Abai Qunanbaiuly was a Kazakh poet, composer and philosopher. He was also a cultural reformer toward European and Russian cultures on the basis of enlightened Islam. His name is sometimes russified to 'Abay Kunanbayev'; amongst Kazakhs he is often simply referred to as 'Abai'
Abai's Early Life
Abai was born in Karauyl village in Chingiz volost of Semipalatinsk uyezd of the Russian Empire (this is now in Abay District of East Kazakhstan). He was the son of Qunanbai and Uljan, his father's second wife. They named him Ibrahim, as the family was Muslim, but he soon was given the nickname "Abai" (meaning "careful"), a name that stayed with him for the rest of his life.
The boy first studied at a local madrasah under Mullah Ahmet Ryza. His father was wealthy enough to send Abai to a Russian secondary school in Semipalatinsk. There he encountered the writings of Mikhail Lermontov and Alexander Pushkin, which were influential to his own development as a writer.
Abai's main contribution to Kazakh culture and folklore lies in his poetry, which expresses great nationalism and grew out of Kazakh folk culture. Before him, most Kazakh poetry was oral, echoing the nomadic habits of the people of the Kazakh steppes. During Abai's lifetime, however, a number of important socio-political and socio-economic changes occurred. Russian influence continued to grow in Kazakhstan, resulting in greater educational possibilities as well as exposure to a number of different philosophies, whether Russian, Western or Asian. Abai Qunanbaiuly steeped himself in the cultural and philosophical history of these newly opened geographies. In this sense, Abai's creative poetry affected the philosophical thinking of educated Kazakhs.
he leaders of the Alash Orda movement saw him as their inspiration and spiritual predecessor.
Contemporary Kazakh images of Abay generally depict him in full traditional dress holding a dombra (the Kazakh national instrument). Today, Kazakhs revere Abay as one of the first folk heroes to enter into the national consciousness of his people. Kazakh National Pedagogical University is named after Abay, so is one of the main avenues in the city of Almaty. There are also public schools with his name. Abay is featured on postal stamps of Kazakhstan, Soviet Union, and India.
The Kazakh city of Abay is named after him.
Abay also translated into Kazakh the works of Russian and European authors, mostly for the first time. Translations made by him include poems by Mikhail Lermontov, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Lord Byron, Ivan Krylov's Fables and Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin.
Abay's major work is The Book of Words («қара сөздері», Qara sózderi), a philosophic treatise and collection of poems where he encourages his fellow Kazakhs to embrace education, literacy, and good moral character in order to escape poverty, enslavement and corruption. In Word Twenty Five, he discusses the importance of Russian culture, as a way for Kazakhs to be exposed to the world's cultural treasures.