TRADITIONS TO DO WITH BIRTH
Birth, the first turning points in the life, is regarded as a happy event in Turkey as in the rest of the world. Every child that comes into the world is a source of happiness not just for his/her mother and father, but also for the relatives, friends and neighbors. That is because every birth increases the number of family members, and increased numbers have always meant increased strength. Families belonging to small communities and ethnic groups particularly feel safer and stronger as their population increases. The common expression ‘children make the family’s kettle whistle’ is a clear emphasis of the importance attached to the matter.
On the other hand, birth also increases respect for women, and ensures their place in the family group. Infertile women experience social and psychological problems, as men who are unable to have children do, since they have difficulties in taking their rightful place in the male community, no matter how much those close to them underplay the problem. The father has confidence in the future as a man with a child and gains respect among relatives and friends. In the same way that a childless woman is scorned, a man feels much the same social and psychological embarrassment because he is not regarded as man, creating a pressure imposed by his relatives and friends.
Birth, that gives to the mother an identity and completes her, as well as giving confidence to the father and strength to the family, is attributed almost importance by the couple and their relatives. Some transition customs and ceremonies accompany birth and the phases connected to it.
One of the most important transition phases in birth, the origin of life, is tradition and custom.
Since birth is a turning point, belief and custom obliges women to abide by certain traditions, starting from the very desire to have children in the first place. In this way, beginning with the desire to become pregnant, the mother is encouraged to abide by hundreds of processes imposed by belief, custom and religion.
Thus, the process of birth is governed by hundreds of customs, beliefs, and religious and magical rituals, starting from the woman’s wish to conceive.
The customs, beliefs and traditions related to birth in Anatolia can be examined under three main features:
The measures related to pre-birth customs, traditions, and beliefs mainly focus on avoiding infertility, conception, cravings, pregnancy, predetermining the child’s sex, and things pregnant women are expected to avoid.
Conception and avoiding infertility:
In Turkish society, it was usually the woman who was blamed when a couple failed to have a child, and the measures taken and practices followed mainly focused on her.
These customary measures in the past generally consisted of;
Practices with a religious or magical aspect,Practices of popular medicine,Methods of medical treatment.
Today, men and women are equally regarded as the possible cause of any infertility, and both will undergo medical treatment. Although traditional treatment methods are still existing today, where modern medical treatments generally prevail in both rural and urban areas.
Cravings (during pregnancy):
When a woman reaches this particular “craving” phase, she may avoid doing certain things. In particular, she may avoid touching particular objects and eating certain foods, or else she may feel a particular craving for certain foodstuffs. These are considered physiologically necessary to meet the lack of various substances in her body.
Such women generally avoid hot, bitter or spicy foods, or are forced to do so by those around them. That attitude is very prevalent, and can clearly be seen in the expression ‘Eat bitter food and give birth to a girl.’ Eating sweet food and consuming sweet liquids is believed to encourage the chances of having a boy. This is reflected in another saying, ‘Eat sweet things and give birth to a cavalryman.’
Pregnant women, or those who have just had children, are regarded in some sense as unwell, and treated accordingly. To put it another way, the cultural values of the pregnant woman’s peer group and the community in which she lives, inspire them to regard her in that way. As a result of these values, they then expect her to behave in line with those expectations and to play a particular role.
The pregnant woman may be described as “yüklü” (loaded), “iki canlı” (with twin lives), “ağır ayak” (slow-footed), “koynu dolu” (full-bosomed), “boğru dolu” (full-breasted) or “guzlacı”.
The sex of the child:
One matter for considerable speculation during pregnancy is the sex of the child.
In Anatolia, several estimates take it into consideration, such as:
The physical appearance of the woman, the food the woman has consumed, the attitude of the woman, the length of time the child moves in the womb, the form of birth pains.
Nowadays, families are mostly resort to modern medical methods rather than traditional ones in matters related to the sex of the child.
Things pregnant women are expected to avoid or do:
It has been scientifically proved, that the unborn child is influenced by all its mother’s actions, from the moment of entry into the womb. In this respect, a system of beliefs applies across Turkey, where traditions are still prevailed.
This system of beliefs are lead on the pregnant woman to avoid certain forms of behavior or to engage in others.
Some forms of behavior that the pregnant woman is expected to avoid during her pregnancy are:
Not looking at bears, monkeys, and camels; not eating fish, rabbit, trotters or sheep’ heads; not chewing gums; not attend funerals or looking at the deceased; not secretly taking and eating anything.
There are various other measures taken apart from those listed above; these are forms of behavior with a positive inclination that share the same origin.
Some forms of behavior for a pregnant woman is expected to engage in are:
Looking at the moon, looking at beautiful people, smelling roses, eating quinces, apples, green plums and grapes.
