Kazakhs - Marriage and Family

Marriage. A variety of forms of marriage existed among the Kazakhs. The most widespread was marriage via matchmaking and purchase of the bride for a kalyn (bride-price). For an individual to enter into marriage, the observance of certain restrictions tied to the exogamic norms—social, national, and sometimes that of the clan/tribal denomination—were required. The exogamous barrier generally was in effect up to the seventh generation (see "Kin Groups and Descent"). The Kazakhs still uphold this restriction. Traditionally, those who violated the exogamic barrier were severely punished, to the point of expulsion from the clan and even death. In social relations, the parents tried as much as possible to become related to families of standing equal to themselves. Historically, in Kazakh marriages ethnicity and religious factors held great significance. Marriages of mixed ethnicity were encountered, however, especially between Kazakh men and Turkic-speaking women who followed Islam. Less frequently did the Kazakhs take wives from among followers of other faiths. According to Sharia (Islamic law), Muslims could marry nonbelievers only if the latter publicly renounced their faith and adopted Islam. Marriage of Kazakh women to nonbelievers was strictly forbidden. Even in the present, such restrictions generally continue to operate among the Kazakhs.

One form of arranged marriage was the so-called cradle-betrothal, in which the fathers of the future bride and groom negotiated their marriage immediately following the birth of the children.

One of the most ancient forms of marriage among the Kazakhs was abduction, in which, under certain circumstances, the young man abducted his future wife either with her agreement or without it.

As a rule, patrilocal marriage predominated among the Kazakhs. There were instances, however, in which the groom went to live among the relatives of the bride, usually when the daughter was the only child in the family.

Levirate ( emengerlik ) and sororate ( baldyz alu ) exist among the Kazakhs. In accord with the custom of levirate, after the death of her husband, the widow, together with the children and all the property of the deceased, is inherited by his brother (i.e., she becomes his wife). If the wife or a betrothed bride died, the widower husband/groom, according to the custom of sororate, had the right to marry the younger sister of the deceased. Although this custom was not as strongly observed as levirate, individual instances persist in the present day.

There are also remnants of ancient variants of "cousin marriages" among the Kazakhs. The so-called cross-cousin marriage is one in which a man married the daughter of his mother's brother or his father's sister. The "orthocousin" marriage was one in which a man married the daughter of his father's brother or of his mother's sister. The latter, of course, would have been a violation of the exogamic norms and therefore was not encountered among the Kazakhs; marriage between children of sisters, however, was frequently encountered, as the exogamy was observed only along the male line.

A necessary condition of Kazakh nuptials was the custom of recompense payment, the kalyn, from the groom's family to the father of the bride. In general, the bride-price consisted of livestock. In response to the bride-price, the bride brought a rich dowry to the home of her intended, which by tradition obligatorily included a yurt.

In accord with custom, Kazakhs could have several wives; Islamic doctrine permitted up to four wives. Kazakhs turned to polygamy, however, only when the first wife was barren; ii there were no male heir; by virtue of the tradition of levirate; or because of the inability of the first wife to lead the domestic household, owing to illness, for example. A rich man could have several wives in order to increase the number of his descendants, have sufficient labor resources available, and other reasons. According to custom, the husband had to care completely for all his wives and children.

The senior wife in the house ( baybishe ) occupied a special position with respect to the second and third wives ( tokal ) . This often led to strained relations among them and their children. Therefore the Kazakhs tried to separate them into individual households or even auls, insofar as possible.

The wedding ceremonies began with the matchmaking, at which the size of the bride-price and the order of its payments were agreed upon. From this moment on the preparation of the dowry was set into motion in the bride's home. As a rule, the parents carried out the selection of the bride, since frequently the bride and groom did not know each other. Only after payment of part of the bride-price could the groom "secretly" visit the bride.

After the payment of the kalyn, the wedding day ( toy ) was designated. Usually the groom first came to the bride's aul, where the wedding ceremony took place with the aid of a mullah. This was followed by festivities at which various ceremonial songs were sung and everyone was treated to kumys.

The bride departed from her own aul and set off for the groom's home accompanied by the groom and numerous relatives. When the bride approached the groom's home, she covered her face. Entering the house, she greeted the fire at the hearth. Those who gathered for the celebration, generally the groom's relatives, sang songs called bet ashar (uncovering the face). They also sang songs in which the obligations of the young wife were enumerated. Then one of the groom's young relatives raised the veil slightly from the bride's face with a small stick. At this time, those who gathered counted the gifts for the bride-inspection ( smotriny ) .

