Family customs and rituals - is part of the public, traditional folk life. Weddings, funerals and other events become noticeable phenomenon of life of all the village, often several villages.
Karakalpak marriages considered inviolable, especially among the rural population divorces were extremely rare. But in some cases, divorce was permitted; if for example, the degree of relationship –consanguinity between couples was closer than permitted by customary law; if the spouses (or one of them) were married by force; in the case of a spouse's infidelity. Quite justified reason for divorce in the eyes of society were sterility of his wife, because having children, i.e. procreation – was woman’s purpose of staying in her husband’s house.
Less common way of the marrying was by abduction - "Alyp kashyu" (literally – “snitch a girl”), mainly in the form of withdrawal, i.e. with the consent of the girl, but against the wishes of her parents. The abduction resorted mainly because of the inability to pay the bride price, due to the difference of social position of families of young men and women, because of the refusal by the parents of the girl. Now practiced both forms of marriages with a significant predominance, as before, the arranged marriage.
Karakalpak marriages, usually accompanied by the payment of dowry - "Kalyn mal." If earlier it was calculated mainly with number of cattle and horses, since the middle of the XIX century to the present day the size of the dowry is determined by money.
Except dowry, in addition to the traditional wedding of Karakalpaks existed and exists gifts exchange between families of the young couple and their numerous relatives, who accompanies all stages of marriage.
Karakalpak traditional wedding preceded the choice of the bride, which is produced mainly by the parents, when choosing the partner, the opinions of young men and women also were considered. It should be noted, that Karakalpak young women have a freedom of choosing a groom. Parents of groom pay close attention to the diligence and good health of the future bride. At the same time, parents of groom take a closer look to the characters of the parents of the bride, especially the mother, no wonder that there is a famous Karakalpak saying: "Anasyna karap kyzyn al" (“when taking wife, look at her mother”).
After selecting the bride, groom side matchmakers set off the bride's house (“kuda tusu”). Matchmakers (“zhaushi”), arriving at the bride's house, just do not talk straight about the purpose of their visit right away, but start conversation symbolically. For example, they started it with the traditional form of greeting: "den saulyk teren baylyk" (“health is the main wealth”). The bride's parents are already aware during the course of conversation, the main goal of coming matchmakers "zhaushy" and they give the answer as in abstract form, but allow matchmakers to understand whether they want to give their daughter or not.
Realizing that the answer in principal is yes, matchmakers (“zhaushy”) already openly start to question the young lady’s parents for their consent to the marriage and asks to appoint official day of matchmaking "kuda tusu." For official matchmaking Karakalpaks supposed to select a specific day of the week, usually on Wednesday. According to custom, the arrival and departure of matchmakers administered early in the morning or evening, when the travelers could easily see the road, but they could not immediately notice. Apparently, this custom owing to concerns that the evil spirits have not prevented matchmakers in their way. The cеlebration in the house of the bride on the occasion of meeting the matchmakers Karakalpaks call it "Oshak toy."
After determining the size and consist of the dowry, and appointing the wedding day, matchmakers and other participants of the agreement brake the earlier prepared special bread (“shorek”) as a symbol of the inviolability of the agreement, and ate it together. The next step of the Karakalpak wedding was " Yesyk Ashar" - the first visit (literally - opening the door) of the groom to the bride's house; after paying half of the dowry, the groom and his friends could visit the home of the bride. This was preceded by another ceremony which Karakalpaks called "hna-toy."
The groom came to "Yesyk ashar" for acquaintance, together with his friends and older villagers, usually in the amount of seven people. They took with them to the villagers of bride cattle, sugar, tea, tobacco, etc. Meeting people examined pockets of the groom and the groom beforehand put money in one pocket, and the other sugar, tea, etc. After that the groom and his friends were allowed to go to the “aul” (“village”), stopping in some places for the payment of dowry “kalym”.
There was a ransom for the passage through the bridge "kopirkade” , and entrance to the village – "aulabay " and also there was ransom for the passage by the house of village elders, with the entrance to the house" Yesyk Ashar Kade "and others.
Upon entering the house, the old woman stands before the groom and his friends. She let’s go in the first of the friends of the groom, and then lay before the groom in the doorway, blocking his entrance and passed him only after receiving the gift, which Karakalpaks called it “Kempir o’ldi kade” (“ransom for the dead old woman”). All previous ransoms were paid by the friends of the groom, who entered the house first, and the pockets of the groom were viewed for any money by some selected women.
Then followed ransoms called "otzhagar kade", then "otyryu kade" and ransom to children which called "shabdyrma kade” (“spray”). When the groom and his friends and elderly villagers all sat down at the table, then adult men of the bride’s village came to receive a ransom from the groom and his friends and it was called "erler kadesi."
Next came selected women in order to get their share of the things (gifts) brought by the groom and his friends.