Traditionally, in most parts of Anatolia, women used to give birth at home in their villages with the help of midwives, and the majority of practices carried out during childbirth were believed to make the whole process easier.
Some of these practices were:
Unfastening the woman’s hair; opening locked doors, chests and windows; feeding birds; a woman who had earlier had an easy labor would rub the back of the pregnant woman; shooting in the air; putting the woman on someone’s back and shaking her; making the woman jump down from a high place, lie down the woman on a piece of cloth and swing her.
Nowadays, childbirth takes place in hospitals and the help of qualified midwives is only required in remote and mountainous villages.
Practices for the after birth can be grouped regarding the child’s umbilical cord and placenta; the accouchement; the idea of the mother-snatcher or baby-snatcher; the forty-day threshold and the forty-day precautions.
Child’s Umbilical Cord:
In the same way that it is believed that the food and drink a pregnant woman consumes and the people, animals and things she looks at affects the child, the same belief applies to the relation between the child and the umbilical cord and placenta.
That is why the child’s umbilical cord cannot be thrown away haphazardly, for that is believed to influence the infant’s future, employment and life.
In the light of this belief, the umbilical cord is buried in the courtyard of a mosque, for the child to be a devout person; is thrown over a wall or into a school garden, for the child to be an educated person; is buried in a stable, for the child to be an animal lover, and is thrown into water, for the child to search for his/her destiny elsewhere.
The placenta is described as the end, friend or comrade of the child. Since the placenta is regarded as part of the child, and even as the child itself, it is wrapped up and buried in a clean place in a clean piece of cloth after birth.
Since women give birth in hospitals today, practices related to the placenta have totally vanished, although customs and beliefs regarding the umbilical cord are still common.
Women who have just given birth are referred to as “loğusa”, “lohsa”, “emzikli”, “loğsa”, “nevse”, or “kırklı”. The length of time a woman who has just had a baby will stay confined to bed depends on her own physiological condition, the question of whether the birth was a difficult or an easy one, climate, environmental considerations and how much the woman is loved by her family.
It is a common belief in Anatolia that women are under the influence of various supernatural forces during accouchement. “The grave of woman in accouchement is open for forty days” (the accouchement period is believed to last forty days), is a saying commonly used in traditional areas that supports this belief.
The idea of the “mother-snatcher” or “baby-snatcher”:
The mother or baby-snatcher is conceived of as disturbing women and newborn babies during accouchement and sometimes even killing them, and may be referred to as “al”, “cazı”, “cadı”, “al anası”, “al kızı”, “al karası”, “koncoloz”, “goncoloz”, and “kara koncoloz”.
People in Anatolia resort to a number of practices to protect against the mother or baby-snatcher, who is believed to live in stables, haylofts, mills, deserted ruins, wells, water sources and places where women in accouchement and newborn babies are left alone.
Some of these practices are: hanging brooms, the Koran, onions, garlic and blue beads is believed to protect against the evil eye in the room where the woman and newborn baby lie; inserting a needle or packing a needle under the pillow of the woman or newborn baby; placing sharp tools such as daggers, sickles, knives etc. under the pillow; putting breadcrumbs and water in the room.
Practices related to the mother or baby-snatcher are still to be found, although much less frequently than in the past.
The forty-day threshold belief:
People in Anatolia call any sickness experienced by the mother or the baby and any failure to regain health within 40 days of giving birth as “the falling forties” or some similar name such as name; “kırk basması”, “kırk düşmesi”, “kırk karışması”, “loğusa basması”, and “aydaş”. It is a common belief that a number of living things and objects will harm mother and newborn baby in the forty-day period after birth. Practices and measures to prevent the ‘falling forties’ are very common.
In order to prevent the ‘falling forties’, mother and baby are not allowed to leave the house for forty days and care is taken not to bring together women and newborn babies who have not passed through this forty-day period.
The falling forties in a baby used to be related to poor development and weight loss. Various religious and magical practices were considered to be a remedy to prevent the falling forties. Nowadays, such practices are almost extinct.
Washing the mother and child within 40 days of birth to prevent them falling ill within that period is known as “making the forties”. It is commonly referred to as “kırklama”, or “kırk dökme” and “kırk çıkarma”.
The practice is commonly carried out on the 40th day after birth. This period differs according to region, however, and may be carried out on the 7th, 20th, 30th, 37th, 39th or 41st day. Although there may be some differences in procedure in different regions, the aim is the same.
“Making the forties” is still a common practice today as in the past among those customs and practices related to birth.
A series of rules, customs, ceremonies, processes and practices still exists, covering the development of the child after birth and which regularize his/her relations with parents, other members of the family and social surroundings. The child has to be protected as he/she passing through the stages, taken care of, and gradually adapt to the forms and values, in other words the model adopted by the group or cultural environment of which he/she is a part. These process and practices, customs and ceremonies are sometimes flexible and sometimes strict in accordance with the importance attached to them.
