Laudaev, “The Chechen Tribe” Part V, Concerning the taipanas or Chechen clans

V.

Concerning the taipanas or Chechen clans

The [everyday] life of the Chechen people was tightly connected to the dynamics of their clans, therefore particular attention should be turned to this.

Deriving from different [ethnic] elements, these clans, as is general with semi-wild peoples, were at odds with each other. For example, let’s suppose that four clans (Russian, Avar, Georgian and Kabard) established themselves in one area. Naturally, these clans, not cultivating amongst themselves a feeling of kinship, instead having one interest, [namely] acquiring for themselves the best piece of land, would have antagonistic relations with each other. This feeling of enmity would pass down to their descendants. The disunited beginning of the Chechens was a necessary result of this [sort of situation]. All the Chechen clans tried to acquire for themselves land in the mountains, where they could live more peacefully than in the accessible lower elevations. For this reason, the clans who established themselves there earlier have land on the northern slopes of the bald mountains. The ones who established themselves later settled in the black mountains. When the entire territory had been occupied by inhabitants in this manner, newcomer clans, not having any land to establish themselves on, lived temporarily on the land of others; in other words, they were guests, khamalga-byazhema in Chechen. Hence, both the guest clan and the host were waiting for the chance to acquire land. By different means: purchase, force of weapons or lawsuits, they found themselves land where, having established a hearth, they maintained their family. A few newcomers, in this manner, acquired land for themselves. At the same time, others, less fortunate, remained without [land] and were called landless (mokhk-batsu). After the exodus of the Russians from Chechniya, both the land-poor and landless clans took land for themselves in the flatland and it’s clear that this is why a few [clans] have land in the mountains and in the flatland, [but] others [have land] only in the flatland.  In such troubled times, everything was based on arms. At a meeting of two people of different clans, instead of the present-day greeting “salyam-aleykum” (peace be with you),  they often resolved to fight in those days. The strong would defeat the weak, often killing him in order to get his possessions: weapon, clothes, steed or donkey.  Thus every clan constituted a single body and all its members were in close connection. In cases of offense, given to a member of a clan, all the rest would stand up for him, as if they had all been personally given [insult]. This kin-based connection of the members of a clan is called taipan or taipa in Chechen. It means one clan, kindred, or one tribe. Thus when Chechens speak about the good or evil characteristics of a person, they will ask “which taipana is he from?” or  when speaking about different peoples, they say “giriy taipa”, “donskoi taipa”, i.e. Ossettian clan, Donskoi clan[1] and so forth. In the intra-familial relations of a kindred, all members are called brothers (vezherei or vosha) and all the bonds of brotherhood [are called] voshalla. In the earliest times, when the members of a clan were small in number, [and] not divided into subsections,  they went by a single name and constituted a single family.  With the multiplication of clan members, it was difficult to keep on living on the ancestral land and therefore they found themselves new places.  Thus they were divided and [the clansmen] grew unacquainted with each other. But this living [apart] didn’t weaken their brotherly ties, but further strengthened them, provided they recognized their clan-brotherhood.[2] Branches (or gaara) of a clan, leaving for another country, didn’t leave their plot of land in the full ownership of their brothers they left behind. Instead, allowing them to use the land, they received ber (gift or tax) from their brothers for [using] it.[3] The strong clans afflicted the weak. To oppose them, the latter settled next to other weak [clans] or relied on [other] strong [clans for protection] and thus opposed the oppressors. From these clan relations, it can be seen that at that time clan connections, in their own way, formed a government for the country. It must be noted that in our time, [even as] Chechen customs are beginning to weaken in the face of the Russian way of life, clan ties are becoming even stronger. Being formed from different elements, the clans competed with each other, not allowing any which one to rise above [the rest of] the people. For different reasons, a few individuals would come to the fore. With [their] rise, such an individual and their clan would gain influence amongst the people. Then the others, envying them, would increase their strength in order to bring such a person and his clan back down to the general level.

