Julian Pitt-Rivers (Ed.) Mediterranean Countrymen The Hague: Mouton: 1963


The domestic cycle and the distribution of power in Turkish villages

In this paper I seek to show some structural relations between domestic organisation and
village organisation. Incidentally and inevitably, it becomes clear also that this system
flourished in the villages only because the large. society of which it formed part, provided
appropriate conditions

In my argument, I have relied on a rather schematic view, and have kept historical and
ethnographic data to the minimum. Nevertheless, the arguments and ideas arose directly
from my field work experience, and are fully borne out by what I found in that area. I am
sure from my reading and observation that they also apply more widely.

From 1949 to 1952, I lived for periods totalling about 13 months in two villages not very
far east of Kayseri in central Turkey. The villagers of this area are settled cereal cultivators.
They keep draught animals - oxen and water buffaloes, and in some villages nowadays
horses, - flocks of sheep and goats, and chickens. They grow some vegetables and fruit.

The villages vary in size from about 50 to over 200 households. They are compact,
separated from each other by half-an-hour to two hours' walking. Each is the centre of a
territory with known boundaries within which its flocks and herds graze freely. All the
villages in the area in which I worked were Turkish speaking, and orthodox Sunni

The first village in which I lived, Sakaltutan, was fairly remote, and was still using the
traditional agricultural techniques. A road, just possible for a daily lorry service, had been
opened up two years before my arrival, making a revolutionary change in the ease of
communication with the town. The village contained roughly 100 households and 600

The other village, Elbasi,(2) was the administrative and gendarme centre for about twenty
villages. It contained about 210 households and 1,200 people. It had much better and older
communications; more developed social relations with town; richer and more sophisticated
leaders; horses, carts and steel ploughs; and much more land per head. Yet the differences
in the way of life of the majority of the people were slight.

I start from four main characteristics of the villages, two concerned with the domestic
cycle, and two with the distribution of power.


  (i) The ideal household in the villages is unquestionably the joint patrilocal household,
consisting of a man, his wife or wives, all his sons and their wives and children, and his
unmarried daughters. On the death of the household head, the household is expected to
split, each son becoming head of an independent household. People are unanimous on this

(ii) In spite of this unanimity, households conforming to this ideal were in a minority in
both villages. In Sakaltutan, 15 out of 105 households were full joint households, and
these contained 22% of the village population; in Elbasi, 20 households out of 208,
containing 15% of the population. By 'full joint', I mean households in which a male head
has a married son or sons, and at least one paternal grandchild. If we include all
households with more than one married couple, then 25 households in Sakaltutan,
containing 34% of the population, and 44 households in Elbasi, containing 29% of the
population, are joint. These include three in Sakaltutan, and two in Elbasi, shared by
married brothers.

Breaches of the rule that sons should not leave the household of a living father do occur,
but these in no way account for the fact that full joint households are a minority. Five
fathers in Sakaltutan and three in Elbasi had married sons who had separated from them
and are counted as heads of simple households. But if all the sons had returned home, the
number of joint households would have risen by only one in each village.

(iii) The villages lacked clear political leadership (3). Every village has an official headman,
elected, or at least chosen, by the village, but these were comparatively young men and
they seldom remained in office for more than the prescribed term, which was changed from
four years to two in 1950; often for less. Most of them did not enjoy their term of office,
and there was sometimes difficulty in filling the post. They were usually junior members of
important families, or occasionally dependents of important kinsmen. In some cases there
was sharp rivalry over the control of the office, though not over the office itself.

Even unofficially, no one man dominated any of the villages I knew, with one possible
exception: Karabey of Elbasi, who died in 1951(4), before I began work in his village.

The villages are divided into a number of small shallow agnatic lineages. Many of the
households were more or less unattached, or else, though acknowledging their agnatic kin,
in fact had very little to do with them. But most of the important households, and many
others, were grouped in lineages,(5) which besides discharging with special emphasis
between themselves, the ordinary duties of neighbours and kin, - helped in sickness and
distress, and at life crises - were also organised for common defence. Members of such a
group would immediately offer support, armed if necessary, if one of the lineage were
attacked or insulted, and were expected to avenge the death of any member who was killed.
These lineages ranged from three or four to twenty households. They were not, however,


  politically organised, and, at least at the time of my field work, no single lineage appeared
to be able to dominate a village, except indirectly through one outstandingly wealthy

Many households and lineages claimed ancestors who had been men of influence, but in no
village did I find evidence of power or office remaining traditionally in one lineage, or
passing by inheritance as a matter of course. Different lineages and different households
achieve importance at different times.