Naming the baby:
The first thing is to give a name to the baby. In traditional sections of society, the baby is usually given a name with a religious ceremony. This still applies in many places although it is gradually loses influence.
Since naming the baby is no ordinary matter, it is carried out by a celebration and blessing, although this is not overstated. The name, which has been selected beforehand, is given at a meeting held for the purpose. A clergyman or a respected devout individual gives the call to prayer and whispers the name of the baby into its ear three times. If no imam is present, the name is given by the father or grandfather of the child in the same way.
Giving a middle (umbilical) name to the child is also common. The name given to the child while the umbilical cord is being cut off, is called its “umbilical name”.
The umbilical name is given to children in Anatolia because it is believed that the child will be called by his/her umbilical name as the imam reads the a final repentance and forgiveness prayer as he/she is lowered into the grave.
Apart from the main name of the person, another name is frequently given and used, especially by close relatives and members of the group of which he/she is a part. This is called the “nickname” and is mostly seen in traditional parts of society, especially in villages.
Modern medicine and traditional culture agree that mother’s milk is the healthiest nutrition for the baby.
In traditional culture, the first milk is given to the child after three calls to prayer. With this, people believe that the child will have patience in the future. The mother’s first milk is called “ağız” (mouth) and is duly given to the child. It is believed that a child who does not have mouth milk will be thin and weak in the future.
In traditional culture, boys are suckled more than girls. The reason here is that people want their sons to be very strong and powerful.
When the baby teethes, one of the most significant signs of a child’s biological development, Turkish people usually mark the occasion with a ceremony. Behind this ceremony and festivity which are held to mark the appearance of the teeth, which are essential for chewing, are the desires to bless food, increase the child’s chances of earning his/her daily bread and so on. In this ceremony, a number of traditional practices also take place to ensure the child has strong and even teeth.
The most common name for this ceremony and festivity, which has different names in different regions, is “teeth wheat”. In different regions, it is called “diş aşı” (teeth meal), “diş bulguru” (teeth bulgur), and “diş buğdayı” (teeth wheat).
Starting to walk:
It is a another biological stage for the childhood when the child starts to walk around. In the past, a number of practices were resorted to for children who failed to walk in the expected time, who were late to start walking or who continuously fell down when doing so.
Some of the practices are following: spreading egg on the child’s heels; washing the child in water to which walnut leave and salt has been added; taking the child to places of pilgrimage.
Starting to talk:
There are a number of remedies resorted to the children who cannot talk and who do not start speaking at the appropriate time. These remedies and processes are mainly grouped into three - opening, cutting, and incantation.
The following are some of these practices: the child who cannot speak is taken to places of pilgrimage and his/her mouth is opened with a key, the child’s frenulum is cut, a spell is read over the child by someone who is believed to have healing power and so on.
Cutting the fingernails of the child:
Customs and practices related to the first fingernail cutting are also very common in Anatolia. The most common practice is for the baby’s hands to be put in a sack full of money after his/her fingernails have been cut for the first time. If the baby is a boy, the money he takes from the sac is used for the capital of the business he will later set up. If it is a girl, the money she takes is kept as money for her dowry.
Saving the child from the evil eye:
Belief in the evil eye is very common is Islamic countries, and especially in Anatolia. People believe that the evil eye, which threatens all living creatures and things, is a particular danger to children. That is why precautions taken to protect children from the evil eye in the past can still be seen frequently today.
Some of the measures taken to protect children from the evil eye are following:children have a spell read over them by someone who is believed to have healing power, children are taken to places of pilgrimage and so on.
Circumcision is among the most significant traditional procedures related to the child in Anatolia, and is the strictest and most widespread practice among religious and ritual procedures. No parents ever wish to break away from this entrenched custom. The sanctions of the tradition are so strong that no objection is ever permitted.
The word “sünnet” (the word used in Turkish for circumcision) comes from Arabic origin and means “busy path”. In a broader sense, it refers to the path to God and the good or bad attitudes which human being adopt.
In Islam, complying with the practices and teachings of the Prophet is known as “sünnet”. Society makes almost no concessions on this. Consequently, young boys who have not been circumcised for various reasons within the socially acceptable period for this practice feel uncomfortable with their situation. People who have not been circumcised at the socially acceptable age are usually humiliated and criticized. In this respect, the sanctions imposed by a deep-rooted custom still function as intensely as in the past.
The tradition of circumcision is mainly separated into the following headings:
1) The best age and time for circumcision:
There are no specific rules for determining the best age and time for the ceremony. Children are usually circumcised before they start to school or when they go to primary school, before puberty. Recently, however, in big cities, some parents have been having their children circumcised right after birth in the hospital. The main aim is here to prevent the child suffering pain and fear at a later age. Such early circumcisions are not encountered in traditional sections of society.
