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x0x A pastoral poem: Tavaca

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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    x0x A pastoral poem: Tavaca By Aylin Dincel An emerald green valley stretching between thick forests of pine and fir trees, with clusters of houses like dots
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2004
      x0x A pastoral poem: Tavaca

      By Aylin Dincel

      An emerald green valley stretching between thick forests of pine and
      fir trees, with clusters of houses like dots on the valley floor and
      slopes. The villages of at most twenty houses are set in a landscape
      whose picture postcard scenes are reminiscent of the Swiss Alps. At
      the highest point of the valley is Tavaca, a neighbourhood of the
      forest village of Gokcealan near Turkeli in Sinop. Tavaca's
      inhabitants are Circassians whose ancestors migrated here from
      northern Caucasia. In the winter months only two or three of the
      around twenty families remain in the village, but in the hot summer
      months it overflows with the inhabitants and their visitors.

      Here, as throughout the Black Sea region, houses perch like birds on
      hilltops and steep slopes. The typical wooden houses are set on
      patches of levelled ground, in gardens surrounded by wooden fences.

      They are built over basements known as hayatalti consisting of stables
      for the animals and firewood store.

      From the entrance above a flight of six steps leads up to a large
      balcony with wooden posts known as the hayatonu, which provides a cool
      shady place to eat meals in summer. The balcony opens onto a
      rectangular hall surrounded by four or six rooms.

      The roofs of the houses are tiled with slate, and the wooden facades
      are carved in relief with motifs and inscriptions, some religious in
      character, such as 'Allah' and 'Bismillah', and others the surname of
      the owner and date of construction. The motifs derive from Circassian
      culture and consist of weapons such as the long barrelled guns that
      are held sacred in Circassian tradition and daggers, which are
      ornamented as richly as the owners can afford. Among the tombstones in
      the village cemetery are those of their ancestors who first settled
      here. These stones are inscribed in old Turkish script and the tops
      carved in the forms of turbans and the fur hats known as kalpak.

      Everyone in the village is related to everyone else, and the
      atmosphere friendly.

      Families get together to help one another in all the tasks of their
      daily lives, and after the evening meal prepared in this way the older
      members of the families gather in one of the houses to eat fruit,
      drink tea and converse until the late hours, while the young people
      enjoy themselves more energetically, dancing and playing games
      together. Visitors to the village are immediately embraced into this
      tight community with its strong sense of tradition. For those from the
      cities, the way in which everyone knows everyone else and helps one
      another are particularly endearing features of life here.

      Circassians like their environment to be as well cared for as their
      own homes, and everyone willingly helps to look after the village
      playground and picnic area in the forest. Here there is a swing made
      entirely of wood, without metal chains or rope, and wooden picnic
      tables. In the summer months people gather here every day, make tea on
      the fireplace, and sit for hours enjoying the company and pleasant
      surroundings.

      As well as drinking tea at every opportunity, the Circassians make a
      special infusion of their own from fresh pine cones, and this fragrant
      red tea is said to be good for the stomach and digestive complaints.

      Traditional Circassian generosity and hospitality are displayed in
      lavish and cheerful meals. Dishes tend to be filling, and meat and
      milk products such as yoghurt predominate. One speciality is haluj, a
      triangular fried pastry filled with cheese or walnuts, which is eaten
      instead of bread with yoghurt, clotted cream, butter and honey. When
      paying visits to relatives and friends, guests often cook a batch of
      haluj to take as a present. Another delicious dish is boiled chicken
      served in a sauce called sipsi made of maize flour, walnuts, butter,
      coriander and other ingredients cooked slowly over a wood fire in a
      special earthenware casserole known as a coven. This is eaten with
      'pasta', a kind of soft bread made of maize flour which is also cooked
      in a coven.

      In a day and age when cultural distinctions are being lost throughout
      the world, and ways of life divorced from nature, Tavaca is a
      memorable exception of a traditional community that has managed to
      preserve its identity.

      * Aylin Dincel is a photographer
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