After these many wedding ransoms, the bride’s side start making treats, they start slaughtering a cattle brought by the groom’s side. The groom had to give some money to the chef (“oshak kade”) - for starting a fire.
Young women (usually who weren’t married yet) from bride’s village and also bridesmaids came to sit together with the groom and his friends and start the traditional "otyryspak" with the tea party in honor of the arrival of the groom. When serving, the groom and his friends also comply with the special rules.
For example, when women served the brisket of meat, the groom had to start it first. Woman giving the brisket, demanded a ransom "pishak kade ', i.e ransom for the knife. According to the rules of the traditional etiquette, the groom had no right to eat all the brisket, he had to leave some part of "sarkyt' to the young women and bridesmaids.
After dinner began a series of ceremonies related to the first meeting of the bride and groom and the wedding ceremony took place – which Karakalpak Muslims called it “Neke”. After this “Neke” the bride and groom considered legal spouses and women prepared their first night for them.
Women prepared a special tent called “yurta” for the young newlyweds for their first night. Special chosen women like “zhenge” (“zhenge” - could be the wife of bride’s brother) had to stay outside and guard them.
In dowry there were included yurt with all accessories, household items; sometimes wealthy parents except yurt could give other things such as cattle, a cart (“arba”) and etc. In addition, the bride’s side prepares gifts for the relatives of the groom: "ak tahia" (“white skullcap”) for older men, "ak jegde" white cape for older women and other different kind of gifts. All of these things Karakalpaks have called "Eliou”.
The size of the dowry mainly depended on the status of their parents, however, mandatory minimum dowry was special carpet product "karshyn", special curtain (“shymyldyk”), the traditional headdress of the bride - "Kyzyl kiymeshek."
In the case of divorce, dowry was fully returned to woman’s house.
Groom comes after the bride to take her to his home.
After paying off the dowry the groom’s side asked for the permission from the bride’s side to start the official wedding. According to the traditional customs Karakalpak bride before leaving her village had to say goodbye to each of her relatives, neighbors; it was called "hoshlasiu" (“literally - to inform, to say goodbye”).
After receiving the prior consent for the wedding, the groom's side sent in advance to the bride’s house "sogym" (cattle), which was cut and raw meat was distributed to all residents of the village of the bride. On this day traditional wedding started off in the bride's home, which was called "Kiz uzatyu toy”. At this wedding the groom's relatives sent in advance means for making this celebration: for example, cattle for all the guests, called "soyyslyk", as well as cattle only for the bride’s parents - "sut haky".
On the appointed day the groom came with his friends. According to the custom of the Karakalpaks number of participants of a wedding celebration was odd. The groom and his companions were subjected to the same types of “ransoms”, which were at matchmaking and "Yesyk Ashar."
For the groom and his friend was prepared a separate tent – “yurt”, where they were treated to the traditional goodies. Next came the ritual of preparation for departure of the bride; the bride was dressed in wedding clothes, zhenge (usually zhenge - is bride’s brother’s wife) braided bride’s hair in two braids (before she had small braids, about 12), wore bridal headdress - "saukele” (looked like helmet), and wore the traditional cape called – “Kyzyl Kiymeshek”. Removed maiden clothing the bride left at the right side of the yurt.
Early in the morning the bride went around her yurt counter clockwise and said goodbye to her home. At the same time she performed the ritual farewell songs "synsyu" and "hauzhar." When leaving the bride’s parents gave them their parental blessing (“Patia”), after which the young newlyweds went to the house of the groom.
If on their way there were bridges, small hills, etc., then the groom’s friends blocked the way to make an artificial barrier (“bakankeriu”) and passed a cart only after the bride paid a “ransom”. Further, if they saw Mosque on their way and other holy places, then a senior representative of the bride attributed to the mosque a prepared meat with a handkerchief, which was tied to money and the wedding cortege had the right to continue its journey after the blessings of the ministers of holy places.
If on the way they met the villages, the residents of this village had the right to require a “ransom” from the bride for her passage through their village. On arrival at the village of the groom, the bride’s side gave the “ransom” for a goat and put it on a cart.
Groom's friends informed about the arrival of the bride to the parents of the groom and they asked to give them a "suyinshi", i.e., gift for the good news, they usually gave a valuable gift to them. Besides the groom's parents gave villagers another gift - "korimlik" (literally - a gift for the arrival of bride).
Female relatives of the groom had to explore hands and pockets of the bride. Usually the bride put there in advance earrings, bracelets, rings, etc. The one of the first persons who had to meet the wedding cortege and see the bride – was godmother (“muryndyk ene”) of the newlyweds who has been chosen by the groom’s parents. She meets the bride and throws over her head a white handkerchief "ak Sala" and from that moment a godmother was considered as a second mother to these young couple, she had to take care of them, and her husband was called a godfather (“muryndyk ata”) also was like a second father to young couple. Everyone congratulated the godmother with her new children. And she had to treat everyone with special treat called "Mai sok" (fried millet in butter). After that she took the responsibility to guide the wedding ceremony.