Circumcision performs a number of functions in the social structure - a grand circumcision ceremony not only allows the family of the boy concerned to affirm its respectability in the eyes of the community, it also increases that respectability, as well as being a source of considerable joy for the parents. In Anatolia, taking care of the child, having him circumcised and having him married are duties of the parents.
Wealthy relatives have poorer children or orphans circumcised together with their own children. This task is sometimes also undertaken by charities.
Spring, summer and autumn months are generally preferred for the operation: Saturdays or Sundays are preferred for the circumcision ceremony, especially in big cities. In the past, the circumcision operations were usually carried out on Thursdays because Friday was a holiday and considered a day of good omen.
2) Preparations for the ceremony:
A family starts preparations by determining the time they will have their son circumcised almost two months beforehand, in accordance with the boy’s age and their economic situation. The family decides on a date and announces it some ten days before the day selected for the ceremony.
This announcement can be made by sending messengers with the news or printed invitations.
In traditional communities in particular, great attention is paid to inviting everybody.
4) Preparing the child:
The family starts to prepare the child for the circumcision a few days before the ceremony. In fact, the child begins to experience the joy and the fear of the operation long before that. In traditional communities, parents start to prepare their son for this significant turning point in life months beforehand.
A special circumcision outfit is the most important part of the preparations for the ceremony. Rich families adorn their sons with jewels in big cities, and a light blue headgear on which the word “Maşallah” is embroidered on the front is the most common element of circumcision outfits there. In villages, the children who will be circumcised wear new outfits; a “çevre” (a surrounding piece of cloth) and “yağlık” (a large napkin) are hung around their necks and shoulders, and bridal tinsel is hung from the back of their headgear. A few days before the ceremony, or even on the day itself, the children to be circumcised are paraded around with their friends, either on horseback, on a cart or else by car. People are informed by means of this parade that the child is to be circumcised.
5) The circumcision operation and circumciser:
The circumcision procedure consists of cutting off the child’s foreskin. The boy is sat on the lap of his kirve (someone who acts as a kind of godfather at the circumcision) if he has one, or if not, on the lap of some other relative. The boy is made to open his legs, and the person whose lap he is sitting on holds the boy’s arms very tight. Meanwhile, encouraging words stressing manly virtues are spoken in order to help reduce the child’s fears. Before and during the operation, the words “Allahu ekber Allahu ekber” are uttered, and people recite a very common bantering couplet “oldu da bitti maşallah, iyi olur inşallah” (It has happened at once, May God preserve him; it will grow better, by God’s will). The person who carries out the circumcision procedure; that is the operation, is generally referred to a “sünnetçi”, meaning circumciser. This individual is also known as the “abdal” (wiseman) or “kızılbaş abdal” (scarlet-head wiseman) in Central and Eastern Anatolia.
Nowadays, currently, the operation is carried out by trainned health officials, who describe themselves as “fenni sünnetçi” (scientific circumciser).
6) Gifts and presents:
The major turning point of the circumcision ceremony is enhanced with various gifts, usually consisting of gold, money, clothing and household goods. Today, the practice of giving gifts and presents to the boy who has been circumcised still continues.
THE INSTITUTION OF “KIRVE”
The kirve is also called “kirve”, “kivra”, or “kivre” in different regions.
The institution of the “kirve” can briefly be described as a virtual kinship that is formed when one of two economically and socially equal families meets the expenses of the circumcision ceremony for the other. The kirve is the person who will support the child during the circumcision to ease his pain by taking him into his lap and at the same time, meet expenses of the ceremony, in full or in part. People who have their children marry each other by means of the “kirve” institution have a kinship relationship, and families who engage in “kirve” relationships enjoy a lasting friendship. We lack sufficient information about the origin of the “kirve”, which is very common, especially in the provinces of East, South and Southeast Anatolia.
Although it was more popular in the past, the “kirve” still exists since it fulfills the following functions:
The concept of the “kirve” is an important social institution since;
It strengthens currently existing relations,It enlarges the social web of the families involved,It functions as a social security mechanism,It brings together families with different languages, religions and ethnic origins,It makes it easier for outsiders to adapt to the area,It brings with it significant bargaining power with increased solidarity and strength.
The relationship established by means of the kirve lasts until death. The children of kirves are forbidden to marry. This ban brings with it much more relaxed relationships and thus leads to stronger bonds between the kirves.
Marriage, another turning points of the life, is both individual since it brings together the lives of a man and a woman, and social, since it establishes family and kinship ties. The wedding ceremony takes place as a “festival”, especially in small village communities, since it is an activity covering the whole village. While some of the ceremonies held during different stages of the wedding can be considered as a feast and entertainment, others resemble an “elegy”.