In the wedding celebrations of the Kazakhs, many ceremonies bear a religio-magical character, for example the showering of the newlyweds with sweets and the "uniting" ceremonies—the drinking of water by the bride and groom from one cup, for instance.

The ceremonies associated with the wedding are generally preserved today, but sometimes, especially in the cities, so-called youth weddings are organized. At these the acquaintances and relatives simply gather with the bride and groom around a common table, and lavish refreshments are presented. In recent years, however, there has been a tendency toward returning to traditional wedding ceremonies.

Still rather widespread, especially in rural areas, is marriage through abduction. This is today only an imitation of abduction, however, since the girl, as a rule, willingly goes to the groom's home "surreptitiously." In such instances, the wedding is arranged immediately. The groom's parents ask forgiveness from the bride's parents, who give it. After the wedding the bride's dowry is brought.

Among the Kazakhs a young wife must behave very modestly; she does not have the right, especially at first, to call her husband's relatives by name, especially the older ones, or show them her face; she must make way for them, let them pass by, and do other acts of obeisance. These taboos, for the most part, are kept even today, just as the survival of clan exogamy up to the seventh generation continues.

Domestic Unit. Among nomadic Kazakhs the small, individual family predominated, consisting, as a rule, of a married couple, their unmarried children, and elderly parents. In accordance with custom, the oldest son was able to marry first, followed by the other sons in descending order of age. The father allotted livestock ( enshi ) to the married son and in this way created a new household ( otay ) . According to the ancient customs of the minorat, the youngest son was not allotted a household, even after marriage. He remained the heir to the ancestral hearth. Among the seminomadic and settled Kazakhs, there were extended families in which several closely related families lived in one household. Usually this was the family of the head of the household, as well as his married sons, and, after his death, the families of his married brothers. As a rule, however, after the death of the household master, the married brothers parted company. The daughters went to live with the families of their husbands after marriage.

Elements of patriarchal relations were preserved in certain ways, however. Married sons, even when they had their own individual households, did not break ties with the paternal household completely. Many labor-intensive tasks, such as pasturing of livestock, shearing of sheep, preparation of felt, and so on, were accomplished through the efforts of several households with close relations along paternal lines. This was especially important in defending livestock and pastures from the encroachment of others. Such a unification of families, the basis of kinship ties, is called in the literature a "family-kin" group. In Kazakh, these groupings are called bir ata baralary (children of one father). If a family-kin group was called Koshenbaralary, for example, then their ancestor was called Koshen, and the families of this group had heads who were grandsons and great-grandsons of Koshen. Among the Kazakhs, such family-kin groups formed communities. The heads of families were considered close relatives up to the fourth or fifth generation.

Socialization. The Kazakhs attach great significance to the birth and raising of children. A Kazakh family is not considered happy without children, especially sons—the continuers of the clan. There are many customs and ceremonies associated with birth and raising of children. These customs arose from centuries of experiences and from the Kazakh worldview. Thus, they protected a pregnant woman from the evil eye with the aid of amulets and did not allow her to leave the house alone at night; weapons, wolves' teeth, eagles' bills, and owl talons were forbidden wherever she lived. All this was necessary to protect her from impure forces. The pregnant woman herself had to observe a multitude of taboos. In order not to tangle the child's umbilical cord, for example, she could not step over the staff for raising the dome of the yurt ( bakan ) , the device for catching horses ( kuruk ), rope ( arkan ) , and many other items. She was also forbidden to eat camel meat because it was thought that, were she to do so, she would carry her child for twelve months, like a she-camel. Kazakhs protect pregnant women from heavy labor, especially in the later months.

Kazakhs carefully guard the woman and child during the actual birth and the first forty days thereafter, which are regarded as especially dangerous for the baby. Various rituals are followed—placing the child in the cradle on the seventh day, for example. The fortieth day after birth is seen as especially festive because the danger is deemed to have passed. Only women gather at this celebration.

Kazakhs accustom children to work from an early age. They teach a boy to ride a horse at age 3 and to tend it and other livestock at age 5 or 6. The shaving ceremony, strongly upheld in modern times, is conducted when a boy has reached age 3 to 10. Girls are taught to sew, embroider, and carry out other household activities. In the past, Kazakhs believed that at age 13 to 15 they were ready for independent life and could have their own family; at present girls marry at age 16 to 18.

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