In every human group some members are more, some less admired and respected; some more, some less able to impose their will on others. Description and discussion of this universal hierarchical arrangement relies heavily on the word status. It is used to mean both a place on a scale, high and low status; and also, on the analogy of legal usage, a social position with its concomitant rights and duties, the status of husband or headman (e.g. Homans (1951) pp. 11-12, 179). Because of this ambiguity I prefer to avoid the word, and to use rank for the one meaning, and social position or role for the other.
In this wide sense, rank is partly a matter of an individual's place in a scale of prestige, and partly of an individual's place in a hierarchy of power. In practice the two scales largely coincide. Discrepancies certainly occur. A man may exercise power yet be despised for the ways he acquired it, while another may be admired for moral qualities yet exercise little power. The two scales tend to coalesce in time; power earns increasing respect, and respect brings increasing influence.
A scale of prestige is a matter of what people think of each other, and varies with the person who is doing the thinking. We must also distinguish admiration for personal qualities from deference given to social position. Personal dislike or pretension may prevent people from explicitly admitting, or even recognising, deference which they nevertheless display implicitly in their behaviour.
In spite of these difficulties it is possible to establish a rough overall hierarchy
among the village men. In the guest rooms, in the mosques, at wedding feasts, people
publicly according to a more or less generally accepted scale (Stirling, 1953).
I have avoided the terms `stratification' and `social class'. In Sakaltutan people occupying similar positions on the prestige scale do not associate more with each other than with people below or above them, nor do they develop common interests or common customs to set them apart. Thus it is incorrect to speak of classes or strata In Elbashï one or two of the village leaders did tend to set themselves apart from and above the rest of the village and adopt elements of urban middle-class culture which their neighbours totally lacked. But this development had not gone far enough to justify speaking of a separate social class or stratum.
The grounds on which people rank each other are numerous and varied, and the order varies with the context. It is theoretically possible to construct a series of different scales in different contexts: one for religious observance, one for neighbourly cooperation, one for honour, one for landholding, one for agricultural skill, one for overall income, one for generosity, and so on. I have grouped these different scales more or less arbitrarily into three sets.
To put the same idea in different words: a man's position in the overall ranking system is determined by an indefinite number of factors, which I have for descriptive convenience divided into three main groups. One group comprises age and the position of a man in his own household, lineage, and kinship network; the second comprises landholding, occupation, income and patterns of spending; and the third, piety, religious learning, and moral respectability.
This list omits two factors commonly important in ranking in other societies -
nobility of birth, and the holding of formal office. Let me explain. I am always
tempted to describe village society as egalitarian; this is perhaps misleading, but
at least people are not respected for their ancestry. Young members of respectable
households obviously inherit village respect. But there is no notion that belonging
to one line rather than another confers inherent superiority. This is rather what
I would call a
`chip-on-the-shoulder' society. No one is willing to admit anyone else's superiority, let alone an inherited right to issue orders. People are always saying that `we are all the sons of Adam', implying that we are all therefore equal. In daily intercourse they treat almost everyone with the same formal politeness. If any adult man enters a guest room he will exchange salutations with everyone in turn. No one is ever barred from a guest room on grounds of social inferiority. Of course, men normally avoid guest rooms in which they are likely not to be courteously received. The only exceptions to this general politeness are one or two of the poorest and most personally disreputable members of the community.
Formal offices within the village are mainly those of village servants, such as the herdsman, and these carry no prestige, rather the reverse. Even the headman himself was not treated with formal deference. Religious office holders are accorded deference only in certain contexts, and in these villages there are no local hereditary sayyids (holy men) or sheyks (sheikhs) such as one finds in other parts of the Islamic world.
The village roughly divides the male population into four age groups: children, unmarried youths, `young men', and the old. The village terms do not correspond quite to current categories either in Istanbul or in England. The term for youth is delikanli, (lit. `mad bloods'), and the term for married men in their prime is the word normally translated `youth', (genç cf. Lat. iuvenis). The only formal mark of change from one stage to another is marriage, which moves a man from delikanli into genç, although a man married very young might still be called delikanli for a while. The passage from child to delikanli is not marked by any formality except that a delikanli must have a moustache. Circumcision is normally, though not necessarily, held much earlier, and appears not to make any formal difference in a boy's standing or to involve any principle of social organisation, though it is a necessary condition for marriage and for respectability as an adult.