The stages of customs and ceremonies covering the whole wedding procedure can be listed as following:
A. Before the wedding
I. Matchmaking and asking for the hand of a daughter
II. a. Verbal agreement to betrothal
III. Koran-accompanied wedding gift announcement
IV. Sending and exhibiting the trousseau
V. Bridal bath
I. Henna night
a. Bride henna
b. Groom henna
II. Receiving the bride
IV. Bridal Chamber
V. After the Bridal Chamber
C. Practices after the wedding
After the decision that a young man is to marry has been taken, the journey begins with looking for a potential bride. In traditional parts of society in particular, families which wanted to marry off a son used to take a leading role in the search for a bride. It may be observed that this situation has started to change recently. Young people themselves choose the people whom they will marry after dating them, or the decision is taken together with the family.
In the form of marriage that is initiated by “viewing visits”, the mother of the boy and women close to the family visit the home of the girl and inspect her. If they like the girl, she is then shown to the groom. If he also likes her, the family decides to officially ask her family for her hand.
Visiting the home of the girl and asking her father for her hand is called “dünürlük” (task of father and mother-in-law), “dünürlüğe gitme” (visiting as father and mother-in-law), and “elçiliğe gitme” (visiting as an envoy) and similar names. The prominent women and men from the family visit the girl’s family to ask for her hand according to the command of God and the word of the Prophet at a previously determined sacred date (Thursdays and Sundays are generally considered days of good omen). Yet since the girl’s home is expected to be a place of modesty, the girl’s family does not give its consent on the first visit. A few visits to ask for the girl’s hand are made, giving the family of the girl enough time to think about it. If the family gives its consent, a verbal agreement to betrothal is made. In accordance with the request of the two sides, the bride and groom may put on their engagement rings on the same day, and this is sometimes done at an engagement ceremony held separately. After verbal agreement to betrothal has been made, the guests and the hosts drink sherbet to provide a sweet harmony between the families, which is a widespread custom. Drinking sherbet means that the family of the girl consents to the marriage and that it will go ahead. The families also discuss issues such as the dates of the engagement and wedding ceremonies, the household goods to be purchased or the amount of bride price as they make their verbal agreement to the betrothal.
After both sides have completed their preparations, an engagement ceremony is held at the girl’s home, generally with the women in attendance. The man’s family hands over the jewelry and other gifts purchased for the girl; in return, her family also gives presents. The ceremony can include an engagement feast if the sides so wish. This joyous event is at the same time celebrated with entertainments. Engagement means both take a step towards to the marriage and starting period determined for the wedding and an opportunity for the both sides to get to know each other and maintain a harmonious relationship. In the event of disagreement between the sides, the engagement can be broken down, although this is almost always a last resort.
The next stage after the engagement is the wedding. First of all, the people around should be invited to the wedding. Another custom that is fading nowadays is distributing “recited” food or gifts to the people in the village. (The Koran is recited as the gifts or food to be distributed are prepared, hence the name.) In one sense, a wedding invitation can even be “recited”. One individual is charged with distributing the ‘recited’ gifts to the village. These can be a piece of cloth, a handkerchief, a hand-painted kerchief, or food such as sugar and pastries. As these are distributed the guests are also invited to the wedding.
Although fairy tales mention wedding ceremonies lasting forty days and forty nights, they generally last for three days in Anatolia. Currently, two-day ceremonies held on the weekends are preferred for economic and social purpose.
The wedding ceremony, the basis of marriage, consists of two main parts:
a. Henna night
b. Receiving the bride
The ceremony held one day before the wedding in the home of bride and groom is called the henna night. It generally takes place at the girl’s home and among the women, although either side can elect to host it.
A flag is planted on the roof of the man’s home at an early hour on the day henna night will be held. This is done by a specially chosen standard-bearer in the company of a large crowd, who celebrate the occasion amid great festivities. In some places, a meal called flag bread is handed out to the crowd. Flag-planting means the wedding has officially started.
On the day of henna night is to be held, or a few days earlier, the trousseau is taken from the girl’s home and brought to the man’s, and the bridal chamber is prepared. The trousseau is sometimes exhibited to the guests for a few days in the girl’s home before the wedding, and in the man’s home during and after it. It is a widespread tradition that someone sits on the trousseau chest, asking for a tip as it is taken from the girl’s home. In addition, in the early hours of the day the henna night is to be held, a group of women from the bridegroom’s family take the henna that will be placed on the bride’s hands and feet, her clothes and the food that will be offered to the guests to the girl’s home, again to the accompaniment of great festivities. The women who gather in the girl’s home on the henna night have fun for a while, but later try to make her cry by singing sad songs. Henna that has earlier kneaded with water is brought in on a tray surrounded by candles and placed in the middle of the room. In some places, the henna is first put on the hands of the bride and then distributed to the guests; the other areas the henna is first distributed to the guests, and only after everybody has left it is placed on the bride’s hands. If the woman so wishes, henna can also be placed on her feet apply to the hair. Considerable attention is paid to charging a woman with a happy marriage, called the “başı bütün” (meaning “whose head is complete”, In a sense, this describes her as someone who has a complete family with husband and children and whose marriage is whole, not separated by divorce) to knead and distribute the henna and apply it to the girl’s hand. The woman places the henna on one of the bride’s hands, and a young girl places it on the other. Before the henna is applied, coins or gold are also placed in her hands.