(iv) This impression is confirmed by another fact which I found at first surprising. In
several instances, men of wealth and substance were quite clearly from families of
comparatively recent immigrants into the village, or had a recent history of poverty. On the
other hand, poor men sometimes claimed illustrious fathers or grandfathers. For example,
the head of the wealthiest family in Sakaltutan was himself the son of a woman who had
come to the village as a widow. Two poor men owned a very large guest house, and were
sons of a man who had apparently been highly respected in the village. A man in Elbasi
whose father had in fact been a man of power and importance, but died poor on his return
from Mecca was the youngest of five brothers, all of whom had passed through periods of
poverty, and some of whom were still very poor. He himself however was the head of a
very prosperous household, with five sons, large land holdings and a very comfortable
total income. These instances were by no means isolated, and they indicate a high rate of
mobility within the village hierarchy.

Of these four characteristics, the first two concern the household. At first sight, the
numerical predominance of simple households might appear inconsistent with the
acceptance of the three generation joint household as the ideal. In fact, given the rules, the
distribution of types of households is what one would expect under the demographic
conditions of village life. Every household begins as simple, following the splitting up of
the paternal household on the father's death. As a man's sons grow up and marry, his
household becomes in its turn, joint. In a sense, at the death of the head, the household
may be said to continue in his sons, who work the same land, normally live in the same
building, and inherit some of the father's relationships. But it simplifies discussion to
speak arbitrarily of the household as ending with the final division following the father's
death, and as being replaced by the households of his sons. Even if we assumed a life
expectation of 60 years for men, and an average gap between father and son of 25 years, it
is obvious that an 'average' household head would have to spend 15 years after his father
died before his grandson was born, and then he would experience ten years as head of a
full joint household before his own death. At any one time in any one village, with such an
'average', less than half the households would be full joint.

This model is grossly oversimplified, but it is I think completely conclusive. In fact,
achieving a full joint household is even more difficult than it suggests. Adult men
themselves often die prematurely, leaving unmarried children; the child death rate is high,


  and so is the rate of infertility and miscarriage among women. A man may beget a run of
daughters. The death rate was even higher in the past, and was accentuated by conscription
for the Ottoman army. Many men who would in 1950 have been village grandfathers were
said to have 'remained on mobilisation', that is, to have failed to return from the wars in
which Turkey was engaged from 1911 to 1922. The recent fall in the death rate and
improvement in health conditions has led to a rapid increase in population (6) but so far this
has the effect of increasing the proportion of younger simple households. If the death rate
continues to fall, and the household structure does not change, the proportion of full joint
households in the villages will eventually increase. Nevertheless, it is clear that in any
community in which married sons remain with their fathers, but separate on their fathers'
death, simple households are likely to be numerically preponderant, even though the joint
household is the ideal.

My first two characteristics are then really one - namely, the customary domestic cycle,
shaped by the splitting of the household following the father's death into households
headed by his sons. The third and fourth - lack of clear political leadership and rapid
mobility in the recent past - are also aspects of a single characteristic.

The demographic cycle I have just discussed entails an economic cycle. Resources at the
disposal of the household's head grow with the growth of the household's labour force,
and are then divided between the new households formed at his death. How this actually
works out depends on the resources available and the use that can be made of them. Of
these resources, land is of course of fundamental importance; but oxen to work the land are
also important, especially when land is plentiful, as I shall show.

I propose to distinguish two types of de facto land situation. Neither is greatly affected by
the national legal system, since the village arranges by far the greater part of its land
problems within itself. Changes in the national system are only indirectly relevant. It is
quite conceivable that both types should exist as well under a regime of absentee landlords
or tax farmers so long as these outsiders treated the village as a collectivity, as under the
present system of freehold, under which taxes are individually assessed and collected by
state officials. Since, as will appear, with population growth one type must a priori develop
into the other, I am presenting a model of one aspect of the recent history of many Turkish
villages, quite independent of the national reforms. What I know of rural Turkey in general
is consistent with this claim.(7)

Type 1. More land is available for cultivation than the village population, with their
technical resources can use. Hence anyone who has the necessary man-power, draught
animals and seed, can plough land freely.

Type 2. All cultivable land is under cultivation, except for essential meadow land for

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