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Home » Chechen Culture

Vainakh Ethics by Edi Isaev

Submitted by on Friday, 29 May 2009.    5,017 views No Comment
Vainakh Ethics by Edi Isaev

We share a summary of the book “Vainakh Ethics” on customs and traditions of Chechens by Edi Isaev. It  is an utmost important work.

Edi Isaev is a historian, Professor at the Chechen State University, writer and publicist directs his book to youth. In introduction he emphasizes: “ The norm of Vainakh ethics is the code of wise truths of people that reflects their ideals.”

The book is educational. It contains the ideas on ethics by thinkers of various people and various times from Epicurus and Confucius A.S. Makarenko and L.N.Tolstoy. The second chapter is devoted to ethic norms of Chechens. The third chapter considers in detail traditional family ethic code. The final chapter is devoted to Islamic ethic norms.

Materials from the book Vainakh Ethics by Edi Isaev is devoted to customs and traditions of Chechens.

The ethos of taip

the-ethos-of-taipSince the 16th century, the Chechens have been living in distinct patriarchal family clans or ‘taips’ (from Arabic ‘taifa’ group, circle, community). Each taip gradually evolved into a tree of offshoots, or ‘tars’. Each tar gave rise to a separate taip. Each person within a tar knew the name of the founding forefather of his of her tar. Each Chechen was also supposed to remember the names of at least 20 of his or her ancestors.

In all, there have been as many as 135 Chechen taips. Over 20 consist or consisted of assimilated descendants of non-Chechens, who joined the Chechen people in different conditions and at different times. Each taip had an obligatory ethos, and the higher the social standing of a man within his taip, the stricter he was supposed to adhere to that ethos.

Each such ethos had the principles of what we no call ‘freedom. liberty and brotherhood’ in its heart of hearts. It also upheld mutual help, respect for seniors and chivalry towards women. In everyday life, all these principles existed as customs. A violator of them attracted general condemnation from fellow taipfolk, regardless of his or her standing within the taip. People would choose a roadside site for what they called ‘a damnation heap’ in the name of the offender  and through rocks and earth upon this when passing by. Each rock or lump would come in package with strong words of denunciation with regard to the man or woman whose name had been associated with the heap.

In his book ‘The Vainakh Ethos’, Professor E.Isayev argues that taips are still relevant today because norms of behaviour within them play a great role in the upbringing of the young.

‘Yah’, the main virtue in man

yah-the-main-virtue-of-manChechen epics (‘illis’), songs, fables and parables often end with the phrase “May no mother ever give birth to a son without ‘yah’!”

Professors I.Aliroyev and D.Medzhidov, in their book “The Customs, Traditions and Norms of the Chechen People” (Grozny, 1992), have this to say: “Whenever you hear that a person has no ‘yah’, this means the person in question commands no respect within his or her circle. Describing a man as having no ‘yah’ is as good as saying he is no man at all. Stating that a man possesses ‘yah’ is the highest possible praise to that man. A man with ‘yah’ in him is a model to emulate. He possesses all the qualities that the Vainakhs deem positive in their ethical code.”

‘Yah’ (akin to ‘yuh’ face, countenance, decent appearance) fully embraces fortitude, valour, courage and bravery but does not boil down to them.

The collector of Vainakh folklore Merited Teacher of the Russian Federation Adam Dolatov calls attention to relevant chapters of ‘Yahian Kostash’ (‘Behests of Decency and Dignity’), a codified collection of traditional ethical principles of the Vainakh people: “Gain the deepest possible insight into yourself and your ancestry. Retain your ‘yah’. Never lose decency or dignity. … Your are mortal. But never be fearful of your physical death. The only thing to be really feared is life without decency, dignity, spirit. faith or ‘yah’. He who loses them loses his freedom as well … .”

Other elements of ‘yah’ include modesty, moderation, generosity, responsiveness to other people’s needs and also the pursuit of public recognition by showing best results in labour, battle, sport and help to others and by modestly holding the last place in the queue for awards.

