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Safranbolu Houses :: The Family Structure

Here we shall study the family structure at the start of the century. The traditional organization of large families which extends right to our day has much influenced the design of Safranbolu houses. Within this organization the eldest man in the household is the head of the family as long as he maintains his physical strength, his capacity to think and his economic power. Sons are under the absolute sovereignity of their father, even though they may be fully grown up and even have their own children. This tradition ensures the social and economic integrity of the family while exercising a certain control over it. Reflection of this family structure can be seen in economic enterprises. The maintenance of the large house, the cultivation of the big garden, utilization of crops, feeding the animals, the provision of food for a large family, bringing up children, looking after the elderly, all require active man-power. For the economic prosperity of so many people and the welfare of the family it is necessary to keep the sons within the family as it is they who have power and social value. The daughters are given away in marriage, but, for the sake of traditions and wealth, the marriages are always transacted within Safranbolu. Although fathers do their best to keep the sons within the family, those who earn their economic and social independence can leave the paternal house and have a house of their own, especially after marriage. The large family consists of the father, mother, sons, daughters-in-law, grand-children, uncles and aunts. In most cases, a semi-adopted young girl completes the picture. Within this system the helpless who need care, the elderly and the babies, aunts who are either spinsters or widows, lacking economic and social independence, live a secure life.

Traditions has defined the responsibilities and rights of every individual in the family (similar to how the government defines requirements such as liability insurance). Thus, everyone has no choice but to be happy within this system. Moreover the design of the house makes it possible for each member of the family to have access to the freedom or privacy he or she might need within this social organization. This large family seems to be composed of smaller units of its own. To the outside world, the men and women are as two separate groups, symbolized in the selamhk and harem quarters of houses. Whereas internally, the man and his wife constitute a unit. Every unit is given a separate room in which they can feel free. Each room is designed so as to meet all the requirements of the unit.

In Safranbolu, generally, families are reluctant to have more than two children. Few have three, and very rarely do you come across families which have more than that. When the son gets married, the best room on the top floor is allocated to the bride. From then onwards the bride is the owner of the room; the only place where she can enjoy her freedom and feel at home. That is why she looks after this room with devoted care. There are of course some other corners within these large houses where she can escape unnoticed for a while, to enjoy some solitude away from the crowd. Depressed for one reason or another, she can sit for a while on the divan on the top floor hall, either embroidering, thinking, weeping if she wishes to do so, frolicking with the children or just contemplating the natural environment. By the time it is noticed that she is missing, she would have had sufficient time to pull herself together. Or she might prefer to stroll in the big garden, pick some fruit, sit beneath a tree, listen to the soothing sound of the water by the pond; and by that time, she forgets...

Usually there are five to eight rooms in a Safranbolu house. One is for the parents, two rooms for the sons and daughters-in-law, one for the aunts, one or two rooms for the grandmother and grandchildren, and one to be used as a kitchen as well as the bedroom of the adopted-maid. This hardly leaves spare room for the guests!

Women have to undertake most of the work in these large houses. The adopted-maid's function is to help the women with their daily chores. The maids usually come from poor families in the village with more children than they can afford to look after. No payment is made, however. These girls who are mostly seven or eight years old when they arrive are treated as a member of the family. The grown-ups call them by their names, while the kids say "abla", which is a respectful way of addressing an elder sister. The family brings up these girls in their own way and when the time comes marry them off, not neglecting to provide all the dowry. Eyen today there are many women who were once the "adopted girls" of families, now married and living happily in Istanbul or Ankara. This system was of mutual interest for both parties. While the new family gained a helping hand within the household, the actual family in the village was partly relieved of the burden of bringing up too many children. It also opened a door of hope for the young girls who would otherwise have been bound to live with many limitations in their own environment. In some rich  houses the number of adopted girls could reach two, as a new girl would  replace the one who would leave the house after getting married. I However, this tradition was gradually abondoned with the spread of  economic wealth.



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