It was said that the society of the Chechen tribe, composed of many clans, in enmity with each other from time immemorial, was free of any feeling of unity. In such a manner, the Nazarovians were the irreconcilable enemies of the Chechens on the flatland and on the Terek. They robbed and killed each other.  The Shatoevians also fell on the Terek Chechens. These people, taking revenge on [the Shatoevians], abducted their people and sold them into yassyr (slavery) in the west of the Caucasus. The Aukhovians were closer to the Kumyks, and the Nazarovians to the Ossettes and the Kabards, than to their fellow tribesmen the Chechens.  The lack of their country’s geopolitical significance was due to this lack of a sense of unity amongst the Chechen societies.

[1]Translator’s note. Does Donskoi clan refer to the Don Cossacks?

[2] [Laudaev Extended Comment 13] Tragic scenes often come from these situations. There is a story which was still to be heard in the recent past. There was a person [named] Nogai-Mirza, of the Chermoi family, who was going on horseback through an aul. He spied a disheveled woman,  running away, with screams and groans, from her husband, who was pursuing her with a bare kindjal. The woman was screaming “Oh Muslims, you must take pity on me! I am being murdered without guilt. Is there not one of my brothers, of the Chermois, left living on the land, who can protect an innocent sister?” Nogai-Mirza galloped up to her and said “The Chermois still live, their swords have not become dull.” And pulling his sword from [beside] his leg, he killed the pursuer for the woman. She was of the Chermoi family. There are many similar stories,  in which clan brothers subject themselves to danger, not sparing their lives to help a relative.

[3] [Laudaev Extended Comment 14] Chechen families tell tall tales and legends about their own settling in Ichkeria. The Chermoi family says that the family left from Maast and settled in the aul of Nashakh; accordingly, they are of Khevsur origin. A wealthy Chermoi, in Nashakh, lost his parents and decided to leave this place [which had become] mournful for him because of [his] memories. Looking for a new place to live, he climbed a mountain, which now is called Chermoi-lam, i.e. the mountain of the Chermois. From the heights of the mountain he admired [the view] of the locality. The day was hot; [but] nearby was a babbling brook. Tired from the walk and the heat, he thrust his spear (gemuk) into the brook and lay down to rest. Coming awake, he spied a fresh bird’s nest on the end of the spear, and taking this for a fortunate omen, resettled there with his family. Soon others of his surname settled next to him and they formed the village of Chermi in Ichkeria. At the foot of this mountain is Beden, a significant village of the Shamil [movement].

When branches (or gaara) of a family split off to [settle] new land, they don’t leave their plots of land under the complete control of the remaining brothers, but, viewing it as their property, they allow the brothers to use it, receiving from them for [using] it ber, i.e. a present or type of tax. I offer my own branch of the Chermoi clan as an example. This family has land in Ichkeria, formerly in the Argun okrug and Chechniya. At the beginning of the present century, the Chermoi Nogai-Mirza, my great-grandfather, removed from Ichkeria to the flatland with his property, which consisted of horned cattle. He passed through many auls, but stopped nowhere, [being] dissatisfied with the quality of the land. He had a measuring pot for cereals, called girdi (around 5 garnets). The milking yield of each of his cows could nowhere [he stopped] fill this pot with milk, not like they could in Ichkeria. Searching for better land, he came to the Terek, where, to his delight, the milk went over the sides of the bucket. “Here’s the land which I was looking for” he said, and founded an aul, which still exists and goes by his name. Our family received ber, or presents, for [our] plots of land from those whom remained in Ichkeria. Still in the time of Shamil, i.e. forty years after [Nogai-Mirza’s] leaving Ichkeria, my father would go to the Chermoi for bers. This ber consisted of a pair of sheep, one or two goatskins and up to 16 arshins of coarse stuff. No matter how small this collection was, our family was proud of it, saying that it came from the patrimonial land and [from] maintaining landless [kin] people on it. Even in 1860, our arable land was pointed out to me by Chermois.

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