The Vainakh family code calls on the parents to instill competitive qualities in their children. ‘Yah’ supposes high competitiveness in people who have it.

Sworn Brotherhood

sworn-brotherhood“Worthy man always has friends” say a Chechen proverb. Sworn brotherhood raises friendship to its highest peak.  Chechens honour the centuries old custom. This ethic norm has been passed from one generation to another. It was passed through verbal people’s creations, fairy tales and legends.

The ethic of sworn brotherhood in multi-national Chechnya has long been considered foundation of relations between peoples. It is respected as kinship but toward friends it is considered much more greater than toward relations. Inattentiveness or discourtesy toward a brother can be pardoned but never toward a friend.

How a friendly union is concluded? There are three kinds of brotherhood. The first is solemn sworn before friends or elders, The second, the drinking of milk from a single cup that symbolizes faithfulness. A gold ring was put into to it so as not to “rust” the friendship. The third is mixing of blood for this purpose wanted to be brothers cut their fingers and mix drops of blood. After the performance of one of these rituals the sworn brothers exchange barbecues, felt cloaks and other things that symbolizes sworn brotherhood. The performance of the ritual is informed to all relations and friends of both sides.

Famous Russia writers Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov and Lev Tolstoy who knew about the mode of life and customs of highlanders and wrote about the tradition of sworn brotherhood. Lev Tolstoy had friendly relations with many highlanders and described them as sworn brothers. He wrote the following about his sworn brother Sado Miserbiev: “ He proved his faithfulness risking his life but this was of no importance for him, it was a custom and pleasure for him…”. It is well known that Sado Miserbiev presented Lev Tolstoy a sword as a symbol of true friendship. Chechens present weapons only to friends. Now the sword is In Lev Tolstoy museum in Moscow.

Chechens and their attitude to work

chechens-and-their-attitude-to-workVainakhs valued the concept “khianal” – something one earns with hard work. From times immemorial Chechens highly appreciated aspiration to creative work. From early childhood, they tried to raise their children with respect to toil. A very old Chechen parable is exactly about that.

The father calls for his son and gives him 1 rouble, saying: ” Go and throw it in the river “. At once the son did as told. A bit later his father suggested he does the same with 10 roubles, and then with 100 roubles. His son obliged. But the day has come, when the son began to earn his own money. When he earned his very first money, he brought it to his father to please him, but father suggested he threw his first rouble in the river again. The son was indignant:” How do you mean to throw it away, when I worked so hard to earn it?”.His father’s answer was: ” Son, but you never had a shade of confusion throwing in the river the 111 roubles I gave you, and I also worked hard to earn them”. That was how his son learnt about the price of money one gets working hard.

The respectful attitude to work is emphasised by the very old Chechen tradition of shared work. For example, harvesting crops. Or in a household, which has lost its breadwinner. In this mountainous country people used to build their stone houses together, all members of the community lending a hand, with children working side by side with adults.

” Let’s take a look at the “belkhi”, a century-old tradition – E.Isaev writes in the book “The Vainakh Ethics”, when no one is invited to take part, but rather they come to help their neighbours of their own accord, eager and glad to help someone in need. The “belkhi ” is the type of work which has the character of help, mercy and charity, something known as work for the common good. The concept of “belkhi” from times immemorial has been part of the Vainakh lifestyle. It embraces the philosophy of doing good, of brotherly unselfishness and friendship. More than once have we witnessed situations when such qualities were exhibited. Just recollect the landslides in the mountains of the Nozhai-Yurt area in 1991-1993.

Then hundreds and thousand citizens of our republic, Dagestan, Ingushetia came to the aid of the injured. And when similar happened in Dagestan and Armenia, among those who by first has responded to an another’s mountain there were the Chechens. Similar examples set. It is trusted, that the ethics of mercy forever remain in Chechen and Ingush traditions. In mountains stand still high, well-proportioned towers combined by ancestors present the Vainakhs! The centuries stand. It is possible to name them “as spiritual towers of the people”. And the people go on “belkhi” to realise that the towers of goods, unselfishness stand and in their souls “.

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