Popular Science Monthly/Volume 43/June 1893/An Ethnological Study of the Yuruks

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AN ETHNOLOGIC STUDY OF THE YURUKS.
By ALCIDE T. M. D'ANDRIA.

THE Yuruks are nomadic tribes whose existence is a phenomenon difficult to understand and to explain. Ethnologists consider them as direct descendants of the Turkomans, whose distinctive features they have preserved; while those properly called Turks, though descendants of the Turkomans, have mingled with Aryan and Semitic races, and lost their original characteristics. Mr. Riegler states that the Turks, owing to numerous crossings with various foreign races for several centuries, present nowadays important modifications in their type; while the ungovernable Yuruks are proud of their savage origin, and value themselves as superior to the Turks among whom they live.

The Yuruk has generally a large head, round face, high forehead, projecting chin, and long though not oblique eyes. His skin is brown, his hair dark or auburn; he has a very strong osseous frame, and is of medium height. Such is the physical description of the Yuruks.

As for the etymology of their name, it is entirely Persian, and is derived from the verb yurumek, which means to walk. In some provinces of Asia Minor they are called Gueutchebe. This word has the same meaning as yurumek, and is derived from the verb gueutchmek, which may be rendered in English by to change lodging. The literal meanings of their names show sufficiently the most striking side of their nature—they are nomadic. Their tribes are scattered over the Asiatic peninsula. Some ethnologists place their number at three hundred thousand, and M. Elisée Reclus reckons as many as a hundred different tribes. Each tribe appoints a chief called a sheik. His authority is absolute, and he fills the office of a judge to settle their quarrels.

The chief occupation of the Yuruks is the breeding of cattle. In winter they set their tents near their barns; but when spring approaches they fold them and remove to lands more favorable for the welfare of their animals. Through the warm months of the summer they live in the open air. If they happen to be in the vicinity of a forest, they apply themselves to wood-felling, and they dispose of the product of their labor in the neighboring cities or villages.

Their wives and daughters are very skillful in weaving carpets, particularly one kind known as kilim. Each tribe manufactures carpets having the same design and size; each family transmits to the children the design it possesses, and the young girls learn easily the art of weaving without the help of a pattern.

It is unnecessary to say that nomadic life is dear to them, as can be testified by the following quatrain, which is taken from one of their patriotic songs:

"There is no rest for the sovereign,
And glory requires many toils and pains.
For me, I would not exchange my poor attire
For all the universe!"

The Ottoman Government has often tried to stop their wandering life, and many severe edicts have been issued for this purpose.

PSM V43 D197 Yuruk women at the spring.jpgFig. 1.—Yuruk Women at the Spring.

The Sultan's idea was to destroy their tents, so as to confine them in one place where they might apply themselves to agriculture. The nomads submitted for a time, but their cattle in many places suffered so much from the sterility of the soil that the authorities were obliged to grant them again a permit for emigration.

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The language of the Yuruks resembles much the Turkish. In their dialect, words and even syntactic forms are also found which recall the Persian and Arabic languages.

Their creed is Islamism, although they do not observe all its precepts. Thus, they build no mosques, and do not confine themselves

PSM V43 D198 Tents of the yuruk.jpg
Fig. 2.—Tents of the Yuruks.

to the obligation of the five daily prayers imposed upon all good Mohammedans. Neither do they undergo the long and painful fasting of the Ramazan. Their women do not cover their faces as do the Turkish ladies.

The Yuruks who dwell in the plains which extend from the Sipylus to the Tmolus Mountains are named "Kizil-Bach." Their tribe is the most important and the most numerous; they comprise nearly two thirds of the Yuruk element. In the ethnologic point of view their study presents the most interest.

The Kizil-Bach, as, in fact, all the Yuruks, are the followers of Ali, whom they consider as their prophet. Therefore, Mohammed has no worshipers among them, and this explains why they do not observe the precepts of the Koran.

A curious thing to notice is also a slight mixture of paganism in their creed. For instance, in the spring and fall of every year they set large tents in a remote place, and when night comes men and women gather to celebrate religious banquets and mysterious ceremonies, followed by songs and dances.

Their principal poems express veneration for Ali. They also possess remarkably exalted hymns to chant their adoration to the Supreme Being and their love for their brethren. The dance, performed only by the women, has an original and Asiatic character; its rhythm is grave and slow, the gestures and motions of the dancers show kindness and amiability for their guests. Only those initiated in their mysteries are allowed to attend the above ceremonies, while vigilant and unmerciful guardians, posted in the surroundings, prevent the approach of strangers on pain of immediate death.

Besides these banquets and nocturnal ceremonies, which recall the Saturnalia of the Romans in the time of Tiberius, another fact leads me to believe that the Yuruks have preserved pre-Islamitic doctrines that we can also trace in the darkest paganism. For instance, their belief in metempsychosis. The Yuruks, indeed, assert that human souls return into the bodies of animals, and that the spirits of the latter take also a human form and apjjear at determined epochs. This is certainly the reason why they are so kind to animals. M. Elisée Reclus says that a Yuruk loves his horse as much as his family. The horses have their place under the tent, and it is not uncommon to see them warmly wrapped in a magnificent robe when the Yuruk and his children are covered with rags. Some other customs attest also a pagan origin; in the Orient everybody knows that the Yuruks worship certain trees and rocks. These facts yield sufficient evidence that monotheism is by no means the essential dogma of their religion.

