A Village Remembered: The Armenians of Habousi - The Compatriotic Union of Habousi

Chapter 6:

Trade and Trades

The village had carpenters, shoemakers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, weavers, dyers, masons, potters, and masters of other occupations who catered not only to the needs of Habousi, but also to the neighboring villages for whom Habousi was a trading and shopping center.

These tradesmen usually prepared their own supplies from raw material and designed their products to fit the needs of their customers.

The making of cotton or linen clothes was commonly done in homes. Sometimes two workers joined each other in one household, and it was a good occupation during the wintertime when snow restricted the villagers to their homes. Besides these, Habousi had tailors, bag makers, and saddle makers who were called juveleg, meaning non-farmers.

The carpenter was the main tradesman in the village. He was responsible for building all the wooden parts of the church, the school, the houses, the tools used by the villagers, and the granaries.

Carpenters secured their timber by purchasing trees from nearby or faraway sources. They cut them down, trimmed them as logs, shaped them as beams, or sawed them as boards. Then they made coarse furniture and a few implements such as spinning wheels and threshing boards. Their chief tools were the saw and the ax-like adz.

Habousi had two or three masons. They dug the foundations and erected the walls of the houses, using stone, brick, and mortar. Men called carriers helped them as unskilled laborers.

The shoemaker himself tanned the hides of the buffaloes, oxen, cows, sheep, and goats that he bought from here and there. Usually he dyed the leather black. He cut and sewed shoes without heels, then he adjusted their size to fit men, women, and children of all ages. For special occasions he fixed colorful threads on the tops of the shoes. The shoemaker was also the cobbler. His tools were the awl, the needle and waxed thread, a sharp knife, and lasts. He used the trunk of a large tree as a cutting block.

Although there were three or four shoemakers in the village, villagers frequently purchased their shoes in Ichme or in Kharpert city.

When plowing the fields, the farmers wore special shoes which they generally made themselves.

Weaving was a long process. After getting the cotton out of the cocoon, it was time to separate the seeds, a very time consuming task.

The spinning wheel was called jerjer. Carpenters built these wheels until 1890, when a cotton factory was built in Kharpert.

Jerjer was a three-foot long trunk of a tree, with two upright flat wooden boards on each side. A very well polished smooth oak crossbar called top was laid horizontally on these two boards together with a round iron crossbar as thick as a finger called ilig. Top had a handle. In order to steady the trunk, a huge stone was placed on a piece of wood attached to the back of the jerjer.

The tradesperson usually sat on a carpet and turned the handle with his right hand while feeding the cotton with the left hand to the rolling top and ilig. This helped separate and drop the seed in front of the spinner while the cotton moved through the two crossbars. To ease the turning of the top and the ilig, soap was placed at the edges of the crossbars.

The spinner was compensated with a half oke of cotton for each one litre of cotton spun. The fastest spinner received one and a half liters of cotton in a day, working fifteen hours.

The cotton factories of the late nineteenth century put an end to the use of jerjers. The villagers began to take their cotton in carts to factories in Ichme and Alisham, where water was abundant and the machinery turned fast. Habousi’s water source was not adequate for running cotton machinery.

The tax collectors usually arrived during cotton time and collected their one tenth—50 liters from Boghos Kehya, 30 liters from each of Toros Kehya, Tomas Kehya and Tateos Kehya. The collectors accumulated the cotton in a special place in the village and then took it away to the city.

Villagers sold part of the cotton and kept the rest for in-house use. The head of the family usually distributed the cotton to the other members of the family after carefully weighing it on a scale and separating out first a portion for the dandigin (his wife) and then shares for his daughters-in-law. A portion was set aside for general needs such as the making of bags and bedding.

Aghegh (bow) was used to beat the cotton to fluff it up. It was an eight-foot long stick with a string made of sheep intestines attached to it.

The hitter usually sat on his left foot, with the right one arched. He took the bow in his right hand and placed his arm on his right knee as a support. With a stick in his left hand he placed the string in the cotton and constantly hit it, creating a monotonous hiss. The result was the accumulation of cotton like white clouds on one side. The cotton was then given to women who sat across from the hitter. They rolled the cotton around small sticks until the cotton formed almost two feet long wicks which were placed on a wooden table called khoncha. Afterwards, eight or ten wicks were attached to each other to form what was called koula. Koulas were spun on spinning wheels.

Spinning was an almost everyday occupation for women during the winter. Women patiently spun the cotton and sang love songs while they sat in front of the jakharag (spinning wheel).

Usually, there were as many spinning wheels in a house as there were women. Some houses had up to fifteen wheels.

Spinners received dresses as compensation for their work, while carpenters were compensated with fresh fruits and vegetables after they fixed a damaged or broken spinning wheel.

In the spring time, the weaver was ready to build a surveying chain near the village. He would stick pales in the ground three or four feet apart from each other, up to one hundred feet. Then he would take the cotton threads rolled on canes to the surveying chain and stretch them on the pales in opposite directions. Doing so for five to six rows, a chain of 150-200 threads would form. After letting the threads air for many hours, the weaver would form a chain of threads and take it home for use.

Cotton weaving was usually a man’s occupation, although there were many women weavers too. The shuttle of weaving looms was heard from almost every house. The best weaver could weave twenty-five to thirty feet a day.

The potter’s workshop was in his home also. The primitive wheel, charkh, that the potter turned with one foot was his main tool. The potter fed the clay that he had prepared previously to the wheel with one hand and gave it the desired shape with the other hand. Thus he produced water jugs, churns, and large casks for wine, as well as pots and pans for household use.

The potter, usually in March, collected dark soil from the roads and from the edges of fields, as well as white soil from the hill nearby the school. He collected enough for at least seven to eight months of work. He mixed the soil and water together, covered the mixture, and set it in the corner of the house.

Spring was the time for potters to work. They removed a part of the clay, placed it on the charkh and prepared the pots and pans. They worked almost every day for seven to eight months. A good potter could prepare fifteen to twenty small and large casks a day.

The prepared vessels were first placed in the shade until they were quite dry, and then in the sun to dry some more. After drying in the sun, the vessels were placed in a special oven heated by straw and baked. The following morning, after baking, and when the vessels were totally cool, the potter would remove them from the oven.

The casks for khavoorma were glazed in a special way; therefore, they were taken out of the oven half-baked. First, the potter melted lead in a pan, then he added some sulfur to it to make the mixture smooth. After grinding the mixture, he used a brush to spread it inside and all over the outside of the cask, which gave the pot a dark color. Finally, he put the cask back in the oven to further bake it. After cooling, the cask turned a shiny green. Dishes were prepared similarly.

Potters had plenty of vessels for their own use. They took the excess to the city for sale. Their pretty vessels were in high demand.

Dying was a rewarding occupation. The most common colors were blue, green, red, and black. The Armenians’ favorite color was blue.

Before sewing machines were introduced, the dyer sewed clothes for the villagers.

Tablecloths, bed covers, and parts of women’s dresses were sometimes decorated with pictures. All dyes and related frames were prepared in-house. To protect dye casks from freezing, they were placed on a fire during the winter months.

Habousi also had oil presses, water-mills to grind wheat, and machinery to separate pearl-barley.