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Customs and Traditions


Another feature symbolizing the Turkish way of life is the Turkish Baths ("Hamam"). They have a very important place in Turkish daily and historical life as a result of the emphasis placed upon cleanliness by Islam. Since Medieval times public bath houses have been built everywhere and they retain an architectural and historical importance. The Turkish way of bathing in a "hamam" is very healthy and refreshing, so do not forget to visit a "hamam;" you will not regret it!
Turks had reached Anatolia. When the Turks arrived in Anatolia, they brought with them one bathing tradition, and were confronted with another, that of Romans and Byzantines, with certain local variants. The traditions merged, and with the addition of the Moslem concern for cleanliness and its concomitant respect for the uses of water, there arose an entirely new concept, that of the Turkish Bath. In time it became an institution, with its system of ineradicable customs.
For the Turkish bath was much more than just a place to cleanse the skin. It was intimately bound up with everyday life, a place where people of every rank and station, young and old, rich and poor, townsman or villager, could come freely. Women as well as men made use of the "hamam", as the bath is known in Turkish, although of course at separate hours.
From the individual's point of view, the hamam was a familiar place from the earliest weeks of life right up to its very end. Important occasions during a lifespan were, and in some townships still are, celebrated with rejoicing at the bath. The newborn's fortieth day, the brides bathing complete with food and live music, and the Avowal are instances. The latter requires some explanation, for it involved the custom common in Anatolia of making a promise or vow, contingent on the fulfillment of some important wish. The celebration of this in the hamam was arranged and paid for by the person fulfilling his vow, and was open to one and all.
The hamam ceremony of mourning, on the other hand, was far different, but also widespread. The Hospitality bathing was simply the taking of one's house-guest to the hamam for a wash. Then there were the Circumcision, Groom's, and Off-to-the-Army bathings, and others besides. As we see, the whole culture of a people had the Turkish bath as one of its important nexuses.
The fame of The Turkish bath, then, resides in its bringing together many dimensions of the society's culture to create a new phenomenon. The hamam has long been an institution in Turkey, with a deep-seated social character that is capable of shedding light on many aspects of Turkish life.

Coffee House

Coffee-houses ("kahve") are very specific to Turkish people. Even the smallest village has at least one "kahve." In old times men used to smoke hubble-bubble pipes ("nargile") while talking about the matters of the day. You can still smoke "nargile," but only in some of the coffee-houses. If you ever had a chance to see a "kahve," especially in Istanbul, do not hesitate to spend some time in that lovely, authentic place.

Evil Eye

This is a typical item, a specialty of this region you should take home as a souvenir. It's called the Boncuk, the Little Magic Stone that protects one from the *Evil Eye* (pronounced "bon-dschuk"). You will see this blue glass piece everywhere here in this area. But what is behind this superstition?
n a shortened version we will try to explain. Once upon a time (yes, it starts like in a fairy tale) there was a rock by the sea that, even with the force of a hundred men and a lot of dynamite, couldn't be moved or cracked. There was also a man in this town by the sea, who was known to carry the evil eye (Nazar). After much effort and endeavor, the town people brought the man to the rock, and the man, upon looking at the rock said, "My! What a big rock this is." The instant he said this, there was a rip and roar and crack and instantly the immense and impossible rock was found to be cracked in two.
The force of the evil eye (or Nazar) is a widely accepted and feared random element in Turkish daily life. The word *Nazar* denotes seeing or looking and is often used in literally translated phrases such as "Nazar touched her," in reference to a young woman, for example, who mysteriously goes blind.
Another typical scenario. A woman gives birth to a healthy child with pink cheeks, all the neighbors come and see the baby. They shower the baby with compliments, commentating especially on how healthy and chubby the baby is. After getting so much attention weeks later the baby is found dead in his crib. No explanation can be found for the death. It is ascribed to Nazar. Compliments made to a specific body part can result in Nazar. That's why nearly every Turkish mother fixes with a safety pin a small Boncuk on the child's clothes. Once a Boncuk is found cracked, it means it has done his job and immediately a new one has to replace it.

Turkish Belly Dance by Jasmin Jahal, March 1999 (back)
Oriental dance is the oldest recorded dance form in the history of mankind. It can be seen the hieroglyphics of Egypt dating as far back as 4000 B.C. During the nomadic days, dance was performed primarily by women for the purposes of entertainment and religious reasons. It thrived until 600 A.D., when the Islamic religion became popular and banned all music and dance. In paintings, depiction of people was banned. The only artistic expression freely allowed and accepted was poetry. To this day, there is no music in Islam. The call to prayer is not considered music and the words of the Koran are not to be sung.
Yet, during this time and for 500 years thereafter, Arabic music and dance did find a way to survive. In Turkey, particularly in the caliph's courts in Baghdad, the dance was protected and nurtured. This time period is referred to as the "golden age" of Arabic music. The music and dance was artistic, creative, and enjoyed for the effect it had on the human soul. The complicated musical scales and modes were produced during this age, and largely remain the same to the present day.
Today Egypt remains the major trendsetter for the costuming and presentation of oriental dance, but Turkish style belly dancing has developed a unique flavor of its own.
The music has basically the same rhythms, but often uses rhythms that Egyptian music does not, such as the chiftetelli and the karsilama (also known as kashlimar). Chiftetelli is slow and lends itself to flowing veil dances, snakey arm movements, and sensual floorwork. In a way, it can be considered counterpart to the Egyptian takasim, the solo improvisational music played between various parts of a longer routine. The karsilama is an unusual 9/8 beat rhythm, counting 9 beats to the measure. Egyptian music never uses this rhythm. Getting used to recognizing the karsilama rhythm and to dancing to its lively feeling is a bit tricky. Turkish instrumentation also varies from that of Egyptian music. The bouzouki is played instead of the oud (the ancestor of the lute and guitar). More wind instruments are used, such as the clarinet.
The general format of a Turkish style belly dance routine is five parts: an exciting opening that is quick and usually accompanied by the dancer playing zils, the Turkish term for finger cymbals. (By the way, the Egyptian word for finger cymbals is sagat.) The second part is often a chiftetelli followed by a third song that is also upbeat and lively. The fourth part is usually a fast drum solo, and the conclusion of the set is a happy piece of music, once again incorporating the use of the zils.
Speaking of playing the zils, Turkish style differs from Arabic style. For example, the most basic cymbal pattern is counted: 1-2-3. In the Arabic style, if you are right-handed, you would repeatedly play this pattern: Right-Left-Right. In Turkish style you would repeatedly play this pattern: Right-Right-Left. Maybe in this simple pattern the difference is minor, but there is a definite impact when you play the more complicated cymbal patterns.
If you are interested in specializing in Turkish belly dance, you need to become familiar with classical musical favorites as well as spirited contemporary songs. There are some very well-produced recordings of contemporary Turkish dance music available today. See my Turkish suggestions in the article entitled "Music Suggestions".
As you study the many facets of oriental dance, bear in mind that no one style of belly dance is the "correct" style. All of the various styles are beautiful and inspirational. It is up to you to develop the style that best suits you and expresses your true self. The only way to know this is to expose yourself to as many styles as you can. Be very selective in your choices of resources and the instructors which you look to for this information. In other words, make sure you study with the best teachers and use the best tools. Happy dancing!

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