The passage from genç to ihtiyar, (old man), is also vague. The moustache
becomes a beard, and if economic circumstances
allow, or health compels, an old man spends his time sitting in his home, in a guest room or in sunny places in the village, and does little or no work except perhaps at the harvest. Very roughly this change seems to occur about the age of fifty although individuals vary greatly according to health, resources and inclination.
These are no more than stages in a man's life. They do not correspond to any kind of formal organisation, and the people described by one of these terms do not form a single group. Of course, people are at ease with their equals, and informal gossip groups, especially out of doors, tend to consist of co-evals. Relative age is always important since deference to elders is strictly enjoined at all age levels.
In the long winter evenings when almost all the men sit in guest rooms, the young are expected to keep quiet in the presence of their elders, and children are sent out if they giggle or make a noise. Youths do not speak, and the younger married men speak little, especially in the presence of their own fathers. A younger man is expected to sit in a respectful posture, that is, not to cross his legs if sitting Europeanwise with his feet on the floor, and to keep his feet tucked underneath him if squatting on the divan. Smoking in the presence of father is forbidden. Every guest room has a drinking cup and a filled wooden water bottle always ready. If a seated man wants a drink he will demand it simply and unceremoniously, and one of his juniors, usually a boy, will bring the cup, wait respectfully with his hands crossed while his elder drinks and then take it back.
Closely tied to age as a factor in rank is a man's position in his own agnatic
group. The senior male member of a household always speaks for it; even a man of
mature years will normally keep silence publicly in his father's presence. To disagree
publicly with his father is a declaration of rebellion. His relative position in
the village rises sharply therefore when his father dies and he is in charge of his
own household. Even then, the eldest of a group of brothers tends to speak for the
others and to carry weight as their representative. I have already described the
wedding feasts in Sakaltutan attended by `the great ones',
büyükler, a term also used less precisely in other contexts.
A man's age, his position within his own household, and that within his agnatic group all operate together to determine his overall standing in the village. Over these factors he has no control. His position on the age and kinship scale is ascribed and not achieved.
A man's family brings him prestige in one other way, namely by the number of his progeny. Though this element is in fact also outside his own control, it is seen by the village as a matter of personal prowess. The mere begetting raises a man's prestige, and the existence of many sons increases the power and wealth of his household.
Wealth is the single most important factor in village ranking though it is only one among others. Wealth enables a man, with traditional generosity, to succour the poor and the sick; to contribute in money and kind to expensive celebrations, mainly weddings; to lend free of interest to others in need. When he spends within the village society he is a customer or employer. He will employ labourers on his land especially at harvest time, and he will have a say, perhaps a controlling say, in the choosing of some of the village herdsmen. He can afford to entertain visitors, and establish contacts with important people outside and above the village hierarchy. A man who is able to hand out charity, to provide jobs, to offer loans, to control appointments and to influence the outside world is not likely to be offended. Haci Osman (H) paid for the wedding feast for `the great ones' for a neighbour of his, thus putting the man under an obligation and displaying his generosity to the whole village. In Elbashï, I saw a wealthy man enter a poorer neighbour's house and request the services of his daughter for a day's harvesting at a low wage. The neighbour was in no position to argue.
Wealth can exist in many forms. In the more traditional type of behaviour just
described, it is expendable wealth that counts, an income convertible to influence
by judicious giving. But wealth may exist in land which is not exploited, or in the
ownership of animals, or even, nowadays, in modern enterprises such as a share in
a lorry or a mill. It may even
consist simply of a skill which confers a high earning-power.
The wealth of a landowner is the most highly regarded and the most effective. People see it as reliable and permanent. The head of a landed household either controls a large household or at least has dependent share-croppers anxious to retain his goodwill. His income is in kind, earned by the work of others, and he is able to be generous out of well-filled granaries or well-stocked flocks. Almost without a dissenting voice, migrants and farmers alike told me that farming was by far the best occupation.
