Current Research

The research is part of a comparative research project “Kinship Universals and Variation” in the department Integration and Conflict at the Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology in Halle. It investigates kinship in southern Kyrgyzstan by focusing on two topics:

  1. Kin classification and name avoidance by married women
  2. Relations of mutual assistance at feasts and in everyday life

Kinship classification and name avoidance

In Kyrgyzstan personal names usually have a literal meaning. Many of them refer to objects in nature, like flowers, stars or the moon in female names, and stones, mountains, lakes or rivers in male names. The names given to a child are traditionally believed to affect their fate. Patterns of name giving have been subject to rapid change during the last century. Name avoidance (tergöö) is nowadays only practiced by married women, circumscribing the names of their husband’s kin. Avoiding their names can be quite difficult since this involves not only the proper names, but also the words they comprise. After their marriage women adopt this practice and develop strategies of referring to their relatives in law without mentioning their names. For example a woman, whose father in law is called Bazarbay (lit. “bazaar-rich”) might tell her husband to buy some potatoes “in town”, or bring potatoes “from the center”, in order to avoid the word “bazaar”. In Kyrgyzstan recent changes in patterns of name avoidance and practices of addressing and referring to kin are discussed by young and elderly women alike both in terms of concepts of closeness and respect, modernity and globalization. With the help of collecting extensive genealogies both the practices and meaning of naming and the scope of name avoidance will be investigated.

Relations of mutual help among kin at feasts and in everyday life

Participating in feasts and contributing to them by giving koshumcha (literally “contribution”) is considered as the most important way of maintaining relations (katysh) both among kin, affines, neighbours and friends in Kyrgyzstan. It is considered as a central obligation of kin. Cancelling a relationship of mutually inviting to and contributing to feasts is thus literally described as “getting out of kinship” (“tuuganchylyktan chyguu”). Therefore participation in feasts and gift exchange, which are remembered in astonishing detail and recorded in gift registers, are a good indicator of personal networks in Central Asia. By comparing the information presented in genealogies and gift registers I plan to test the scope of both. This can help to better understand the extent to which gift registers include all gifts exchanged at the feasts, by posing questions regarding the participation and gift exchange of the relatives appearing in the genealogies. It also offers the possibility of exploring the role of other forms of relatedness that include mutual obligations of participating in and contributing to feasts. Among them are relations between classmates (klastashtar), friends (dostorortaktar), neighbours (koshunalar) and colleagues (kollegalar). The importance of feasts for creating and maintaining relation to a large network of people will be tested by also collecting data on mutual assistance in everyday life. How do the networks of mutual assistance at feasts and in everyday life relate to spatial patterns of residence and movement (labor migration)? Which role do genealogical closeness and kin classification play? 

Louise Bechtold, M.A.

Research Fellow, Department Integration and Conflict, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Photo 1: Hosting guests in a yurt at a commemoration feast (ash) in winter © Louise Bechtold

Photo 2: Helpers refill sebets (bundles containing food) in the stock room of a feas © Louise Bechtold

Photo 3: The plov for the guests is ready to be served © Louise Bechtold