So, she took care of the bride's dowry, then assigned two girls who had to pull the two sides of the special curtain called "shymyldyk" which was brought by the bride. Behind this “shymyldyk” the bride, her zhenge, bridesmaids and other young not married women from the groom’s side were allowed to stay. Behind the curtain it was categorically forbidden to go for widows, old women, childless women, underage girls, especially was forbidden strictly to the men.
Then began the traditional rite of mutual acquaintance of the bride with the groom's family and fellow villagers, it was called "aytym"; performed at the same time with short humorous, often poems about each family member of the groom. And poems sometimes contained the greetings to the young bride with her new home.
At the entrance to the house, the groom's mother met the bride and threw handfuls of “dzhida” – special fruit, dried apricots, “shiybauyrsaks” (cookies in the shapes of romb or square made out of bread dough, and then fried in oil) – and this rite called “shashiu” (literally like shower or spray). After that, the mother in law (“yene”) smeared lips and forehead of the bride with the butter and let her enter the house. At the entrance to the house, the bride had to bow, touching the doorstep with her hands and then touching forehead and face. This custom seems to symbolize the communion of the bride to a new home, her inclusion into the family and village community of the groom. It should be noted that this custom is known for a long time and still now most of the Karakalpaks practice it.
The wedding started on arrival of most guests. The bride's parents usually do not come to this celebration, they came to a special celebration after the wedding so-called "kuda shakyryu" (reception of matchmakers).
At the wedding guests supposed to bring the cattle (“gireumal”), women brought a tablecloth (“dasturkhans”), which were usually wrapped with bread, baursak and other traditional treats. It should be noted that there were pre-appointed people who supposed to accept gifts from the guests. Men took the cattle, and women – “dasturkhans”. Men and women who accepted gifts had to remember who had brought what, because after the wedding they returned tablecloth with reciprocal gifts.
It is also interesting that all the operations associated with the reception and distribution of products and returns of dasturkhans done by women, they called the head of this women group "Kayvany," and the head of the male group called "Otag’asy."
Guests were invited to watch the traditional ritual of "betashar" (literally, “to open a face”) which is done in front of groom’s house. The bride's face was opened by the pre-appointed man who had experience in this ritual. This rite was accompanied by specially prepared poems. The text of the rite performed with couplets. The man, who opens the face of the bride, held wand tied to a white robe that covered her face; after each verse the bride bowed. Traditional "bet ashar" begins with an introduction of the bride to the villagers of the groom. Then people were introduced individually to the bride in a comic verses, where in the satirical and half-joking tone ridiculed some negative traits of their character, talked about their profession, their family relationship to the groom and etc. Then further they talked about how the bride should behave in the new house, taught her to be polite and hardworking, always respect the elders and the groom's parents, etc. The rite ended with the bride bowing to all people there, and the man opened her face and took to himself a cape (piece of cloth), which was tied in a bundle of money. From these money, the man usually gave some of money to the village women which was called -"Sarkyt". After the "bet ashar" there was announcement of the beginning of "Tamasha" (local sports show). Ordinary it began with races on long distances (“buygi”). After the race there were competitions of restlers - "gures", for which all participants formed a circle. Winners were awarded with prizes.
Also very often wits (“Lakky”) participated in Karakalpak weddings. They usually stood on a hill and told people different kind of jokes and funny stories, creating a buzz around them, laughter and fun. It was a kind of folk theater of miniatures. Wits usually ridiculed greed, carelessness, laziness, and etc.
Young men of the groom’s village and other villages gathered and began racing horses - horse game which called "ylak." In this game, each young man tried to master in the fight against multiple players (“shabandoz”) goatling ("ylak") and throw it on a cart of the girl he liked, for which the girl gave a reward - money tied up in a handkerchief. The more goatlings have been brought to a girl’s cart, so it was more honorable to her and her parents. The girl in this case was entitled to invite a young man who distinguished himself and also invite his friends. This usually was not condemned, but rather was encouraged by parents of the girl. Usually, when such invitations were arranged there were traditional gatherings.
Another type of traditional Karakalpak entertainment were swings (“atkonshek”), where the young men and women swung or rocked each other.
The most popular form of traditional Tamasha on weddings have always been performance of Karakalpak folk tellers of heroic epics (“zhyrau”), "baksy" and "kyssahan" - reciters of poems and verses.
Nowadays people invite professional artists to the weddings. Also there is an increase of special songs like “nama aliu” (a song dedication to a particular person).
Thus, after the "Tamasha" the traditional Karakalpak wedding was ended; older people left, and young people - peers of the groom stayed to drink tea from the hands of the bride. It was not just the usual tea party from the hands of the bride, but perhaps specific examination of her ability to behave in society.
In modern weddings, especially in urban places the traditional national amusement was largely reduced.
Material prepared by the Candidate of historical sciences
Kamalova Raushan Sabitovna