Karachays - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The traditional economic base of the Karachays was distant pasturing of livestock (sheep, goats, cattle). In summer the livestock were taken to mountain pastures; during winter they were kept in the forested fields of the southern slopes or on pasturelands rented in the valleys. Livestock were sold in Transcaucasia. Dairy products were prepared at home—cheese, ayran (sour milk), kefir, and butter. Agriculture was weakly developed because of the inadequacy of arable land (used, in general, to raise barley and maize). Wheat was purchased in the valley settlements.

Clothing. Karachay clothing was, for the most part, of the traditional northern Caucasian type. One component of both female and male apparel was a tunic-shaped undershirt and underpants. Men's outer clothing included a quilted overcoat ( qabdal ) , beneath which was worn a long narrow collarless Circassian coat ( chebken ) and cotton pants. The chebken was worn with a leather belt with silver ornamentation, from which a dagger was hung. Shepherds had a special outfit: a long felt cloak or wrap with a hood. In winter at the camps or on the road during rainfall they would don a felt greatcoat ( jamchï ) . The headgear ( bërk ) was a sheepskin winter cap, and in summer a felt hat with a brim (except in bad weather, when a cloth cowl was worn). Footwear was fashioned out of rawhide, like a peasant bast shoe, with stitching down the middle of the sole. This shoe, the chabïr, was worn on the bare foot with a cushioning layer of dried grass. The more prosperous Karachays wore footwear of morocco leather with a soft sole. Women's outer clothing consisted of a dress worn open near the top, like the men's chebken, and a long gown, like a man's quilted coat. Women girded themselves with a silver belt ( kämar ), although poorer folk wore a sash of ordinary weave. In winter the older women wore a sheepskin coat or a long quilted coat, whereas young women threw a warm shawl over their shoulders. Headgear varied according to social status and age. Women of the more privileged classes wore high velvet caps decorated with gold or silver stitching or low caps with flat tops. Over the cap they would tie a kerchief. After the birth of her first child the woman donned a black kerchief instead of a cap, tied around the head by a special knot ( chokh ) . Above this the woman put on another kerchief, the manner of binding depending on the time of year and her age. Their footwear was of rawhide, although upper-class women wore shoes with wooden supports. Depending on social class and condition, dresses were sewn from domestically produced cloth or expensive purchased fabric—calico, velvet, or silk. A costly holiday dress would be decorated with galloons, gold stitching, and silver bosses, and the caftan gown was fastened with silver clasps over the breast. At festivals women wore long embroidered appendages ( jeng uch ) attached to the sleeves.

In the Soviet and post-Soviet periods clothing styles have modernized. Urban dwellers wear European-style clothing, as do men in the countryside. Rural teenage and adult women, without exception, cover their heads in public. Only the elderly women continue to wear the traditional black head scarf. It should be noted that rural Karachay women take great pride in their long, thick hair. They say that keeping the hair of girls very short, until about age 7, subsequently causes the hair to grow thick and strong.


Food. The products of animal husbandry always constituted the base of the traditional diet. Sour milk (ayran) from goats was especially prized. (Ayran was also prepared from cow's and sheep's milk.) It was eaten every day, either as a separate dish or with cornbread. Often the Karachays would crumble a flat cake into a cup of sour milk, to which they added sour cream, honey, or sugar. This dish was called chanchkhan. Ayran was also eaten with grits ( kak ) . Another popular dairy product was kefir ( gïpï ) . Cheese from sheep's, goat's, or cow's milk was an everyday food, and sour cream, curds, and cream could be purchased in the urban markets of the northern Caucasus. The Karachays also churned butter. They prepared a dish known as mereze from curds fried in butter, to which maize flour was added. Meat dishes were important in the diet, especially mutton but also beef and game. A traditional type of sausage was made from liver. Meat was boiled and fried, and mutton and goat meat were dried and jerked for winter consumption. Bread was prepared from wheat flour, maize, millet, and barley, which were purchased from the inhabitants of the valley settlements. Of these, wheat was the most prized. In addition to unleavened bread, a type of leavened dough ( ekmek ) was commonly made, which the Karachays learned about from the local Russians. Pies ( khïchïn ), filled with cheese, meat, beet greens with cheese, or potatoes with cheese, were often baked, as were short-bread pies stuffed with eggs, rice, and raisins. To celebrate the end of springtime field labor, the Karachays baked a special so-called spring pie ( khïchaman khïchïnlï ) . Wild fruits, berries, and herbs were collected in the forests. In the Soviet period store-bought goods such as groats, sugar, and candy entered everyday life. The traditional drink was the beerlike boza, which the women prepared from barley or zïntkhï, a type of millet.

Industrial Arts. The production of woolen goods, such as hats and shawls, remains an important cottage industry, performed by women in the home. Some Karachay women claim that in winter, when yard work is minimal, a woman can knit up to twenty-five shawls a month, using homespun hand-dyed wool. In 1991 a woolen shawl, sold through middlemen in urban markets, could fetch up to 250 to 300 rubles (the average Soviet monthly salary). The Karachays generally perceive themselves as a people distinguished by their diligence and industriousness.

Division of Labor. There was traditionally a gender division of labor: the men worked in animal husbandry, agriculture, and wood carving; women took care of the home, prepared dairy products, made felt and cloth, embroidered, wove galloons and other adornments, and raised the children. Only women cooked food, but only men were permitted to slaughter sheep.

Land Tenure. Land ownership was of several kinds: feudal, communal, mosque property ( waqf ) , and private. The prominent feudal families had large plots of land of up to 1,000 hectares. Arable lands were held by families and could be sold and inherited. Forests, pasturelands, and hay fields constituted communal property. At the present time there are state farms, collective farms, and privately held property.


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Stephanie
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Jun 11, 2015 @ 7:07 am
The information above was really helpful but I want to know more about their association with Mount Elbrus. Does it relate to their religion or culture some way?

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