Karachays - Settlements

The settlements in Great Karachay were large and included several quarters ( tiyre ) , each of them settled by the members of one familial-kinship commune. Houses in the settlements were laid out haphazardly, abutting closely on one another. There were no gardens. Livestock were kept at camps, that is, at the temporary dwellings of herdsmen outside the settlement, and, in summer, in the alpine pastures. Around the settlements were plow lands and irrigated hay fields. The settlements in Little Karachay were not as compact nor divided into patronymic quarters.

The dwelling, or yuy, was constructed of pine, which grows in abundance in the Karachay Mountains. The traditional dwelling was oblong and of cut timber. The roof had two sloping surfaces to allow the heavy rains to run off, and an earthen cover a meter thick. Along the front side the inhabitants attached an awning on supporting pillars. Light penetrated the dwelling through a smoke hole above the fire. Small windows could be closed with sliding shutters. Within the house there was a large space, to which was adjoined a storeroom for food. For heat there was a fireplace built into the wall, with a wide chimney fashioned out of withies and daubed with clay, which rose high above the roof. The more archaic sort of hearth consisted of an open fire that was kindled in the middle of the dwelling on the earthen floor. This hearth was used for a long time in the older buildings and in the camps. The inner space of the Karachay house was divided into two halves. Farther from the door, behind the hearth, was the honored male half ( tër ), where the men and the male guests were seated (unless there was a special guest area or guest house, the qonoq yuy ) . The bed or couch of the head of the family, resembling a wooden sofa with three backrests, was located here as well. Closer to the door was the half for women and children, where household jobs were performed and the dishes and kitchen utensils were kept. In a large undivided household, a special dwelling for the married sons with a separate exit into the yard was constructed next to the main dwelling in which the parents, unmarried young people, and children lived. This special building, the otoú, was used for sleeping and for preparing food, whereas the main house served as the center of family life.

Farm buildings were either separate from the dwellings or added on to them. As late as the nineteenth century, covered courtyards ( bashï jabïlghan arbaz ) with towers, dwellings, and byres, like a closed-off polygon, were common. The closed-off courtyard was covered with an earthen roof supported by thick pillars; its main exit to the street had massive doors. The arbaz could be 4 or 5 meters high. There were no windows, although sometimes openings were made in the roof. Within these covered yards hay, firewood, wool, felt, felt coats, and other property were stored. During family festivals, dances and reception of guests took place there. The arbazes were occupied by individual family groups with many members and, when necessary, served as fortresses. Formerly livestock were kept in the arbaz during winter, for which it was divided with poles into sections, each serving for one type of livestock. In the nineteenth century separate houses for married sons began to be built, which did not always adjoin the arbaz.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century the traditional Karachay dwelling began to change. Large glass windows and wooden floors and ceilings were introduced, and within the house Russian cooking ranges replaced fireplaces. There also appeared a new type of house, built of wood and stucco with an iron roof, not infrequently two stories high with a porch running around the entire house. Even when the dwellings include a modern house with a gas stove, rural Karachay women do most of their cooking on the hearth, in the room with the earthen floor.

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