The migrants, whose income is mainly in cash, wear suits, watches and fountain pens; their houses are often better stocked with rugs for the guest room, pressure lamps, gaudy cups and glasses, painted mirrors. Yet they count for much less in the village. In part this is because, however successful, they do not normally have an income comparable to that of the larger village landowners. But it is also because the village regards such wealth as transitory and uncertain, because craftsmen are often away from the village scene for long periods, and because they spend less freely on their neighbours' needs, not readily converting their personally earned cash into the more nebulous commodity of neighbourly obligation.
Plainly all incomes are highly variable. Not only does the crop yield vary with rainfall, but even the sown area varies with the sickness of people and animals, or misjudgements in the time of ploughing. The earnings of the migrant labourers are even more chancy. It would be quite impossible to draw up a list of village households in order of income.
Over longer periods, as I have explained (p. 34),the
income of a household head depends largely on the manpower available; and the death
of a household head results in considerable redistribution of resources. Striking
changes in the ranking oder of the village therefore take place within one generation.
One result of these changes is that the recent poverty of the rich, and the recent
respectability of the poor, are remembered and affect people's prestige. Haci Ismet's
(T) household, the richest in Sakaltutan, was neither the most powerful nor the best
thought of; similarly Hayip's (B) one of the more pretentious households in Elbashï,
had recently been poor and people thought the less of him for it. Two household heads
similar incomes, even with similar landholdings may rank very differently.
Most of those who work on anything but their own land fall into two clear-cut classes: the skilled and the unskilled. This applies whether or not they are migrants.
Skilled men earn from twice to three times as much as the unskilled. Labourers are generally paid by the day; skilled men by the job. Traditionally, men of skill, carpenters, smiths and masons, are known in the village as usta. The distinction between skilled and unskilled was sharp. No single word in normal usage covered both; a man was either amele or usta. The word usta is often used as a sort of title, for example Ahmet Usta, with an implication of dignity, and I was sometimes called usta because of my skill with a pen. Quite apart from the great financial advantage young men were anxious not to remain amele, though the village was not in practice prepared to accord the title usta as a matter of general usage to every young man who became a migrant plasterer or painter.
I expected at first to find that the skilled migrants would be those with little or no land, those, that is, who had nothing to keep them in the village; and that the unskilled would be those with land who needed relatively little extra income and had little time to spend learning crafts. But in fact the migrants from better-off households tend to become skilled, and the migrants from the poor or landless households to remain unskilled. A few of the better-off farmers, when they face special needs, go to work, shamefacedly, as unskilled labourers, and one or two of the poorest households have sons who become skilled men. But on the whole the correlation holds.
The retail trade covers a wide range of social positions. At the lowest end, peddling
with a donkey for example, it was definitely a despised occupation. But the well-dressed
outsiders who arrived on horseback to sell cloth - including a man of Sakaltutan
resident in a village nearer Kayseri - were obviously persons of higher standing.
Again some of the shopkeepers who had no other source of income seemed to rank at
the lower end of the village scale, but some shops were run by men with land
and other resources who were toward the top of the village hierarchy. Buying and selling were regarded as necessary evils, not perhaps degrading, but certainly not intrinsically honourable like farming. Perhaps a certain ambiguity was due to the fact that a more rigid traditional disapproval of trade was declining under economic pressures and incentives. (Turhan (1951) p. 100; Salim (1961) pp. 141-3.)
A certain level of power and prestige, provided it is derived from land, gives a villager the right to be regarded as an a§a (pronounced roughly `ah!'). This familiar Turkish word was very commonly used in the villages in several different senses. It was, for example, normal in addressing a neighbour to call him, `Ahmet A§a' or `Mustafa A§a' as the case might be. Sons and younger brothers often addressed their fathers and elder brothers as a§a. But a man of eminence was spoken of as an a§a in a slightly different sense. Thus Kara Osman (Ax) (p. 145) has been an a§a without any question. One very poor but intelligent informant when speaking of one or two wealthier men whom she personally respected would add this title after their names, but she once remarked that since Kara Osman died the village no longer boasted a true a§a, only a collection of pretentious nobodies.
