Joro (Kyrgyzstan)

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Joro 🇰🇬
Kyrgyzstan map.png
Location: Kyrgyzstan
Definition: Closed informal trust and mutual help-based network; a company of people that share either common background, interests, identity or affiliation and socialize over a meal or tea
Keywords: Kyrgyzstan Central Asia FSU Mutual help Sociability Network Ties Personal connections Food Gathering Gender Masculinity Ethnicity Hospitality Saving
Clusters: Solidarity Lock-in effect Informal welfare
Author: Arzuu Sheranova
Affiliation: Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary

By Arzuu Sheranova, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary

Joro is a company of people who get together regularly and socialize over tea or traditional meal (ash), usually in a chaikhana (traditional public tea- and meal-serving place). Joro is a widespread practice in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries (see also gap) that shares some features with global ones (see, for example, yongo). The word joro is of Turkic origin. According to the Kyrgyz literary sources, such as national mythical epic called “Manas”, joro was organized in winter to drink a traditional brew called bozo and eventually to share a meal, to relax, to entertain and to have a chat in the village (Beksultanova 2014). Each joro member treats other members with bozo and hospitality in turn (Kochkunov 2003). Taking part in joro is usually referred in Kyrgyz as joro ichebiz (lit. drinking joro). Joro has a connotation of belonging and can also be used synonymously with the word ʻfriendʼ or ʻmateʼ: a member of joro gathering.

Joro oturush or gatherings take place on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, with time and place being confirmed in advance by the elected joro leader. Along regular gatherings there are irregular ones accompanying special occasions such as weddings, funeral, births etc. When jorolor (plural for joro) meet to discuss preparations to the big occasions, they agree how to distribute responsibilities and duties, how to cover expenses of these ceremonies and make provisions about other budget matters. Irregular joro meetings are called keneshuu ashy or keneshuu dastorkonu (in Kyrgyz) or maslyat ashy (in Uzbek) which means a meal where jorolor meet to plan and discuss preparations for upcoming ceremonies.

CAPTION. Source: Author. © Arzuu Sheranova.

Joro oturush are popular among men from all walks of life, from high-school students to pensioners. Joro usually includes friends, neighbors, classmates or university mates and colleagues. Regular joro gatherings vary in size, but on average a joro group consists of ten to twelve people. Depending on social and communication skills as well as financial standing, a person can be part of several joro groups. Depending on the type of joro, it is common to differentiate as mekteptesh/klasstash jorolor (school-based jorolor), universitet/kurstash jorolor (university-based jorolor), dos-jorolor (joro-friends), ayildash jorolor (village-based jorolor), konshu jorolor (joro-neighbors), ishtegi /kolletiv jorolor (work-based jorolor) and bala kez jorolor (childhood friends jorolor) etc. The classifications allow one to organise their life and to not mix up their various gatherings. On average, a middle-aged man is a member of two or three joro meetings at once: a school or university based one, and a work-, neighbourhood- or village-based one. Sometimes joro meetings combine a saving fund (see chernaya kassa).

Joro is best understood as a closed circle of individuals that share a common background, common interests, identity or affiliation. Usually jorolor are of the same age, apart from mixed age jorolor common among colleagues or neighbours. Joro is a closed network, based on mutual trust and mutual help. Approval for a new membership in joro is usually decided collectively, by other members. If a joro member becomes influential, joro has the potential to develop into a client-patron relationship, similar to dynamics of gap or blat practices.

