Karachays - Marriage and Family

Marriage. The marriageable age for men was regarded to be about 18 to 20, and for women, about 14 to 15; in practice, men married at age 22 to 23 and women at 18. An order of marriage was observed within the family: the younger did not marry before the elder. Several marriage arrangements were common: by agreement with payment of a dowry or bride-price ( qalïn ) , by abduction (without the woman's consent), or by elopement (with her consent, though staged as though it were an abduction). Agreements to marry contracted between underage people were not rare (including infant betrothals), and there were also leviratic marriages. The amount of the bride-price depended on social status. A large bride-price could ruin the groom's family and yet not enrich the family of the bride, since her father was obligated to spend a great deal on gifts and hospitality. On the other hand, giving a woman in marriage without a bride-price was considered shameful. During the courtship period negotiations took place concerning the amount of the bride-price and gifts to the bride's family—usually horses to be given to her father, brothers and "milk mother" (the woman who nursed her, not necessarily her real mother). The bride-price could also be paid in livestock, money, arms, and sometimes land. The bride was supposed to bring a dowry ( berne ) to her new household: dress, plates and dishes, and domestic utensils. The parents selected the bride for their son, with trusted persons serving as matchmakers; the courtship could sometimes go on for years. When an agreement was reached, a meeting for formal betrothal was arranged, attended by persons empowered to act on behalf of the fiancé. During this meeting a marital pact was concluded according to Muslim ritual—in particular, the bride-price was agreed upon and the day of the wedding was set.

The wedding ceremony was presided over by the effendi in the presence of witnesses. For several days before the wedding designated persons notified the invited guests and prepared food: pies, beer, meat (mutton), and boza (a fermented beverage). Horsemen with banners met the bride at her home, although the groom himself did not participate in the procession. He met the bride at his home, where various rituals took place: a dagger was held above the bride's head, and she was showered with candy, money, and nuts. The bride, veiled by a silk kerchief, was taken to one corner of the room and remained standing there throughout the entire wedding. The wedding feast lasted three to seven days. Ten days later, the groom's family arranged a large banquet in honor of the bride's induction into their household. Before this banquet the bride was greeted by her husband's parents: the mother-in-law presented ritual pies, and the father-in-law a cup of boza or mead. One of the relatives cut off the bride's veil with the blade of his dagger, and she was again showered with candy, money, and nuts. The bride ( kelin ) returned to her room; from then on she functioned as a member of the household.

The groom at first avoided his wife's parents: he kept out of their sight during the wedding and for a few days thereafter, remaining in the home of a relative or close friend. Only three or four days after the bride arrived in his home did the groom come to her, secretly at night, escorted by his friends. After that he still did not call his wife by name, addressing her by a nickname. She, for her part, observed certain obligatory avoidance practices: she could not speak to her husband's parents or elder relatives (in the case of her father-in-law, this prohibition might continue for a lifetime). After several months the bride, wearing a new dress, returned to her parents' home. Only after the son-in-law was invited by his wife's relatives to receive hospitality did his avoidance of them come to an end. The bride remained with her parents up to two years before settling permanently in her husband's household.

Domestic Unit. The basic domestic unit was the nuclear family of parents and children; extended families comprised of three or four generations were rare. The head of such an extended family, the yuy tamada, was the oldest male (grandfather, father, oldest brother or son): he managed the economy and the family finances and assigned the family members their tasks. The activities of the head of the family were controlled by the family council, comprised of the men of the oldest generation and the oldest woman. The family group collectively owned the house, livestock, land, and movable property. The senior woman held considerable power within the household and was in charge of the preparation and distribution of food. Because traditions of hospitality constitute an important aspect of Karachay social relations, the senior woman plays a significant role in safeguarding family pride and honor.

Socialization. Education in necessary tasks was an important aspect of traditional upbringing. From the age of 6 children assisted their parents. Boys helped care for livestock, living in the camps with older men; girls helped with the housework and learned how to make kiyizï (cloth) and how to embroider. Great significance was attached to moral education, familiarity with Karachay traditions, the cultivation of attitudes of respect to elders, hospitality, and the ethical norms governing relations.

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