It is impossible to understand the role of the family in the Kyrgyz Republic without studying family relations in Kyrgyzstan in the second half of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. During this period, family law combined customary law, the norms of Muslim law, and the law of the Russian Empire. The three were inter-connected, influenced each other, and contradicted each other. None of the three systems was dominant.
Customary, or traditional, law is a set of unwritten norms produced over a long period of time, regulating all kinds of activity and having a binding character. In Kyrgyzstan, the sources of customary law are custom (adapt or urp), the practice of courts (biilerdin bytymy), and the written decisions of the Congress of Judges (Ereje). Customary law was passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Within this tradition, the standards of family law and inheritance varied among districts. In the south, customary law was strongly influenced by Muslim law. At the same time, traditional laws changed constantly as a region's economic relations developed and evolved.
In traditional Kyrgyz culture, almost all marriages are arranged, with the purpose of forming alliances between clans. Women, upon marriage, become part of the husband's clan; their status within the family depends on the number of male children they bear and their skills in performing their duties as wife, mother, and daughter-in-law. The pre-Soviet Kyrgyzs had no tradition of veiling or seclusion. Polygamy was common.
The oral folklore of the Kyrgyz people has its roots in ancient times; its prehistory remains alive in the legendary Manas epos (or body of traditional poems and stories on the same theme). Manas is an original encyclopedia for study of the customs, traditions, beliefs, and the worldview of the Kyrgyz people. As the historian V.V. Radlov notes, the epos, as a document of Kyrgyz history, presents a picture of family life, spiritual life, economy, ethics, popular philosophy, religious concepts, and matchmaking.