Abai (Ibrahim) Qunanbaiuly (August 10, 1845 – July 6, 1904) is a name that is familiar to the people of Kazakhstan. Oftentimes referred to as just Abai, this Kazakh poet, philosopher, and composer is an important figure in Kazakh history for his contributions to literary and musical arts.
Abai was born in what is now Karauyl in East Kazakhstan. His parents gave him the name Ibrahim due to his brightness, but was later given the nickname “Abai”, which means “careful.”
When he was growing up, Abai attended school in Semipalatinsk where he learned of the writings of Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. The impact of these writers would change Abai’s life forever.
Perhaps Abai’s greatest contribution to Kazakh culture is his poetry, which reflects on Kazakh nationalism as well as socio-political and socio-economical themes in highly philosophical ways.
Abai is possibly one of the most recognizable names in Kazakh literary history, and his works are still revered to this day. In fact, many places in Kazakhstan are named after him, such as the city of Abay and Almaty State University. There is also an Instagram account called @abaicartoons immortalizes Abai’s wisdom in cute and relatable cartoons.
Abai’s most famous work is The Book of Words, which features his philosophies as well as a collection of poems.