In contrast to open networks, a joro circle has own structure and rules. A leader is elected by joro members. Joro leader is called joro bashy (lit. the head of joro) or emir (common in Uzbek). The tasks of joro bashy are mainly organizational: to mobilize other joro members, to collect money, lead gatherings and arrange practicalities, to order meals and make other preparations. Major decisions in joro are made collectively. These include decisions on fees and donations for special events and contributions for regular joro meetings. A joro meeting is more than just eating a meal and drinking tea together. Joro is a gathering where each member shares their hardships, discusses plans or ideas, reports successes and offers opportunities to friends. In other words, joro, like blat, is a networking platform that generates other informal practices, opens up informal connections and satisfies all kind of needs: regular, periodic, life-cycle or in emergency (Ledeneva 1998, 118). Joro members get a job, learn about career opportunities, get married, find contacts, lend money, solve problems, and get support with the help of other group members. During meals, joro members discuss topics associated with masculinity, such as women, football, politics, news and cars. Joro membership helps one raise or lend money in a very short time. Joro group can assemble the requested amount of money when in need without bank interest rate and risk of no-repayment. The advantages of a strong group and its life-long back-up are evident. The disadvantages of joro network, following Granovetter’s concept of the strength of weak ties in networks, are its closeness and closedness, which may also result in conformity and lock-in effect of social ties (Granovetter 1973). Joro gatherings can be held at picnics in suburbs or in a bath-house, but most commonly, jorolor gather in the tea house, chaikhana, where they can stay and talk for hours. It offers a public space where joro meetings can be held with minimal expense, but also offers a degree of privacy not interrupted by service. In case a meal is ordered, the expenses are usually covered collectively, or in turn by each joro member. In exceptional cases, the meal may be provided by the joro meeting organizer. There is an understanding that the chaikhana is a masculine space. Usually jorolor gather there without their wives, who would sometimes sit in a separate room of the chaikhana.

The gendered nature of joro oturush is changing in Kyrgyzstan. New forms of joro gatherings emerge, such as kyz jorolor (female joro) and ui-bulo/semeinyi jorolor (family joro). Women's joro is usually a regular (once a month) social gatherings for wives of jorolor or female friends. Similar to male joro gatherings, women meet up and socialize with each other, share their interests, and discuss personal and family issues. Female joro groups include ten to twelve women and run a similar rotational system of covering costs of meals. Kyz jorolor may be combined with running a savings fund. Unlike joro meetings, female joro meetings are held either in private houses, protected from the public gaze, or cafés, where the meetings have to be more formal and limited in time. In a mixed gender format, family or ui-bulo/semeinyi jorolor gatherings include families of ten to twelve friends who meet over a meal, usually once a month. Such joro meetings can be held in private houses, cafés or chaikhanas. Similar to a single-sex joro, families either share the total cost of the meal or pay in turn. Families socialize and tend to run a saving fund (chernaya kassa). Families agree on the amount of contribution, on the frequency and order of use of the savings (see chernaya kassa).

Gendered consumer choices are also undergoing changes in modern joro gatherings. They are only rarely served with the bozo national non-alcoholic brew. Depending on a company’s financial standing, social status and religious beliefs, alcoholic drinks are now allowed, particularly in male companies, especially young or middle-aged. Women's gathering tend not to use alcohol. Agreement on whether alcohol is consumed at youth joro meetings takes into account the religious values of members. Gatherings of families, neighbours or colleagues may put alcohol on the menu to celebrate special events. At a joro oturush meeting, where both drinking and non-drinking people are present, mutual adjustment is made. On occasion where alcohol is served, non-drinkers would accept it with understanding. Likewise, members who drink may choose to refrain from consuming alcohol in a predominantly non-drinking joro. If alcohol becomes an issue, members may leave their joro and enter a joro where they feel more comfortable. The ethnic composition of joro mainly depends on the region, neighbourhood, education and employment of its members. In mono-ethnic regions, neighbourhoods, schools and offices, mono-ethnic jorolor also prevail. If a region, neighbourhood, school and employment staff of an organization is ethnically mixed, joro reflects this diversity. Joro practice is not specific to Kyrgyzstan – it is common in other Central Asian countries, with some country-specific features, for example gaps, gashtaks, ziefats, mushkil-kusho, mavliud or bibi-seshanbe in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (Madamidzhanova and Mukhtarov 2011).

References

Beksultanova, Ch. 2014. ‘Traditsionnye igry i razvlecheniya kyrgyzov’. Voprosy istorii Kyrgyzstana, 3 (4): 222-230

Granovetter, M. 1973. ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’. American Journal of Sociology, 78: 1360–80

Kochkunov, A. 2003. ‘Sistema pitaniya kyrgyzov (opyt etnologicheskogo analiza sootnosheniy traditsiy i innovatsiy)’. Manas universiteti.-Sosyal bilimler dergisi, 8: 213-233

Ledeneva, A. 1998. Russia’s Economies of Favour: Blat, Networking and Informal Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Madamidzhanova, Z., Mukhtarov, I. 2011. ‘Cultural life in the Ferghana Valley Under Khrushchev and Brezhnev’. In F. Starr, B. Beshimov, I. Bobokulov and P. Shozimov. Ferghana Valley: The Heart of Central Asia, London and New York: Routledge: 164-177