Sunday, 9 November 2008

Chivalrous values that don't die

HRH Princess Sana at her Amman residence during a recent interview (Photo by Rula Samain)
By Rula Samain - The Jordan Times

AMMAN - Circassian culture has a rich history of strictly followed traditions and customs shaped by tough times in the old days of the Caucasus, and although these traditions have softened with time, the Circassian community in Jordan still holds to the basics of their cultural identity.

Community leaders acknowledged change that emerged over more than a century of interaction with cultures of countries where Circassian migrants settled after fleeing persecution in 19th century Russia.

“The Circassian traditions and customs are somewhat tough due to the many wars the nation faced while living in the motherland,” said Adnan Mawloud Kalimat, president of the Circassian Tribal Council in Amman and mukhtar of the Circassian community in Jordan. No official figures are available on the number of Circassians in Jordan, but some estimates put the number at more than 100,000.

Adiga Khabza, or Circassian constitution, was very rigid. It evolved to ensure that strict discipline was maintained at all times to defend the country against the many invaders who coveted Circassian lands, according to the Caucasus Foundation website.

Nowadays, Kalimat added, time and the different places the Circassians settled in after they were expelled from the motherland altered most of the customs as well as the language.

But among the Circassian customs that cannot be ignored is obedience and high respect to parents and the elders.

“The young people have great respect for their elders and are taught to express their respect properly,” HRH Princess Sana Assem told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

“The younger generations’ respect for their elders should be sincere,” she said.

Princess Sana, who is the daughter of Kalimat and wife of HRH Prince Asem Ben Nayef, has three children, Princess Salha, Princess Nejla and Prince Nayef.

The Caucasus Foundation website explains “respect” as total obedience to parents as well as the clan chief, and describes it as an “undisputable issue” regardless of the elders' education or rank, "even if they were wrong".

“The younger generation is not only taught respect for their elders but they witness it in their lives,” said Senator Khair Eldien Hakouz.

Explaining the Adiga style of life, the notable said in an interview at his residence in Amman that the son does not sit with his father in the presence of the grandfather.

Meanwhile, “the elder brother receives the same respect [from the younger siblings] as the father whenever the latter is not around”.

He added that the elder daughters enjoy high respect in their households, especially those who are about to get married.

“She would be respected and pampered by all her family members.”

“While with her parents,” the Princess said, “she has to learn to do everything that she will do in her husband’s house.”

She explained that girls gain much respect and in return they have to show respect to her parents and relatives gracefully.

“A girl is not supposed to be talking among elders until she is invited to.”

The Princess said that girls are always encouraged to study and have a profession, quoting an Adiga saying about the awareness of girls’ education: “There is no useless knowledge or profession.”

Kalimat said: “What we try to teach the young generation today is the spirit of love, respect and honesty in dealing with others.”

The Princess noted that respect for the elders is not unique in the Circassian community, which settled in Jordan where the Arab community cherished similar values. However, the Circassians, who arrived in the country in the last quarter of the 19th century, have a somewhat different approach to another social issue.

She noted that Circassian men associate with female members of the community at home and in society, but at the same time, girls have to mind dignity in any circumstance.

“She has to mind her manners not only around people, but also with her relatives.”

Agreeing, Hakouz said: “The atmosphere between the two sexes is harmonious.”

He explained that a Circassian young man may marry the girl provided they are in love, insisting that what is known as “khatifeh” in Arabic (elopement) is just the wrong term "in meaning and concept", given to a certain marriage tradition in the Circassian society.

“What is known as khatifeh is not at all the fair equivalent to ‘kwasa’ or ‘kaghaqasan’,” he said.

The girl's consent in marriage is essential in the Circassian traditions as well as in Islamic law, he added.

Explaining the process, the senator said that the woman and the husband-to-be would agree on a marriage date. Only one or two close friends or siblings would know about the arrangement. The girl’s mother should know as well and she will decide if the would-be husband's family is suitable or not.

“The groom's closest friend tells the father about his son’s plan to marry but won’t discuss dates.”

On the assigned day, the woman goes voluntarily with her chosen man to the house of a respected figure and will not officially become his wife until all parties know about the agreement and endorse it, including, of course, the woman's parents, Hakouz said.

“Kwasa occurs with the approval of the future bride and then her family,” he said.

Although aware of their ethnic and cultural identities, the Circassians look upon themselves as full members of Jordanian society.

“The Circassian and Jordanian history are one,” said Princess Sana. Kalimat considers his people the luckiest to have landed in Jordan, where they received the care and attention of the Hashemites and where they have been at full freedom to have their own institutions that preserve their culture, including the only school in the Middle East that teaches the Circassian language: Prince Hamzah High School in Amman.

Among other Circassian institutions in Jordan are the Tribal Council, the Circassian Charity Association, Al Ahli Club, the Folklore Committee, Al Jeel Al Jadeed Club and the Friends of the Circassians in the Caucasus.

Respect, discipline, love and loyalty are things the Circassians believe time will never change.

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