Circassians - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Circassians are preferentially endogamous within the ethnic group but descent-group exogamous. Tradìtionally, marriage to kin, up to five generations bilaterally, was prohibited. This has led, in diaspora, to far-flung marriages across communities and settlements but is becoming difficult to maintain. More and more, the rule of exogamy is being ignored, although cousin marriage, which is a preferred form of marriage among Arabs, is still extremely rare among Circassians. A prevalent form of marriage is through elopement, erroneously seen as bride-capture by neighboring groups. Intermarriage with Arabs and Turks does occur, but interesting differences are found between communities. For example, in Jordan, Circassian women marry Arab men, but the reverse (Circassian men marrying Arab women) is rare, whereas in the Kayseri region of Turkey the opposite appears to hold.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit used to be the patrilineal extended family, with each conjugal family living in a separate dwelling within a common courtyard. Circassians are largely monogamous; polygyny and divorce are rare, although remarriage after the death of a spouse is common. In general, family size—usually three to five children—is small as compared with that of the surrounding society.

Inheritance. Islamic Sharia precepts of inheritance are followed. In Syria and Jordan women inherit their share of property according to Sharia. In rural Turkey, despite the replacement of Sharia with civil codes that stipulate equal division of property among the progeny regardless of sex, it appears that women often give up this inheritance in favor of their brothers, which is common practice in the Middle East.

Socialization. Circassian families traditionally emphasize discipline and strict authoritarianism. Avoidance relationships are the rule between in-laws and between generations and different age groups. It is a source of shame for a man to be seen playing with or showing affection to his children (but not his grandchildren). Although tempered by necessities of everyday life, the same holds for relations between mothers and children. In the past, paternal uncles played an important role in instructing children in proper behavior. This behavior, both public and private, is codified in a set of rules known as Adyge-Khabze ( adyge = mores) and is reinforced by the family as well as the kin group and the neighborhood as a whole. Nowadays ethnic associations sometimes make attempts to discuss the Adyge-Khabze with young people, and the term is almost always invoked at public gatherings. In Jordan, a Circassian school has been operating since the mid-1970s and has become an arena for socialization and reproduction of Circassian identity.


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