Kafr El-Elow is based upon the novel Kafr El-Elow: Continuity and Change in an Egyptian community written by Hani Fakhouri. This paper takes into account two chapters from the novel and explains why both of them are absolutely essential in understanding the social structure of the village, Kafr El-Elow. The paper also highlights some very important traditions and customs followed by the villagers.
The writer of the novel, Kafr El-Elow chose the village of Kafr El-Elow for the ethnographic research not because of its close association with Cairo but because of its location in the middle of Egypt's colossal mercantile complex. According to the author, the small village of Kafr El-Elow is bound to experience a lot of changes due to its most central location, as it is the industrial complex of a country that experience advancement. The people of Kafr El-Elow as result of urbanization and industrialization experienced a lot of changes especially in their culture and the traditional life styles. The people undoubtedly had to adjust to the changes that the economy brought and at the same time hold fast to a lot of their social values and cultural regimes.
The chapters that I chose from the novel indeed, added to my understanding about the life style of the peasants residing in the village. The structure of the society of the village, Kafr El-Elow or any other village in the world is surely based upon the customs, norms and traditions of that village. Customs and traditions followed by the people can only be understood by the way they live and the value they have for each other. Chapter 3 i.e. Family And Kinship Organization clearly outlines family values and the traditions followed by people. The chapter clearly illustrates not only the customs followed in the cases of mate selection and wedding, but the basic element in kinship ties. The importance of relationship between families can easily be recognized in this chapter. According to the writer, "If an individual is the eldest son, his first name will be used by friends and relatives informally to his father and mother. This practice is referred to as teknonymy. Frequently a deceased grandfather's name is given to the prospective son, continuing connection with other members of the kinship group" (Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship Organization, Pg. 60).
The chapter also tells its readers how the people of Kafr El-Elow react differently towards their maternal and paternal ties. "Kinship terminology also differentiates an individual's relationship to his paternal from that with his maternal relatives, and distinguishes his first cousins from those more distantly related" (Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship Organization, Pg. 60). Hence, more importance is given to the paternal rather than the maternal side. Even though the paternal side is deemed more important, children are more closely attached to the maternal side. Customs and norms are made for each member of the family and it is these relations which form the structure of their society. For example, "A daughter-in-law as a sign of respect, use the term ammi to refer to her father-in-law and the term mirat ammi to refer to her mother-in-law" (Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship Organization, Pg. 60). Hence, respect is an essential element of every relation.
Age of a person also presents an important factor in determining the status of an individual in the village. As mentioned above, great weightage is given to the paternal rather than the maternal side. If the maternal relatives are not associated to the paternal side than their position is made even more conspicuous. The writer of Kafr El-Elow has even given the description of the social structure of a single household. For example, a married woman is to live within her husband household where she is given a subordinate status with respect to her mother-in-law. The husband is expected to frequently side with his mother rather than his wife. The man is undoubtedly considered as the head of the family and there is no way to disregard his authority. The job of the wife is to look after the household and her children. Even though the status of a wife is lower than her husband and her mother-in-law, she however practices great supremacy in the bringing up of her children.
When a wife in Kafr El-Elow is angry with her husband for some reason, she may complain to her father-in-law or to her mother-in-law...in some cases, however, an angry wife may leave her husband's house and go to live with her father or brother until her husband sends a member of his family - his father, uncle or a close relative "
Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship Organization, Pg. 61).
The social structure of Kafr El-Elow is such that father guide their sons whereas, the mothers guide their daughters.
Children are required to give great respect to their parents since it is one of the prime conditions of their religion, as instructed in their holy book, The Koran.
The authority of the person is sanctioned by the Koran. Obedience of children to their parents comes next to the Moslems' major obligations to God and the Prophet.
Disobedience to parents in one of the major sins which is harshly punished in the next world, and according to Ali, even in the world (Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship
Organization, Pg. 62).
The author of the novel mentions that the children are deeply attached to their parents and display towards them courtesy, love, affection and respect. "In a family gathering a person must play a subordinate role, socially and otherwise, to all the older persons present, serving them food and giving them seats ahead of himself and all other younger members" (Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship Organization, Pg. 62).
An elder male son is given the authority of the head of the house during the absence of his father. The younger sibling of the family is always a subordinate to his elder brother. The author also mentions that a married couple has a great wanting for a male child rather than a female, primarily for the purpose of carrying their family's name.
Women or girls in Kafr El-Elow like men or boys are expected to show respect and courtesy towards their parents. At the age of nine or ten they are expected to handle the task of cooking, cleaning and caring for their younger siblings. Girls are required to take particular care of their modesty and reputation. Even while accompanying their father, they are expected to follow behind from ten to fifteen yards. The minimum age of marriage for a girl in Kafr El-Elow is 16 years. Families hardly marry their children outside their relatives. "It is commonly said in Kafr El-Elow that the prevailing system of paternal cousin marriage protects a woman against village gossip if she passes a certain age without getting married because theoretically, a paternal male cousin has priority of access to his paternal female cousin" (Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship Organization, Pg. 63).
Proposal from one family to another family is sent through a woman. The girl's father is the prime decision-maker of the matter. If the girl's family accepts the proposal, the date of the marriage and the marriage payment is set. As instructed by their religion Islam, the girl's consent is asked before the marriage. Marriages are usually a time of celebration in which people dance, sing and enjoy festive meals. Both families of the bride and the groom send each other gifts such as fruits, vegetables and jewelry. Both the bride and groom are physically prepared for the wedding. On the day of the marriage, the groom's family comes to take the bride and her family to their household.
According to the author, men may practice polygyny or monogamy. The author gave several reasons for this i.e. If a man's first wife cannot bear children or if his first wife undergoes prolonged illness or if a man wished to acquire a better social status than he may marry more than once. Widows in Kafr El-Elow are in a greater number as compared to widowers primarily for the reason than men can marry more than once. "Divorce, like polygymy, is regarded in Islam as a male prerogative" (Hani Fakhouri, Family And Kinship Organization, Pg. 72). In all divorces the husband has to pay a fix amount of money to his wife.
Families in Kafr El-Elow enjoy great social status on account of having great number of lands. All the members of the family share the economic success and the resulting prestige. A member may only be ranked above his kin on account of personal qualities such as generosity or bravery.
The next chapter that I chose was chapter four, i.e. Religious Beliefs And Practices. The customs and traditions of people of a particular area are always greatly influenced by the religion they follow. This chapter illustrates to its readers the key acts which have made the social structure of the village. The people of…