Story: 18 century, Mañðýstaw, Western Kazakstan. The sacred land of Turks between Caspian and Aral seas. Two warring tribes compete for the these lands - Kazak Aday and Turkmen Yomut (Jaumit). In the midst of the tribal strifes, the steppe story of Romeo and Juliette takes place: Kazak warrior Ershora and a Turkmen beauty Jemal fall in love.
------------------------- The term mankurt comes from a Turkic myth popularized by Chinghiz Aitmatov in his novel "Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years" ("I dol'she veka dlitsja den'"), a philosophical tale about what can happen to people if they forget their motherland, language, and history.
The Kazakh legend mentioned in the novel is about a cruel way of making a mankurt, a man that forgets everything but basic activities and thus becomes an ideal slave. A fresh raw camel hide would be put as a cap on the thoroughly shaven head of a captive. The slave with his hands tied and with a large wooden stock around his neck preventing him from reaching his head would be left in desert for several days. Once the hide would start drying it would shrink and bind to the head, thus making a hoop and "squeezing" all sanity out of the man. What is worse, the hair is not always able to grow through the camel's hide so it often curls back and the strong Asian hair would penetrates the scalp again causing a pain beyond endurance. Removing completely the camel's hide from the scalp is not always possible and those mankurts (e.g. the son of Nayman-Ana in Aytmatov's novel) are so ashamed of having such a headgear that they are always wearing a cap, day and night and would not doff it for anything in the world.
If the man happens to survive the torture, he would be recuperated and become like a dog to his master, not remembering anything from his past, even his own name nor his own mother.
This legend and the story around it are of central symbolic nature in Aitmatov's novel.
Today the word mankurt is often used by many nationals of republics of the former Soviet Union of Turkic kinship (Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tatarstan, Kazakhstan, etc.), with respect to their fellow citizens who don't care enough about the native language and native culture; e.g., speak only Russian.