The day after the henna night is the day for receiving the bride and of the main wedding ceremony. Both sides to the wedding offer food to the guests, usually entertaining them to the accompaniment of drums and reeds. In the early hours of the morning, ceremonies known as the bridegroom shave, preparing the bridegroom and such are held at the man’s home. The bride is readied in her own parent’s home. Professional women who work at all wedding ceremonies and prepare the wedding feasts are generally employed for this. On that day, the guests in the man’s home go to the girl’s house to receive the bride. As the bride leaves her father’s home, a red belt, also called a belt of perseverance, is tied around her waist by her brother or uncle. After the bride has said farewell to her family, she is taken out of her father’s home to the accompaniment of prayers, sometimes to hymns, and sometimes with festivities accompanied by reed and drum. As the bride leaves her home, she does things at home so that her single friends may also marry. These include unraveling an unfinished stocking before she leaves so that her friends can marry one after the other in rapid succession, like the unraveled stocking. Some religious and magical rites are performed to provide the couple with happiness, for a smooth marriage as the bride is leaving her father’s home and as she steps into the man’s home. These include a mirror being held behind the bride as she leaves her father’s home, expressing the wish for her to have a bright life. In the same way, as she is passing through the threshold of the man’s home, butter, honey and similar things are spread on the threshold and the door jamb with the aim of providing a sweet harmony between the bride and the people in her new home.
People throw out the sweets, coins, dried fruits and nuts over the head of the bride, as an expression of a wish for abundance.
The night of the wedding, a small feast is given to the remaining few guests in the house of the groom’s family, and then a religious ceremony is held to marry the couple, presided over by the imam. In earlier times, the official wedding could be held any time after the ceremony; but recently, great care has been taken that the official wedding should be held before the wedding ceremony. The official wedding is usually held when the families of the bride and groom come together to go shopping for the ceremony.
After the religious ceremony, the couple come together in their own room. Meanwhile, a series of religious rites and spells are performed to provide a harmonious relationship between bride and groom. These include thrusting a knife into the door of the room, or opening a lock in front of the door. In addition, the people there are asked not to cross their hands and arms. Food specially prepared earlier for that night by the bride and placed in her trousseau chest, together with a food tray with other meals, are left in the room. In some places, a single spoon, a single fork and a single glass are put on the tray to oblige the bride and groom to share them. It is believed that they will get used to each other much quicker that way. Then follows the custom of inspecting the bed sheet that is the symbol of the bride’s innocence and chastity. The aunt or cook who is responsible for organizing the wedding is informed of the situation of the bride, and then conveys this news back to the families. Sometimes, if the bride proves not to be a virgin, she may be sent back to her father’s home.
The day after the wedding, other festivities called the bridal veil day, face revealing or head covering are held. These are much simpler than what has gone before and involve only the women. In earlier times, the bride would be taken to the village fountain and asked to fetch water during these festivities. The bride also used to knead dough and cook pastry. This was the result of a belief that such things would bring abundance to the new home. These things have all been forgotten, however. Bridal veil day festivities are not held in many places either any more.
Military Service and Leaving Home
Military service is deeply rooted in the Turkish culture, and is regarded as a sacred duty. Joining to the army is equated with being an honourable and virtuous person. In rural areas in particular, men who have not performed their military obligations are not well regarded, and what they say is not taken seriously.
The beginning and end of military service, which Turkish society in general attaches such a great importance, like the other major landmarks in life, marked with ceremonies. There are regional differences in the ceremonies for sending someone off and welcoming him back.
One of the most widespread practices all over Turkey is for young men who have received their call-up papers to be invited to dine by all their friends and relatives in turn. The young soldier-to-be mat also be entertained with his family. It is also customary for entertainment to be laid on during and after such celebratory meals.
In the province of Kars, such young men visit their relatives in the city and the surrounding villages to bid them farewell, during the course of which they are given gifts of money and pastries to keep them going on their journey.
In the village of Kırtıl in Silifke, the evening before young men are due to leave for military service, they invite their male and female friends to their homes and carouse until late. Money, known as ‘good luck money,’ is placed in the young men’s pockets.
