Sunday, December 30, 2012

Silence for a Year

Nancy Kricorian's post "The bride has lost her tongue" (the post appeared yesterday on the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance Facebook page) brought to mind a piece of family history that Marash Girl's father Peter often related.

Kricorian's post suggests that the silence  imposed upon a new bride (the "gelin") was an Armenian village custom of questionable merit.  Marash Girl's Grandmother Yepros (Kurtgusian Bilezikian) would have disagreed.  Grandma Yepros often spoke of the silence imposed on a new bride (in the rather large and, for those times, sophisticated City of Marash) as a custom with considerable merit.

Armenian family lineage being patrilineal, the bride after marriage would go to live in her husband's house (or the home of her father-in-law, if he were still living), where her mother-in-law reigned.  
Grandma Yepros Kurtguzian Bilezikian with her son Peter, Marash 1913
According to Grandma Yepros (who herself had been a new bride in similar circumstances), the bride was required to be silent for her first married year (in the presence of her mother-in-law and others of the household, NOT when alone in the presence of her husband), a year during which the bride observed what was going on in the house, a year during which the bride learned to understand the person of her mother-in-law (first and foremost), a year during which the "gelin" learned the ways in which to respond without causing problems.  Although her mouth was not active, the bride's mind never ceased to absorb and understand her surroundings and the characters that peopled those surroundings.

[Marash Girl's father Peter often noted that in Marash, women reigned -- that is, women reigned in the home, as the men were out and about, working in their shops, traveling as merchants, or sitting in the coffee houses playing backgammon, kibbitzing, gambling and sipping Armenian coffee.]

Looking back with Western eyes, the custom of the silenced bride may seem cruel, but given the kinship structures of that time and place, a time and place where extended family lived in very close quarters with limited means, a young bride, unused to the behaviors in a new  household, could have caused havoc and hatred in her new abode but for that  imposed silence allowing for her keen observation of her new family.


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