Occupation and wealth can be treated as a single scale. The wealthiest and most
highly respected households owned plenty of land, yet often combined agricultural
with other skilled or commercial activities as sidelines, often profitable. At the
other end of the scale are households, generally small ones, of which the head is
a landless unskilled labourer or herdsman. But it would be almost impossible to sort
out a significant order of rank for the majority of villagers in the middle of the
Religious ideas enter every aspect of village life. Everyone is measured on a religious scale in terms of piety and learning. Cahil, ignorant, is a common term of abuse; stronger still is gavur, infidel. A few people have reputations for special religious or magico-religious knowledge, and one or two hold specific religious positions. Moreover, since moral rules are seen as directly ordained by God, moral judgements are also to a large extent religious judgements.
The village imam or hoca always receives a minimum amount of deference and politeness because of his office. Formally he is required to hold a licence from the Mufti of the province, appointed by the Presidency of Religious Affairs, a department of government directly under the Prime Minister. When he is acting in his religious capacity, conspicuously at Friday prayers, he leads the whole village and all must listen to his words. On less formal occasions he is welcome as an honoured guest in guest rooms in the evenings, and normally encouraged to discourse on a religious theme or tell a religious story. Nevertheless his office does not automatically confer influence or personal prestige. His own personal learning and piety, and his character are the main determinants of his standing.
In Elbashï and Sakaltutan, during the years I knew these villages, a new imam was appointed each year, and none of them was satisfactory to the villagers, nor highly regarded. The men appointed were ordinary villagers from local villages, not conspicuously more learned than the rest. Their objective in seeking office seems to have been the attached income.
Other villages had different arrangements. In Kanber the imam was permanent, a local man with his own land, and apparently of some weight in the village. In Kölete, on the other hand, the imam was also permanent, but was a landless immigrant and of little account. Çevlik had a young man of Sakaltutan as its imam who remained in office for several years. In Alishar, according to Morrison (1938, Chaps. II and IV), the largest landowner was the son and heir of a man who had arrived in the village as a stranger and remained as permanent imam.
In every village there are a number of men who can read the Arabic script, and
are able to intone, though not to understand,
the Koran. Many of these are capable of leading Friday prayers. Their learning earns them some prestige, and they are often given a courtesy title of hoca. Those few who have been on the pilgrimage to Mecca and who bear the title haci are regarded as sacred, and receive deference.
Traditionally, the only purpose of learning was religious. Even now villagers say that the great benefit of being able to read is that it enables one to acquire religious knowledge. I was asked why I spent so little time reading works on religion. For religious reasons, learning itself acquired prestige; and thus, paradoxically, modern secular education earns reflected respect as learning although it is considered dangerously irreligious.
One class of expert remains: the man who has special knowledge of Koranic charms. The main forms of magic, rites for a healing, for punishing thieves, for arousing illicit passion, and so forth, are based on what are believed to be Koranic texts written on pieces of paper which are then swallowed or worn on the person, or intoned like spells in incomprehensible recitative. Experts in this field are not highly regarded, but are recognised as knowledgeable, useful, and slightly dangerous.
In some of the villages some of the men were members of the dervish religious orders, normally spoken of as sheyklik by the villagers. These orders are formally illegal, and were not prevalent in either of the villages in which I worked. No clear view of their activities emerged from my questioning. On the whole most people regarded members as specially pious, but tinged with dangerous or foolish heterodoxy. Many regarded the whole business as socially low-grade, and a few as positively wicked.
To report accurately on the way in which behaviour is assessed, on the concepts
used and the relation between moral behaviour and moral ideas is a task of great
difficulty. When I did the fieldwork for this study I had not learned to suppress
my own assumptions about good or bad behaviour, and I sometimes failed to ask important
questions because I assumed I already knew the answers. Moreover, systematic collection
of data on the way in which concepts are used requires more than a good working knowledge
of a language; I was often too busy grasping
what was being said to reflect on subtle differences and changes in implication from one context to another.
Nevertheless, people are eternally assessing each other's conduct, and by living among people one learns much more than is to be found in one's notebooks. Yet it is almost impossible, even with impeccable information, to discuss concepts of this kind without implying that they are a great deal more consistent and explicit than in fact they are.
