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The Balkarians

The BalkariansThe Balkarians name themselves the Taulula, which means 'mountaineer'. 78,3 thousand of them live in Russia and they are an indigenous population of Kabardino-Balkariya (70,8 thousand persons). They live also in Kazakhstan (3,0 thousand persons), Kirghizia (2,1 thousand persons). A total number of the Balkarians is 85,1 thousand persons.

Local groups consist of the Balkarians (the Malkarians, the Malk'arlyla), the Bizingians (the Byzynghynghychyla), the Kholams (the Kholamlyla), the Cheghems (the Cheghemlile), the Urusbians and the Ilybaksans (the Bak'sanchyla). The Karachaevo-Balkarian language belongs to the Turkic group of the Altai family. Writing is based on the Russian writing (it is created in 1924 based on the Arabian writing). The religion is the Islam of Sunni kind.

Probably three basic ethnic components have been taken part in formation of the Balkarians. They were the ancient Caucasian speaking population, the Iranian speaking Alans, who have appeared in the Central Caucasus in the IV-Vth centuries and the Turkic speaking tribes, probably, the Kuban Bolgarians and, undoubtedly, the Kypchaks.

Inhabitants of the Balkarian settlements had close ties with the neighboring nations.

Their traditional occupations were the cattle breeding and the mountain agriculture. Their crafts were a manufacture of the felt cloak and cloth; processing of a leather and timber, salt production, extraction of the sulfur and the lead, a manufacture of gunpowder and bullets. The beekeeping and a hunt were the important crafts. During the reforms the dairy industry start to develop.

Traditional settlements were large and a multifamily, they situated on the slopes of mountains, for the defense purposes they had the watch towers (K'ala). On the plain the settlements were multi-homestead with a street planning and manors.

Traditional clothes were of North Caucasian type: men wear a shirt, trousers, sheepskin shirts, beshmet, Circassian coat with a gasyry with a narrow belt; fur coats, felt cloak, sheepskin hats, bashlyk, hats from felt, leather footwear.

Women wear tunic -shaped shirts, wide trousers, caftan, a long dress, a belt, sheepskin coats, shawls, scarves, hats and various decorations. Festive attire was decorated with lace, gold or silver embroidery, a braid, and a patten band.

The traditional food was mainly a dairy food. The Balkarians had meat only in the holidays and in solemn occasions. Many dishes were made from barley, including beer. Bread and pies were baked also from wheat flour. Honey was widely used. Balkaria included some rural societies.

The national assembly (Tere) played an important role in the Balkarians life. Family was usually small and the marriages were exogamic. Class restrictions were fully observed. The patriarchal traditions and various interdictions are characteristic for the family life. Customs of blood feud, fraternity, hospitality, friendship and atalych were distributed.

The Islamisation of the Balkarians has began in the 17th century, however even in the 19th century their beliefs were represented by complex synthesis of Christianity, an Islam and pre-Christian traditions. The belief in magic, sacred trees, stones, deities -protectors was still in existence. Calendar and other holidays, militarized sports are characteristic for the Balkarians. The folklore is various and that includes the Nart epos, the ceremonial, and labour and heroic songs.

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