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Kurdish Families

Kurdish Family And Households

A traditional Kurdish family is a peasant family. A Kurdish household is a patrilineal lineage, assembled around the male head of the family. Such a lineage depends on mutual support and defense while living in the same ancestral village. Although men are responsible for agricultural tasks and socioeconomic and political contacts with the outside world, Kurdish women also contribute to all social, economic, and political processes within their villages. The Kurdish household is a corporate entity whether the extended family lives under the same roof, xani, or breaks into nuclear family sub-units—consisting of mother, father, and their children—in the family compound. During their trans-humance—a seasonal movement organized around the migration of livestock from lowland winter to highland summer pastures—seminomadic pastoralist households may share a tent, live in a compound of tents, or both. The compound is called zoma. The extended Kurdish family includes not only parents and unmarried children, but also married male children, their wives, and their offspring. Unmarried sisters and brothers of the male head of the family may also live with them.

According to Kurdish traditions, marriage does not bring with it the creation of a new household. Kurdish traditions oblige the oldest brother and his wife and children to remain with his parents. As family resources expand, married younger brothers build their own houses and move into them, gradually enlarging the family compound. Household production refers to the production of all members of the family compound. The main building, the home for those members of the kin group who share a residence, is referred to as mal. All consumption activities take place in mal. The extended family continues to have meals together in the mal, even after younger sons move to their own houses within it. This is also the case for seminomadic pastoralists. Pastoralist households are united in their village compounds during some seasons and may be cyclically divided between pasture camps when they move to higher plateaus during the summer months.

A Kurdish household is a unit where production, reproduction, distribution, and consumption take place. Mal is an economic unit for about thirty million Kurds in the Middle East. Mal is also very important for urban families in transition and for diaspora families. Not only the first, but often the transitional second generation of migrant families in urban areas replicate this pattern. However, with the creation of permanent wage labor, young modernized urban families both challenge and reiterate traditional arrangements. They may independently decide not to pool their income with their extended families, while insisting on their traditional rights to resources, such as their share from the harvest and animals.

For hundreds of years, Kurdish households have relied on a broad range of economic activities to generate income. Within households in Kurdistan, noncapitalist forms of labor exchanges (reciprocal labor exchanges) transform all daily activities—agricultural work, animal husbandry, daily chores, and preparations for weddings and other celebrations. Intrahousehold exchanges expand to encompass interhousehold exchanges with kin who are living in the same villages and hamlets. A traditional form of reciprocal labor exchange, called zebari or zebare, is recognized as an obligation to be fulfilled between kin and neighbors, even in urban contexts. Another form of labor exchange, also called zebari, is a form of forced labor. Tribal Kurds are obliged to work for their tribal leaders and landlords. While fulfilling zebari obligations, men work in agriculture for a limited time, but the duration of women's work in the houses of their tribal leaders or landlords is never specifically defined.

Historically, most peasant Kurdish households occupy multiple class positions as merchants and petty producers, and according to their participation in capitalist relations as wage laborers. From the 1950s onward, the development of wage relations was tied to the monetization of the rural economy and was closely correlated with a house-hold's access to land. Today, the families of seasonal workers continue to live in rural areas while their men return home for cultivation and harvest. Permanent wage employment is particularly important for urban Kurdish families. The jobs available for unskilled urban Kurds are in the construction industry and the service sector is attracting a growing number of Kurdish women as well as men. Successful urbanized families responding to socioeconomic changes are gaining a greater ability to live independently from rural, social, and economic networks and are distancing themselves from rural obligations.

For almost all Kurds—Sunni (Shafiis), Shii (Twelvers), Alevi (Ahl-el Haqqs), and Yezidi (a heterodox sect occurring only among Kirmanchispeaking Kurds)—household relations define gender relations. Kurdish households have both a male, malxî, and female head, kabanî, with clearly defined duties concerning production, distribution, and consumption allocations. There are gender and intergenerational inequalities in patriarchal Kurdish households. In rural households, with the exception of female heads of households, women have a subordinate role in household decisionmaking. However, they are able to exercise power by negotiating with patriarchal structures, especially by choosing to socially isolate themselves from family affairs, thereby publicly damaging the reputation of the family. The women of seminomadic pastoral tribes enjoy privileges that allow them to be nominal equals with their husbands. Peasant women's engagement in wage labor in urban settings weakens the old patriarchal traditions and allows women to have decision-making power in their households.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsKurdish Families - Kurdish Family And Households, Kurdish Marriage Patterns