Two sets of concepts are used side by side for assessing conduct, which although not explicitly distinct are yet not altogether mutually consistent. One is a scale of sin (günah) and merit (sevap) backed, according to belief, by God's authority through the Book. This set of concepts is itself complex.
Moral decency, compassion, kindliness, neighbourliness, forgiveness, longsuffering, honesty, a proper respect for the rights of others, these are good because God ordained them so they are sevap, meritorious. Ritual duties, the performance of regular prayers, of ablutions, of the major anniversaries of Islam, of the fast, are also good, meritorious, because God ordained them so. It appears to follow that the villagers do not distinguish moral virtue from ritual conscientiousness. Certainly, in discussion they sometimes asserted or implied that no distinction can be made. In practice they know a mean, sly man who is meticulous in all religious duties from a generous reliable man who is not. But they see the whole business of sin and merit as a single balance sheet on which ritual merit can outweigh moral failures; one's ultimate fate at the Last Judgement depends on this balance, tempered by the Mercy of God.
Overlapping yet in some points contradicting this measure of conduct, is another
based not on religion but on the notion of honour, namus. An honourable man is ready
to fight, resentful of insults, able to keep his women pure from all taint of gossip,
if necessary by killing them, and incapable of underhand and deceitful practices.
The opposite. of namuslu, honourable, are namussuz, without honour, or ayip, shameful.
These two words are in constant use, mainly for reproving children or for critical
gossip. Except in jest, they are not said lightly by an adult to a social equal.
They imply both internal personal rottenness, and at the same time a loss of public
face. They are used to children to inculcate conventions - for example the correct
elders - as well as for the really serious matters of uprightness and sexual propriety.
On one occasion, two men were arguing more or less rationally, if heatedly, about the rights and wrongs of a piece of land to which they both laid claim. Then one used the word namussuz. The other immediately flew into a rage, threatened violent reprisal for such an insult, and broke off the discussion. He resented the implication that he was resorting to deceit and underhand arguments to make out his case. This aspect of honour clearly overlaps with religious injunctions to honesty and uprightness. But in another matter the codes are in clear contradiction. Honour requires intransigence and implacability; insults must be pursued and avenged, and never taken lying down. On the other hand, God is merciful, and it is the duty of a good Muslim likewise to be merciful, and to live in peace. When people are seeking to compose a quarrel, as they often are, they use the arguments from religion against the arguments from honour.
Peristiany and Pitt-Rivers have pursued these concepts of honour in other parts of the Mediterranean seaboard far more thoroughly than I have.1 Both point out that virility and a man's honour are closely connected. This holds for Turkey too. Sexual prowess is discussed, mainly measured by procreative success. But whether a man earns a reputation by successful extra-marital sexual adventures, I find it very hard to decide. Within the group of kin and neighbours, certainly, to approach other men's women is dishonourable; urban whoring is not an honourable activity, though many adopt a neutral attitude towards it. To make approaches to the women of known enemies or outsiders would be manly and courageous, perhaps even honourable in some contexts. On the whole, virility seems to be no more than one element in the concept of male honour.
Women's honour is more closely tied to sex; that is to modesty and an undefiled reputation. Namus, honour, is said to be the most important quality of a bride. The whole social system with its segregation of men and women, and its insistence on constant companionship, especially among the women, makes it
Specific accusations of dishonour or moral slackness, especially by known enemies, have little effect on a person's standing. But households, generally poor households, may become known as ritually slack, or worse, as careless of their honour, while others, sometimes also fairly poor, may conversely earn a reputation for morality, or for nobility and generous conduct. These two extremes apart, the majority of villagers are impossible to distinguish in terms of morality and honour.
It would be impossible to rank everyone in the village because it is impossible to know exactly what weight to give to the various scales or factors. The three main scales I have described are each made up of several others; there is no finite number and one could argue academically for more and more minute distinctions.