Among the qualities possessed by the Yuruk, hospitality is, no doubt, prominent. Deprived, by the very influence of his adventurous life, of all the fierce instincts which characterize the Turkomans; restricted, because of his occupations, to the woods, the plains, or the mountains; constantly exposed to the inclemency of the seasons, to dangers and enemies of all kinds, the Yuruk has conceived a generous and noble idea of hospitality, and he
 
PSM V43 D200 Yuruk encampment.jpg
Fig. 3.—Yuruk Encampment.
 

practices it with disinterestedness and pleasure. His tent, whether in his presence or absence, is always opened to the traveler, and food and drink in abundance are given him The tents of the Yuruks are square, and made of a sort of thick black woolen cloth.

Aside from the information I have given here, nothing precise is known of their private life. For instance, nobody ever knew what became of their dead, as no one has ever seen a cemetery. All I am able to say is that the body of the deceased is placed on a black mule, destined exclusively for that use, and thus carried to a mountain. There, I am not aware whether it is cremated or buried; but, as I was told that they also take a sheaf of firewood, it is safe to believe that cremation takes place.

No traveler has ever seen a Yuruk pray according to any rite. Yet it seems that they are not left without religious instruction, as a venerable old man, his hair dressed as a Persian dervish, comes once a year from Syria and remains awhile among them. The pilgrim becomes the object of their respect and devotion, and they give him the name of father.

Now, who is this man? What affinity between him and these Turkomans? What does he teach them? Why do they call him father? All these questions involve as many mysteries.

Men are often absent in the woods or on the mountains, and their wives remain alone in the tents, but they are secure from all danger, as they have weapons and know how to use them. Among the women they select one in each tribe whose age and personal merits render her deserving of distinction, and they invest her with a superior authority. All the women show her a profound veneration and blindly obey her orders. Even men kiss her hand, and it is customary that every stranger who arrives in the tribe should do the same.

All people agree in acknowledging the good morality of the Yuruk, also his peaceful character, his sober habits and honesty. The very thought of stealing is a crime in his mind, and the weapons he carries he only uses for personal defense.

Here are a few interesting details about the way their marriages are contracted: First of all, I must say that no religious ceremony is performed, as they have neither mosques nor priest, and no person among them is invested with a sacred character. Marriages among young people of different races are strictly prohibited. Therefore, when a young man has remarked among the girls of his tribe the one whom he would like to marry, he delegates a third person, who is usually a friend, to the father of the girl, to announce his intention. If the father sees no objection' the delegate presents him a small sum of money, and that gift in their dialect is called aghirlik—that is, weight. Afterward the
 
PSM V43 D202 Market day in a yuruk village.jpg
Fig 4.—Market Day in a Yuruk Village.
 

parents and friends of the intended go to the tent of the young lady, where, as soon as they arrive, they are offered the sherbet or sorbet, a beverage made with water, lemon, sugar, amber and other spices. The purpose of this visit is to appoint a day for the marriage. When the time comes the young man engages a numerous escort of friends, and they start all together for the tent of the young woman. The bride has also gathered around her a large number of her friends to protect her. When the escort of the groom is near, the bride's protectors utter, at a signal, the wildest cries, run to the aggressors, insult them, and endeavor to defend the access of the tent. Insults and even blows are profusely exchanged between the two camps. This sham fight ends when one of the bravest succeeds in carrying off a goat or a sheep belonging to the father-in-law, and immolates it at once.

The blood shed is considered as a sacred libation, and from that moment the rights of the groom over his wife are recognized. The two families and all their friends are invited to a banquet in which they eat the sheep that was sacrificed.

Before night the bride is escorted to the tent of her husband on horseback. There, before alighting, she must remove the reins from her horse and throw them with force over the tent. If she succeeds in flinging them on the other side, without their touching the tent, they all declare it a happy omen.

At last some women execute dances appropriate to the circumstances, and, as they dance, all armed for the occasion, the effect of their graceful movements, in the magnificence and freshness of the Oriental twilight, is very impressive.

When all these formalities are accomplished, the guests retire, and the husband, accompanied by his most intimate friends, is led to the tent where his young wife awaits him. All the Yuruks espouse one woman at a time; polygamy is prohibited and severely punished.

 


 
Dr. D. G. Brinton and Dr. de la Tourette are agreed that nervous diseases and hysteria are not specially developed by civilization, as is commonly supposed. Dr. Brinton, in Science, quotes travelers for evidence that violent and epidemic nervous seizures are very common in uncultivated nations. Castian describes them among the Sibiric tribes. An unexpected blow on the outside of a tent will throw its occupants into spasms. The early Jesuit missionaries painted extraordinary pictures of epidemic nervous maladies among the Iroquois and Hurons. Scenes of this kind were witnessed in the middle ages that are impossible to-day. The hypothesis is advanced by Dr. I. C. Rosse, of Georgia Medical College, that a sudden change in the social habit and condition of any race, at any stage of advancement, may result in a prompt development of nervous disease; and that a stable high civilization may excite nervous disorders less than unstable conditions of lower grades of advancement.