The majority of Uygurs tend fields of wheat, maize, vegetables and melons orchards of apricots, peaches, pears and plums, and vineyards. Many engage in side-line production of silk and carpets. In the cities they are traders,restaurateurs, factory workers and civil servants. Though Chinese is taught in secondary school, few Uygurs speak the language.
Muslim religious festivals are cerebrated: in particular the month-long Ramadan fast, which culminates in several days of festivities, known as the Bairam or 'Minor' festival and the Corban or 'Major' festival. The mosques
are packed at Corban, and animals are sacrificed and feasted upon. At both festivals, new clothes are donned, presents given and visits made. Weddings are
merry occasions with much feasting, music and dancing, and a visitor may be invited to share in the festivities. An imam usually officiates and reads from the Koran. Until recently, national minorities were exempt from the one-child policy of the Chinese government, but efforts are now being made to introduce a limit of two children per family--. Once polygamous, the Uygurs now conform to Chinese marriage laws, but divorce is quite Common in the countryside, as is early marriage. A name-giving ceremony is conducted seven days after the birth of a'child.
Uygur dress is still quite traditional in the cities of Kucha and Kashgar. The men wear three-quarter-length coats, sashed at the waist, over trousers tucked into high leather boots, and (though now rather rarely) kaftans. The women wear full, unwaisted dresses of variegated colours and often of homespun aidelaisi silk, coupled with heavy brown stockings. In earlier times their dress
was more elegant. The more devout Muslim women now wear veils when in the street, but most women either cover their hair with a scarf or don the colourfully embroidered square dopa cap, which is also worn by menfolk and children. These charming velvet caps are often beaded and couched in gold
thread and. in earlier times, had distinct regional differences. Women enjoy wearing jewellery, and they also paint their' eyebrows, linking them together in a single line. Long plaits are common--unmarried girls traditionally wore their hair in ten or more braids. Great importance is attached to etiquette. On entering a home you are
expected to rinse your hands three times from water poured by the host from a ewer. In partaking of the dastarkan-a cloth placed on the floor and laid with fruits and nan bread-you should stand with the family with hands together, palms uppermost, as if holding the Koran, then pass them over your face in a
downwards motion as a religious gesture of thanks and blessing. Forms of address are respectful according to the individual's status within the family. Men stroke their beards in the Muslim sign of courtesy.
Uygurs have a rich tradition of story telling, music and dance. Their folk
instruments include the dotar, a two-stringed guitar, tile ravap, a six-stringed mandolin, and thc sheep-skin tambourine. Their dancing is elegant, full of twirling and delicate hand movements. Their folk songs include themes of exile, poverty and love, as well as comic rhymes. A popular folk hero, about
whom numerous stories ;are invented, is the character Effendi and his donkey,
(,Effendi is also popular in Turkey.) The tales are satirical and amusing; modern'
ones have Effendi selling out on his donkey to talk with Chairman Mao.
Manuscripts and treatises on Uygur medicine dating back to at least the" eighth century cover over 400 commonly used herbs and more than 200 prescriptions. A centre for Uygur medicine has been established in Kashgar,
where particular success has been achieved in tile treatment of vitiligo, a skin
disease known iss 'lite white sickness'.