Moreover, the scales or factors influence each other in complicated ways; indeed,
they are not in practice always distinguishable. The word iyi, for example, is used
both for a morally good person, and for a moderately well-to-do household. Theoretically
a well-off man can be wicked and a good man poor. Yet there is always an implication
in village thinking that to possess the physical means to live respectably confers
moral respectability, and to be squalidly poor is morally disgraceful. Theologically,
a link between the two meanings is provided by the theory that God rewards the virtuous
and punishes the wicked in this life; or alternatively by a much less Islamic doctrine
loudly pronounced by a successful sheep breeder from Elbashï, who preached that
wealth was the result of virtuous hard work and foresight, and poverty of sloth and
neglect. In the context of rural Turkey I found his version of the protestant ethic
unconvincing. Wealth and morality affect each other in a more practical way. On the
one hand, the possessor of a commanding position can get away with minor
or even not so minor transgressions without his reputation suffering. If a man has been to Mecca, is pious in word and deed, and judiciously generous, the fact that he has robbed his sisters' sons of their inheritance is unlikely to be mentioned. On the other hand, the less a man has the lower is his rank and the less he has to lose by public dishonour, so that the poor are generally more shameless than the rich.
Yet a rough overall ranking scale does exist. The three scales frequently coincide, and where they do not, the individual's position on one scale is drawn up or down towards his position on another scale. In all this, wealth is the single most important factor; but it is certainly not a simple determinant. The relative rank of men of middling means varied greatly on the other two scales. The wealthiest household in Sakaltutan was neither liked nor respected, despite the fact that its old head had been to Mecca. He was not a native, having come to the village as an orphan, and acquired his land in one lifetime (p. 127). The man who appeared to have most influence was third or fourth in terms of wealth; his holdings were largely due to inheritance and he was the head of a sizeable lineage group. In Elbashï equally, the wealthiest were not always the most respected, and at least one of those who in terms of manpower and land was best off, and who frequently entertained important guests, was generally held in low regard. Another man in the village who was quite comfortably off was generally ignored because he was thought to be mean and sanctimonious.
In the middle of the scale even considerable differences of wealth between one household and another were less important than honour, decency, neighbourliness and position within a lineage. One of my informants was a very poor man, but he was respected if not liked because he was given to showing a chip on his shoulder. One very poor old man who peddled with a donkey was treated with politeness because of a reputation for goodness and piety.
The religious scale correlates least with the others. A reputation for genuine
religious knowledge carries great weight even for a poor and unimportant man. Yet
on the whole it is the more respectable households which insist on a proper religious
training for their children, and among which the few who have had formal religious
training are found. The elderly are in general
more pious in their personal conduct than the young, and it is only the wealthy who can afford the greatest religious glory o all - the journey to Mecca.
Even the factors which are independent of personal control, age and lineage position, fit more or less into the overall scale. An old, poor, and shameless man will be thought little of, but treated with respect for his age. A young man who has no senior kin and who commands ample resources will be listened to and given respect, but his youth will limit his standing in the village. Between those roughly equal in other ways seniority is of great importance.
The existence of a very roughly agreed scale or rank in the village is clear from the seating arrangements in the guest rooms. The position nearest the fireplace or stove is that of greatest honour. When people assemble in guest rooms they arrange themselves roughly in order. It is polite to be self-effacing and men manoeuvre to force their approximate equals to take a place above them, so that the final order is roughly a result not of claims but of imposed public opinion. If a fairly highly regarded man enters a crowded guest room, someone near the fireplace will leap up and offer his seat, himself being immediately offered someone else's, and so on until everyone is seated again.
The guest room groups are fairly constant (p. 240) and thus the order is one among regular associates. People cannot make claims for themselves, but if they are afraid of being slighted in a given guest room then they avoid it. The mosque on the othr hand is a meeting place for all the village. In a mosque people stand in long parallel lines, precisely to symbolise the equality of all before God. Yet the senior men always stand in the front row and the place of honour is in the centre. In this context, age and a religious reputation count highly. Young men and boys stand at the back. But in the middle rows the egalitarian principle of Islam works, and in any case late-comers have to remain at the back, unless they are visitors to the village of particularly high rank, in which case they may be ushered silently forward. I was always left towards the back in the mosque as a very doubtful believer, whereas in other contexts I tended to be pressed to a position of honour.
Updated Friday, October 23, 1998