Greeks - Kinship, Marriage, and Family



Kinship. The basis of Pontian kinship is formed by exogamous clans, which have a patrilineal system of descent. All members of a clan share the same surname, which typically ends in -idis, for example, Chionidis. The head of the clan is always the oldest member, and he is traditionally called upon to make important decisions, to approve marriages, and to solve conflicts. The oldest man or woman in the village has historically commanded great respect and authority. Some clans establish traditions of intermarriage and hence close social ties. First names are passed down through the generations, with a first son receiving the name of his paternal grandfather. Knowledge of kinship ties is extensive, and many people can remember their ancestors back to about eight generations.

Ritual kinship also plays an important role in Pontian society. When a man gets married, he always has a koumbaros, who acts as best man, pays for the wedding, and maintains close relations thereafter. The koumbaros is the son of the groom's godfather and will become godfather to all of the male children resulting from the marriage. The koumbaros's wife is godmother to the female children, and the bonds between the two families are lifelong and sacred. It is now becoming common for some men to choose their koumbaros rather than inheriting him automatically, but the relationship remains significant.

Marriage. In the traditional Pontian family, women were married when they were very young; perhaps this originated to avoid abduction to Turkish harems, which never accepted married women. Today the age at marriage has risen: it tends to be about 20 for women and 24 for men, whereas in the 1930s it was about 17 and 22 respectively. Marriage remains patrilocal, and the wife nearly always lives with her husband's family. Arranged marriage (and the related phenomenon of elopement— klepsion, or "stealing" the bride), formerly prevalent, no longer exists. In spite of these changes, there is a strong preference that marriages should take place within the Greek community.

It is common for men to spot their future brides at local religious celebrations or public events. They may then decide to embark on the four stages of meetings and agreements that lead to a marriage. The prospective groom will send representatives to the parents of the prospective bride, a task which used to be carried out by the proxenitra, a woman whose profession it was to arrange marriages. In areas where a Greek or Russian Orthodox church exists, weddings may include some form of religious ceremony in addition to a civil wedding. The Pontian wedding itself, however, takes place at the bride's house. The bride and groom stand facing each other across a table and exchange presents and rings, after which there is feasting and dancing. A second part of the marriage takes place on a different day at the house of the groom.

Wedding food includes chicken because of its supposed relationship to symbols of fertility. Guests give money or gifts to the couple, and the bride's parents give a dowry, which normally consists of movable goods such as furniture, crockery, and linen. Great emphasis is placed on the virginity of the bride, and it is traditional for the groom's mother to inspect the sheet from the marital bed for blood, as proof of her daughter-in-law's purity.

Domestic Unit. The Pontian Greek family has historically lived in domestic units of three and even four generations. In the past, most or all the sons would remain in the parental home, and their brides would join them there. More recently, only one son tends to stay with the parents. Hierarchy according to age is often strictly observed within the domestic unit: female members are supposedly ranked according to the amount of time they have been married, and younger males should be respectful and accept orders from older ones. A daughter-in-law should show great humility toward her husband's parents: it is traditional for her to avoid speaking directly to them (at least for a year), often using children as go-betweens instead.

Inheritance. In the past, equal inheritance by all male siblings was normal among Pontian Greeks. Today, however, whoever stays with the parents inherits the family house and its contents. This is normally the younger son, and older sons may be helped by parents to build new homes and to set up their independent households. There is no tradition of female inheritance, although daughters are given a premortem inheritance in the form of a dowry. Although private initiative (and therefore private property) is much more prevalent in Transcaucasia than in many other regions of the former USSR, in general terms the Soviet economic and legal system inhibited the accumulation of individual wealth and its inheritance.


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