In the village of Verimli in the Ankara region of Kızılcahamam, elderly men and women say, ‘This is so you should stand guard for me’ as they hand over their ‘good luck money.’
During send-off ceremonies at Seydişehir, the women divide the pastries they have prepared into three. One part is thrown into the water as ‘food for wolves and crows.’ One part is wrapped in the young man’s shirt and kept in a chest, and the third part is given to him to eat on the journey. Each time the young man comes home on leave a part of the piece lying wrapped up in his shirt is broken off and given to him to eat. After seeing the soldier off, the women all gather at a fountain and eat. No wooden spoons can be used during the meal, since it is believed that if anyone does so, the young soldier will receive frequent beatings during his time in uniform.
In the village of Şükranlı in Eskişehir’s province of Seyitgazi, the young man is made to cut wood in front of his fiancee’s house, if he has one, in the belief that this will help him get used to hardship.
As well as such farewell rituals as these, which concern a particularly important part of life, there is an equally wide range of ways of welcoming young men home after the completion of their military service.
In that same village of Kırtıl the soldier brings henna with him once he has been discharged. On the evening following his arrival back to the village, visitors who come to welcome him back burn the henna, known as ‘soldier’s henna,’ which is meant to bring with it good luck.
Another matter regarding the performance of military service is soldiers’ letters home, written with great longing and yearning for home. These letters usually begin with greetings, explain how things are going, and end with a tradition quatrain.
Greetings are extended to the all soldier’s friends and relatives. In the days when communications were not easy and letters were very much the only means available, married soldiers would find it difficult to express their feelings for their wives, who would be staying under their fathers’ roofs, out of fear that other people would read their letters. They therefore resorted to coded verses:
‘Go, my letter, go.
Learn of her and return.
We are two who once were one,
Ask her if we are three.’
This is an example of a soldier asking his young wife if she was expecting.
As well as these letters of general news, there are also humorous soldiers’ letters, generally sent to close friends. There is great rejoining when a soldier’s military service comes to an end and he returns home. Friends and relatives visit him constantly for up to two weeks, and he is treated as a guest in his own home and not allowed to do any work. In some regions the young man is also given gifts during the course of such visits
Customs And Beliefs Related To Death In Anatolia
Social life contains a large number of different beliefs, customs, traditions, rites and ceremonies, stereotype attitudes, etc. in many fields. In small settlements in particular, where traditions, customs and beliefs are more influential, death is a concept that reinforces of social solidarity. Death, which is seen as a person’s physical disappearance although he continues to live in spirit, is generally a terrifying phenomenon. With the subconscious pressure created by this fear, a number of events or manifestations are interpreted as omens of impending death, including unexpected forms of behavior, objects being used in a particular way, meteorological events (a shooting star, thunder, northeast wind, etc.), the behavior of animals and noises made by them (barking of dogs, the hooting of owls, a rooster crowing at the wrong time, etc.), dreams (of coffins, wedding dresses, wedding-festivities, camels, houses being demolished, falling teeth, onions, pepper etc.), vehicles and machinery (a shoe turning upside down, a pair of scissors being left open, creaking sounds in the ceiling etc.), as well as physiological and psychological changes (someone’s growing pale, an increase or decrease in appetite, staring fixedly at one point, etc.) in the sick person. People tend to avoid events that are thought to trigger the process of death. Among the ways this has done, is to slaughter the rooster that crows at an inappropriate time, giving some food that has prepared at home or bought outside to the poor if one sees a bad dream, describing that dream to water, waking up pregnant women or children if they are asleep when a dead person is taken away, emptying water cups in the home, where there is a funeral, sweeping the home after the deceased has been taken away, turning cauldron in which the water used for washing the dead has been boiled upside down etc.
People try to comfort the individual who is dying. In order to do this, the pillow under the head of the person who has realized that he is dying is taken away, he is given water, no one weeps loudly in his presence, and relatives who live far away are called to be present. If they are unable to be present, objects that belong to them or photographs are shown to the moribund person. An imam or someone who can read the Koran is also called to attendance.
In the immediate aftermath of a death, the deceased is removed from the bed he died in and placed on the prepared floor, called a ‘comfort bed.’ His jaw is bound up and his feet tied together (usually at the big toes). If the person died at night and there was a relative on his way coming to see him from a long way away, the body is not buried. The waiting time for burial does not pass 14-15 hours (if the died in the evening he will be left until noon the following day; if he died in the morning, the waiting period ends that afternoon). A piece of iron is placed on the stomach of the deceased to prevent the body swelling up. The deceased is not left alone. Local people are informed of the death by word of mouth and by the salah (a prayer recited on certain occasions by the muezzin before he issues the call to prayer). After that, the process that is thought to ease the passage of the deceased to the other side. These practices are also fulfilled to protect the living people from the bad effects of death.
