Dungans - Marriage and Family

Marriage. The Dungans tend to marry other Dungans and as a result a considerable number of the Dungans in both the cities and the collective farms are related to one another. (For example, Abdurakhman Kalimov, the only Dungan scholar who has permanently lived and worked in Moscow, and Fatima Makeeva, one of the two female Dungan scholars living and working in Frunze, are related first because the wife of Kalimov's younger brother is Makeeva's maternal aunt—Makeeva's grandmother had nineteen children and her mother had ten—and second because Kalimov's elder brother's son is married to Makeeva's cousin on her mother's side.) Dungans think that one should have as many children and relatives as possible. When the children grow up, they are likely to live near their parents (a widowed daughter and her children would return to her father's home). Relatives visit and help each other.

The general law on mixed marriages is as follows: on the collective farms, all Dungan girls should marry Dungan young men; Kansu Dungan girls could marry Shensi Dungan young men, but Shensi Dungan families, which are regarded as more conservative, prefer their daughters to marry only Shensi Dungans. As for marrying people of other nationalities, Kazakh and Kyrgyz husbands, being Muslims, are acceptable; Russians are not. Similar but less strict rules apply to Dungan young men. Kansu and Shensi Dungan young men can marry either a Kansu or Shensi Dungan woman; occasionally they also marry Kazakh or Kyrghyz women, but not Russian women. All these rules are observed less often in the city, where a small number of Dungans have Russian wives. Non-Dungan wives, both on the collective farms and in the cities, are Dunganized: they speak the Dungan language at home, cook Dungan food, and eat with chopsticks.

Domestic Unit. The Dungans always had large families. During the early days after their migrations to Russia, whole sections of their settlements were occupied by large families with as many as seventy members. Such families usually consisted of a father, his two wives, the sons from both wives, and their wives and children. The head of a family determined the workload of each member and allotted equal amounts of money for the clothing allowance of each couple. Only some Dungans practiced polygamy, mainly because the settlers were too poor. Even rich Dungans had only two wives, the first wife always being a Dungan. The second wife could be non-Dungan, but she had to be a Muslim. The saying that "a Dungan girl prefers death to the disgrace of being a second wife" occurs repeatedly in Dungan folklore.

Polygamy and the custom of kalym (bride-money) were abolished in 1921. Divorce was very rare among Dungans; the main reason, if it did occur, was that the wife could not bear children. Only in the beginning of the twentieth century did the large families start to break up. At the present time, the average Dungan family on the collective farms has about six or more children, but families in the cities are often quite small, with two to four children. Women on the collective farms come and go while they serve food but do not usually sit down with the guest, even when the guest is a female.

Socialization. In the Soviet era each collective farm had two to three kindergartens and schools. The kindergartens, which were also day nurseries, cared for young infants and children up to the age of 7. The schools were either from grade one to eight or from grade one to ten. Each school had over 1,000 pupils, around 90 percent of whom were Dungans. The schools were coeducational. Each had about sixty-five teachers, about forty of whom were women. Most of the directors of the schools and the teachers were Dungans. All subjects were taught in Russian. English and German were offered as electives. These two foreign languages were taught for two hours per week in the lower classes and for one hour per week in the higher classes. The Dungan language was taught for three hours per week from the second half of the first grade through the tenth grade. Because the pupils spoke Dungan at home and already knew it when they started school, Dungan classes concentrated mainly on reading and writing, grammar, and selected readings in Dungan literature.

Schools also offered the usual subjects of mathematics, geography, sewing, and cooking. The school year begans on the first of September, and the summer vacation lasted for about three months. The schools (like the cultural centers) are usually impressive buildings with a library, a cafeteria, and large classrooms. Dungan schools have a museum—which displays Dungan embroidery (now rarely seen in Dungan homes), Dungan clothes and silver jewelry (also out of fashion now), paper cuts of animals and flowers, and old tools of the bygone days—and a Club for International Friendship, its walls decorated with flags and maps of various countries.

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