Karakalpaks - Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Large families are a Karakalpak ideal: four children are common, and eight or ten are not unusual. The nuclear family is enhanced by as many as four generations in the same household. Descent is patrilineal. Beyond the extended family is a subclanic formation called the koshe, consisting of a group of families claiming descent from a common male ancestor over four to five generations. To the Karakalpak, the koshe is a psychological reality, with its own claim to territory and close kinship. Under Soviet rule, koshe integrity has been maintained on the kolkhoz, the members of which usually correspond to an uru, or clan. Each clan therefore is made up of several koshe. Upward of twenty-one clans can trace their origins to a dozen or more ancestral tribes that today are ethnographic groups of the Karakalpak nation. According to Bennigsen and Wimbush (1986, 114), they still consider themselves members of a tribe and have an acute sense of kinship with others of the same tribe elsewhere in Turkic areas of the former Soviet Union. Prior to the Revolution, the tribes represented a loose confederation, divided into two Karakalpak federations of separate Turkic and Mongol origins.

Marriage. Karakalpak girls are expected to marry young. During the 1960s, one-third of them married between 16 and 19. Although allowed to attend middle, technical, and, occasionally, higher schools, many girls withdrew at age 18 to be married. Men are expected to pay a bride-price ( kalym ) . Although discouraged by Soviet mores, marriage by prior arrangement (i.e., child marriage) sometimes occurred. Wives were expected to move into the household of their fathers-in-law. They had few rights and privileges except the dowry, which was not illegal in the USSR. What was illegal was the marriage of minors. Muslim families often concealed the ages of their daughters through outright chicanery, for example, by refraining to register their girl infants or by sending them away to relatives in districts where their ages were not known. Where clans are concerned, exogamy is strictly observed. Divorce among Karakalpaks is as infrequent as it is easy; the rate is much lower than that of Soviet Slavs. The typical Muslim divorce was illegal under Soviet law. Legal divorce, however, was simple, especially where childless couples were concerned: at most, it required an hour before a procurator for the division of property. Divorces of parents with children could take several weeks, but the wife invariably got the children and a portion of the husband's wages, which the state garnisheed for her.

Domestic Unit. Dining at the same hearth keeps the Karakalpak family united. To avoid eating "forbidden" Russian fare, the families generally dine at home. Some families continue to eat at low tables and to sleep on the floor.

Inheritance. Sons receive the bulk of the father's wealth. Widows are entitled to one-half the amount inherited by the sons and are subject to levirate.

Socialization. Karakalpaks, like all Soviet citizens, were subject to Soviet, not Muslim, law. Corporal and capital punishment, especially for theft of state property, were legal. Crime rates typically were low, but under the Gorbachev reforms they rose.

Sociopolitical Organization. Under the Soviet system, the Karakalpak ASSR was a dual hierarchical socialist republic. Until the Gorbachev reforms, the republic was governed by a unicameral Supreme Soviet and an overlapping "shadow government" composed of the republic's Communist party leadership. Members of the Supreme Soviet were elected for four years; there was 1 deputy for every 3,000 people.

Social Organization. Apart from the extant inequality between the genders, there were at least two classes within Karakalpak society: the Communist party nomenklatura and the average citizen. The latter disparity may change in the future.

Political Organization. The republic is subdivided territorially and economically into raions (districts). Political representation is based on the raion, gorod (city), poselok (settlement), kishlak (sedentary village), or aul (semisedentary village), each of which has its own party executive committee and governing soviet.

Social Control. The Supreme Soviet of the ASSR elected the Supreme Procuracy, which was composed of two judiciaries, for a period of six years: one was concerned with criminal cases and another with civil cases. Under the Soviet system, the republic was controlled by its militia, the KGB, local branches of the armed services, party volunteers ( druzhiniki ), public opinion, and Islamic mores.

Conflict. In the past, related auls and kishlaks would unite under the names of illustrious patrilineal ancestors, in whose names Karakalpak clans went to war. The recent peaceful outcry against environmental depredation, the result of overirrigation, has inspired a quasi-Green Party. The Karakalpak tribes have not taken up arms since the Basmachi revolts on their territory in 1918-1920.

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