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Most likely, everybody is familiar with the following collocation: "in accordance with the rites of hospitality". In a sense it reflects one of the most ancient and highly valued customs that has survived to our time. In the older days, however, among the peoples of the Orient, including the Uzbeks, hospitality was a must in terms of life standards and morality.
On setting out on a journey, a traveler often found himself in hostile environment of nature. But what consoled him was the hope that in the nearest village and even in an isolated nomad's tent he will be provided with shelter, food and warmth.
To turn somebody down or to give him bad reception, which conflicts with the traditions, meant to disgrace the family, village, and clan. The tradition ordered to be hospitable even to an enemy. Not without reason the old ancient saying states: "Hospitality is rated higher than courage."
Nowadays the principles of hospitality turned into good and useful traditions that help people in their contacts and behavior. Some of these principles aïîæèëîére expressed in aphoristic form: "It is better to come in time than to come early" "He who invites somebody to dinner should take care about night accommodation too."
Uzbek people usually have big families consisting of few generations. In such families respect towards elderly people is a tradition. Certain line of conduct is observed in the relations between men and women. Thus salutation by shaking hands is permissible only between men. While shaking hands, as a rule, it is advisable to show interest in each other's health and personal progress. It is customary to greet women with light bow placing right hand over the heart.
To turn down invitation to lunch or dinner or to be late for the one is considered to be rather impolite. Usually guests arrive with souvenirs for the hosts and sweets for children. On entering the house one should take off the foot-gear. According to the old tradition men and women should sit at different tables, but this tradition has full support only in the rural areas. The head of the family himself seats the guests, with the most respected guests being offered the seats furthest to the entrance. After the eldest among the present at the feast reads short praying for the hospitable home, the host offers his guests the traditional cup of tea followed by feast itself.
Traditions and customs of Uzbek people living on the crossroad of the Great Silk Road were taking shape within many centuries as a result of interaction of Zoroastrian rituals of the Sogdians and Bactrians and traditions of nomadic tribes, with certain impact of Islamic traditions and rites set by the Koran in later period.
Specific role in the life of Uzbeks is given to the customs connected with the birth and upbringing of children, marriage and commemoration of deceased relatives. A wedding is preceded by engagement ceremony - "Fatiha tuy". On the appointed day guests come to the house of the girl who has been proposed to. After the matchmakers announce the purpose of their visit the rite "Non sindirish" - "Breaking of a scone" is being performed and the day of marriage is fixed. The bride's relatives give presents to their counterparts on the side of the groom. From this moment young people are considered to be engaged.
Wedding in the life of the Uzbeks is of great significance and is celebrated with a special solemnity. It consists of a number of ceremonies that should be performed without failure. In the bride's family her parents dress up the groom with sarpo - the wedding robe. After mullah (Moslem priest) reads praying for the newly-weds and declares them husband and wife, the young people usually go to ZAGS - office for official civil registration of marriage, thus supplementing the wedlock in the face of God with the one in the face of people.
The obligatory attribute of a wedding is festive table with multiple guests. Two hundred or three hundred guests at the wedding party is considered to be a typical phenomena. As a present for the young couple the groom's parents should provide the newly-weds with a house or a separate flat to live in, whereas the bride's parents should furnish it and provide everything that the young couple might need during the first years of the married life. All this is not cheap, of course, but in such cases who cares about money.
The climax of a wedding ceremony is the bride's leaving her parent's house for the house of her groom. In some areas of Uzbekistan there has also remained the ancient ritual of purification, which goes back to Zoroastrian tradition, when the young couple walks around the fire three times before groom brings the bride into his house.
Next morning after the wedding party the rite "Kelin salomi" - reception of the bride in her new family should be performed. The groom's parents, his relatives and friends give presents to the bride and she greets everyone with deep bow.
Such important event in the life of young family as baby birth is accompanied with ritual celebration "Beshik tui" - "Wooden cradle". On the fortieth day after the baby is born relatives of the young mother bring lavishly decorated cradle - beshik and everything which is needed for the newborn, as well as wrapped in tablecloth baked scones, sweets and toys. According to tradition while guests are having good time and are regaling themselves on the viands, in the child's room the aged women perform the rite of the first swaddling of the child and putting baby into beshik. The rite finishes with the ceremony of a baby's first 'showing itself' to the public. The invited guests gather round the cradle which they scatter with sweets and sugar wishing the baby happiness and success.
The birth of a boy brings to the family a real elation and responsibility. Before the child reaches the age of nine it is necessary to perform ancient sanctified Islamic rite of circumcision - hatna kilish or sunnat toyi. Prior to the rite in the presence of the elders from neighbourhood suras (verses from Koran) are read and holiday table is served. The elders bless the small boy and give him presents. At last there comes the culminating point of the ceremony when a stallion, decorated with beautiful harness and ribbons, appears; the boy is seated on it; and all the guests begin to wish him to grow up a healthy man and brave horseman.
Funeral and commemoration for the dead are also featured in the code of life regulations. Twice, in twenty days and in one year after the death, funeral repast is arranged. In the morning, right after morning praying, plov is served. The ceremony lasts one and a half - two hours. While eating those present at the ceremony commemorate the deceased and read suras from Koran.
All these important events in the life of an Uzbek family come about with the assistance and direct participation of mahallya members. Mahallya is a community of neighbours which is based on the full independence and self-governing with the purpose of conducting joint activities and rendering mutual assistance. Makhalla as a structural unit has existed for centuries and originally was a kind of trade - union committee of craftsmen. Management is executed by mahallya community committee elected at the common meeting of residents. Makhalla specifically takes care of organization and arrangement of weddings, funerals, commemoration, and the rite of circumcision.
Mahallya in a sense is self-supporting organization which meetes the urgent spiritual and bodily requirements of the citizens. Practically in each makhalla there functions choihona - tea house, barber's shop, and frequently there is a mosque to serve the community. On Fridays, however, men visit a cathedral mosque to perform common praying namaz.
For all that, mahallya is not just an association of mutual aid. The community plays a broad spectrum of roles, including those of supervisory and educative ones. Children in mahallya grow up under the supervision of the whole community and are brought up invariably in the spirit of respect and obedience to elderly people Community also observes the ancient tradition of mutual aid - khashar. Many hands make light work. Thus residents voluntarily and without payment help neighbors to build a house, to arrange a wedding party or commemorating plov, to improve conditions of the neighborhood.
Mahallya acts as an upholder of folk customs and traditions. Not without reason it can be said that a man is born and lives in mahallya, and when he dies mahallya administers the last rites for him.
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