The first practices regarding sending the deceased off include washing the body and enshrouding it within fixed rules. If the deceased was a woman, she is washed by the other women, and by men if the dead person was male. Washers are experienced and well-versed in the rules. In villages, the body is washed inside the house or on a bench reserved for this purpose in the garden, and few people are allowed to be present. When the deceased is washed, the relatives pour a bowl of water over the body, give their consent and ask the deceased for whatever they have shared in the past. In big cities, the deceased is washed in a room reserved for this purpose in the cemetery. The piece of cloth used as a shroud is always white. The shroud for women has more parts to it than that used for men. As a female corpse is wrapped in the shroud, henna (this may also be applied to her hands before the body is washed), black cumin, rose water, Zamzam (water from a well near Kaaba) etc. are sprinkled inside the shroud. When the deceased is waiting for burial or as the body is wrapped in the shroud, incense may be burned nearby to prevent any bad odors. The enshrouded body is then placed inside the coffin and taken to the place where funeral prayer is performed. The funeral prayer is performed at the cemetery or else in the mosque. Women are not usually able to attend the funeral prayer.
Following the funeral prayers, the coffin is carried to the cemetery by the congregation. The grave is prepared before the coffin is brought there. Graves for women are usually dug deeper than those for men. Many different types of burial have been observed in archeological excavations in Anatolia, which has been a home to many civilizations. Bodies have been found inside large, earthenware jars, or in coffins, or placed in storied compartments in a sarcophagus, in tumuli and sometimes in mummified form, etc. Recently, the most popular form of burial is that a flat grave is dug or a separate cavity is opened inside the grave and the body is placed there. The cavity is closed up with branches, adobe, bricks or briquette, and the grave is filled with soil. The body is usually placed in the grave without a coffin. Following the burial, prayers and formulae thought to help the deceased on the other side are recited by the imam. The soil used to fill in the grave is then allowed to settle, which takes about a year. A tombstone may be erected at both ends of the grave, or only at the head. These can be of stone or cement, and recently of marble. Graves are usually, in villages and big cities, in public cemeteries, but there are also family graves in land belonging to the family. There are also family graves set aside in large public cemeteries in some cities. A hollow spot is generally provided or a pot is placed on the grave to hold water and flowers. Various trees (pine, willow, mulberry, cypress, poplar etc.) are planted at the head end of the grave. The tombstone is embellished, with the deceased’s name, birth and death dates and sometimes various literary expressions being inscribed on it. Tombstones serve as historical documents since they reflect the age in which they were made. People avoid stepping on the graves and take care not to allow animals on them. In big cities, there are also commercial institutions that carry out funeral services – from issuing obituary notices to organizing the burial.
Following the burial, people offer their condolences in the graveyard or at home in order to console the relatives of the deceased. Visits to the home of the close relatives of the deceased to offer condolences continue for a while. Meanwhile, no food is generally cooked in the home of the deceased for 2-3 days (in villages), being brought in by neighbors instead. The deceased is remembered on the third, seventh, fortieth and fifty-second days after his death with religious ceremonies and meals. It is believed that the dead pass through a number of stages, the most common of which is the belief that the flesh is removed from the bone on the fortieth or fifty-second days, and it is a common belief that whatever commemoration is held on that date will ease the suffering of the deceased. Furthermore, the deceased is also contented by this, which prevents him doing any harm to the family. It is believed that the smell of the halva or other foods cooked and distributed on special days (the third, seventh and fortieth days after death, festivals, Thursdays etc.) reaches the dead.
While some of the belongings of the deceased (cloths, shoes etc.) are kept as a memento, most are distributed to the poor; if the belongings are not taken by anybody or are in bad condition, they are burned.
If there is a wedding near a home where someone has been buried on that day, musical instruments are not played. The consent of the family of the deceased has to be obtained to be able to play musical instruments on the other days. This applies not so much to cities, but rather to close-knit small settlements. The pain and suffering felt at losing someone we love or know are experienced in the context social patterns, a process known as mourning. The close family of the deceased refrain from attending social activities, and do not wear new clothing for a while (between 40 days and 1-2 years). In some regions, the men do not shave for 1-2 weeks. People also cry out for the deceased. The duration of the mourning period is longer if the deceased was a young person.
It is believed that the spirit of the deceased wanders around and sometimes visits its old home, and that it leaves happy if something is made for it, but that it suffers distress if it realizes that this has not been done. People tend to visit graves on religious festivals or on the day before them. During these visits, people pray in front of the graves, burn incense and candles and distribute money, sugar, sweets and foodstuffs prepared at home.
In our world, with its rapid changes and intense technological development, it is still a fact that death comes to all. Here, the beliefs and practices in society fulfill the function of helping to make this fact more tolerable.