"Good life spoils children": work as part of good tarbiya in Kyrgyzstan
(Goethe University Frankfurt am Main)
This paper deals with the local concept of tarbiya which is translated from Kyrgyz language as upbringing, moral education, and purposeful socialization. Tarbiya is one of the ways of constructing a person. Consequently, giving proper tarbiya is one of the main aspects of the "healthy growth" of a Kyrgyz child. What is good tarbiya or what makes "a good child" usually circles around the values and practices that people in Kyrgyzstan accept as socially and culturally important. One of those values is work. In Western societies the child and work are seen as an unusual combination. Unlike this modern Western notion that adults work and children play, in Kochkor, a village in the northern part of Kyrgyzstan where I conducted my ethnographic fieldwork in 2012 and 2013, on the contrary, work seems to be an inevitable part of a child's life. Kochkorians draw a direct and strong connection between work and tarbiya and they claim that "good life spoils children". In this paper I show that work is not only vital for survival or comfort, but it is also an integral part of a child's physical and moral education. I provide several case studies by highlighting different reasons for children's being involved in work. These cases also indicate that 'labor' that a child is engaged in and 'efforts' that a child tries to show are seen as positive signs of good upbringing - tarbiya. By looking at the role of work in the "construction" of a child, I argue that work is a constitutive part of childhood in Kochkor and it also serves as one of the main tools for constructing and re-constructing the notion of a child.
Religion, Morality and Values in Eurasia