The Laz Village

To the south of B____ about seven miles as the crow flies and about sixhours along mountain trails high up on the brow of one of the tallestmountains in the region, lies the quaint village of Menenshe.

Menenshe is the Turkish word for "Wood Violet". Although the flower and thevillage do in truth resemble one another in possessing odors, the nature ofthe odor is vastly different. The village was occupied by a race called theLazes. The Lazes come from the northeastern shores of Asia Minor on the BlackSea. They are a quiet agricultural people and their origin is clouded butthey have a lot of both Kurdish and Armenian blood.

In the regions all about Constantinople, there are settlements in villagessuch as Menenshe of immigrants from different parts of Asia Minor. In Turkey,the goal in the imagination of all its subjects is the great City, thecapital. The municipal authorities of Constantinople are constantly beingworried by the arrival of non-descript family groups who have left theirhumble homes anywhere throughout the empire and accompanied by their fewbelongings travel their weary way to the capital where they are convinced, onpresenting their claims to the Poudisha (Sultan), that they will be givenopportunities for a living. The hinterland of Constantinople is still largelyunsettled and these groups who forced themselves on the City, many of themcamping out in the very streets of the City, are finally given small holdingsin the hinterland where they can develop their homes in clearings in theforest or plains - very much like the early settlers in the wild parts ofAmerica. It is a curious fact that Asia Minor which probably has been peopledby human beings ever since the dawn of history has vast regions today withouta single human being.

Menenshe is an example of one of these settlements. The soil is very poor and the trees largely Pine. The village lies on a slopenear the top of one of the high peaks in a clearing of forest of Pines. Thevillagers have small gardens in which they plant chiefly Indian Corn andvegetables which are very stunted because of the sparse soil of the rockyland. The houses are veritably log cabins with the spaces between the logsplastered with a mixture of mud and straw. The sloping roofs are covered withhandmade shingles held down by stones. The people of Menenshe are Chenozesand they are governed by a Priest who is everything to them. He settles theirquarrels, punishes anyone who has stolen from his neighbor, arranges for theapportionment of the clearings and in every way the villagers abide by hisdecision.

I once visited the home of this Priest who came for me to B____ on horsebackleading another horse for me and on our trip to his village it was all Icould do to keep up with the pace of my leader. It was marvellous the waythese mountain horses rapidly ran along mountain trails which were nothingmore than the dried beds of streams in the rainy seasons. The saddle is of apeculiar wooden structure used indiscriminately for riding purposes and forcarrying loads. The saddle is perched high on the back of the horse, boundwith a canvas girth and loops of rope hanging on either side would serve asstirrups. The Priest always wore his long black robe and on his head was atall cylindrical hat mounted by a cone-shaped top. When riding through theforest or engaged in his favorite pastime, hunting, the Priest would lift theskirt of his gown and bind it with his girdle about his waist in order to givehis limbs free play. His curious looking headgear was so out of place in theforest, pushed back and pressed down on his head so that it settled on hisears. Before approaching any habitation, however, the gown was always letdown and the hat raised to its proper position on his head to give him thedignity which goes with his calling. He was a very different figure with hisgun strapped back, racing along the cobblestone trails in the surroundingforest.

He had invited me to be present at a village wedding. That evening when wearrived at Menenshe I saw the bridegroom, a lusty youth, in homespun shalvars,- Kurdish trousers - very baggy only about the waist, but tight fittingstarting far above the knees and down to the ankles. Heavy homespun clothenclosed the calves of the legs and protected them from the rough brush theymight encounter. He wore a flaming red girdle and a skyblue sleeveless waistcut over a white shirt and his headgear was made of brown homespun, the samecloth as that of his trousers. This headgear consisted of two long strips ofmaterial which were sewn together in the middle in the form of the shape of acone. The wearer fits the cone over his head and then wraps the two longflaps around and around the cone and fits in the ends of the flaps so thatseveral inches would hang down over each ear. The headgear is of that kind ismost useful under conditions in which most villagers live. When not wanted itis simply taken off and wrapped around the waist. In cold weather the twolong flaps are let loose and can be wrapped around the face, head and necklike a muffler.

The soles of the stockingless feet were encased in a most comfortable kindof sandal that anyone would wish to wear. The sandals are of untannedleather, the hair on the outside. They are very easy to make. You take astrip of leather, place the hair side down, then place your foot on it, andcut out an oval so that there are several inches of material extending allaround the foot. Then holes are punctured all around the rim and a leatherthong put through these holes in such a way that when the thongs are pulledthe edges of the leather strip are crumpled up and fit closely about the foot. The ends of the thong are then wrapped around the ankle over the lower end ofthe tight fighting trousers. At nighttime these sandals dry up so that in themorning they are as hard as boards but in order to put them on they are firstdipped in water and softened and then put on. It was always a relief to me tocast off my supposedly civilized footgear for these comfortable sandals.

When the Priest conducted me into his house which differed from the otherhouses, - it being a two-storey edifice. The basement was only one-half dugout and its walls were of unhewn beams largely plastered over with mud. Thefloor above was only five feet high and a heavily built ladder led up thestairs. The interior of the upstairs of the house consisted of one large room,the two ends separated by leather hangings. From the beams which supported theroof hung festoons of dried ears of corn and here and there a pumpkin and inother places large haunches of dried meat. The only light in the room camefrom the chimney over a big fireplace at one end of the room.

Straw mattings were brought out by the two stalwart sons of the Priest andlaid before the open fireplace in front of which we sat. The Priest told mehow the day before the uncles and several brothers of the bride had carriedher off and how the bridegroom that very morning had started off in pursuitwith his companions, and the wild dashings through the forest of the pursuitand the pursuers until finally the pursuer had succeeded in reaching hisquarry. The bridegroom then seized the bride and flung her body over thepummel of the saddle and rode until they got back to liberty. Such is theprelude to every wedding among the Lazes.

Menenshe boasts of a sizeable church which is a great rectangular woodenedifice in a clearing at some distance from the village. As you pass throughthe entrance you come on to a wooden floor at which place you remove yoursandals or shoes and then you step up to a wooden platform at the main end ofthe church. At the other end is the altar with the few sacred relics whichthe villagers always carry with them wherever they wander. Old pieces ofhandwoven lace work embellish the altar, and crude drawings of the Virgin andthe Saints adorn the walls.

The Wedding Ceremony

After the bride is captured she is kept in the home of the bridegroom'sparents where his mother locks her in a room while the bridegroom's companionssurround the house to prevent her rescue. When the wedding is performed inthe church and the bride is brought out by the mother and the bridegroom'scompanions escort her through the streets to the church but in the meantime[the groom is] with his friends waiting patiently in the church. After herarrival villagers fill the church, - relatives of both bride and groom. Thebride's relatives, apparently goodnaturedly, yield up the ceremonial struggle.

The bride carries her dowry on her head in the form of gold coins, - a festoonof gold coins which hangs from the rim of a wooden disc that is perched on topof her voluminous hair. It is the pride of every bride to be festooned withgold and no matter how near or how far from civilization the village may bethe bride is still able to furnish herself with a few gold coins. Hervoluminous dress is of unbleached homespun covered with Garrich-sonian designsof bright reds and blues.

After the Priest has declared them man and wife, the youn women of the villagecarry the bride off and the young men fire their shotguns in the air. The dayis given over to village dances and rody feasting which may last anywhere fromtwo to five days. During this time the bridegroom is never allowed to comenear his bride.

The Bear Hunt

The Priest once took me on a bear hunt. In Turkey it is possible by heavilybribing the city officials to obtain gunpowder but our Priest made his own. He also had molds for his bullets and only a shotgun with which to shoot. Hiscertain quality of gunpowder is poured into the nozzle of the gun. A wad ofcloth is then rammed down and a homemade lead bullet which almost fits thebarrel is then dropped in and another wad of cloth pushed in over the bullet. This procedure has to be repeated after every firing of the gun. The onlypart of the equipment outside of the gun itself which is obtained from thecity is the caps which produce the spark that explodes the gunpowder.

We rode through dangerous trails along towering cliffs and down intoprecipitous ravines through a country of extraordinarily quaint but beautifulscenery. The day before the Priest had discovered the trail and tracks of abear and we rode along until we arrived at the copse where the Priest lastsighted the bear. The two dogs with us were let loose and they went scurryingoff into the woods while we watched on a ledge overlooking the valley beneath. The dogs finally sighted the bear which scampered out of its hiding place andwas driven in our direction. The Priest saw the animal first and with a welldirected shot hit it in the head. The country around Menenshe abounds withthis peculiar little brown bear of Asia Minor. This kind of bear is usuallyfour feet from head to tail with light tawny brown fur, although some attainsix to seven feet in length. They are not very ferocious but they are verygood eating.

by Robert Chambers
david@landowne.org ęCopyright2002