Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Zezwaoba - Dalaoba

The 2007 "Zezwaoba" ("the day of Zezwa [Prindauli]") was held last Sunday 27 May in Kvemo- and Zemo-Alvani.

At 12:00, a score horsemen set out from the [Chaghma-] Tush village of Kvemo-Alvani, and rode the 4 kilometres which separate their village from the [Tsova-/Bats] Tush village of Zemo-Alvani.

One of their number bore the Tush "drosha" ("flag"), a large, purple silken flag attached to a spiked wooden staff, the staff's crown bearing five multicoloured woollen socks, and two cloth streamers (one white, one red).

The group consisted of 6 (relatively-elderly) men, and a dozen or so wild-eyed Tush youngsters. The men were singing the traditional song which marks this occasion - the so-called "dalai".

In Zemo-Alvani, early preparations had been made to receive the cavalcade (which was initially expected to arrive at 10:00, but this being Georgia they were three hours late):

On the steps of the abandoned Soviet "dom kulturi" ("house of culture", i.e. cultural centre) lay a "pardaghy" (a "kilim"-type carpet), and placed upon the carpet were salt, bread (bearing three beeswax candles), sheep's cheese, barley (for the horses), wine and beer with glasses and two large "khantsi" drinking-horns, a small bundle of wool, and strips of white cloth.

Considering the late arrival of the horsemen, things were pretty quiet in Zemo-Alvani. A small group of listless men (including the author) hung around on the steps or in the shade of a large tree, and anxiously awaited the riders.

Three hours and several false alarms later ("they are coming"; "they left ten minutes ago and will be there in five", "my friend called me and said that they were on their way", etc.), we heard the sound of singing and horses' hooves clattering on the asphalt, and suddenly the group was upon us! They galloped along the road, the purple "drosha" glinting in the sun, the singing growing louder and louder, and wheeled towards our motley group without slowing down, pulling up abruptly at the carpet's edge. The sound of their arrival was one of the most impressive events the author has ever witnessed.

Immediately, they were handed glasses and the horns of wine, and ceremoniously greeted to the Zemo-Alvani carpet. Having drunk their glasses (and poured the remainder of their drinks onto their horse's rump or neck), they sang the first of three "dalai" songs [I hope to soon put a recording on this site]. Then, having eaten their bread and sheep's cheese, the sang the second "dalai", upon which their horses were fed handfuls of barley. Followed the third "dalai", and the strips of white cloth were knotted to the horses' bridles. And barely thirty minutes after having arrived - the "Dalaoba" part of the festival being finished - they were off again, back to Kvemo-Alvani to prepare for the traditional Zezwaoba "doghi" (horse race).

Having followed them (by BMW, much to the author's regret), we arrived on the main square of Kvemo-Alvani, where two hundred or so people had gathered to await the arrival of the riders who were taking part in the race. The "start" was six kilometres away, in a field(?) called Takhtis Bogiri, the winner being the rider who touched the "drosha" first, which was held by a Tush man in the middle of the road.

After another seemingly-interminable wait, the riders were spotted at last, galloping towards the square! The winner was ten year-old Lasha Gagoidze on his horse Kazbega, and he was presented with the traditional gift of a ram, which was rather unceremoniously draped (trembling for all it was worth) in front of him - where the pommel of his saddle would have been, had he actually had a saddle.

A remarkable fact is that only a few of the riders sat on saddles and used stirrups: Most of them rode bareback, or on a saddle-cloth, often finely-embroidered. Holding the staff bearing the "drosha", he rode around the assembled crowd to much applause.

Barely fifteen seconds after Lasha came two other riders, equally-young. One of these horses stumbled and fell exhausted to the ground, and was promptly manhandled to the side of the road, out of the way of the other riders.

Valiant and increasingly-desperate (but somewhat brutal - the Tush do not pamper their horses!) attempts were made to revive and reanimate the poor beast.

These included, in order: kicking the horse's chest and stomach; repeatedly jumping with joined feet on its chest; cutting the horse's septum [the piece of cartilage which separates the nostrils] with a knife; inserting a short stick of some sort deep into each nostril (presumably to remove any blockage); pouring a bottle of fizzy Georgian water down its throat; something akin to heart massage; inserting a piece of spiky grass up its penis; and even a young boy washing his arm with soapy water and venturing deep into the horse's rear. (I am not quite sure what the latter two operations were supposed to achieve).

But unfortunately all to no avail, and the poor animal was manhandled onto a Kamaz truck which bore it away.

And after "Zezwaoba" ("the day of Zezwa"), late at night, comes "Jejwaoba" ("the day of fist-fights"), for every self-respecting Tush is blind drunk, but the author did not witness this!
Should you want to read more about the ritual of doghi horse races, please visit this page.

Friday, May 25, 2007


(Not to be confused with "Dadaloba" - see previous post.)
This Sunday 27 May a ceremony will be held in the villages of Kvemo- and Zemo-Alvani to commemorate the day in 1659 when the Tush people - the Bats/Tsova, Chaghma, Pirikiti, and the Gometsari - were granted land in the Alazani Valley in Kakheti, in recognition of the valuable assistance they provided against invading Persian forces during the battle of Bakhtrioni.
The following is an account of the battle (copied from the website of the Orthodox Church in America):
"In the 17th century the Persian aggressors razed churches, monasteries, and fortresses and drove out thousands of Georgian families to resettle them in remote provinces of Persia. The deserted territories were settled by Turkic tribes from Central Asia. In the chronicle The Life of Kartli it is written: “The name of Christ was not allowed to be uttered, except in a handful of mountainous regions: Tusheti, Pshavi, and Khevsureti.”
But the All-merciful Lord aroused a strong desire in the valiant prince Bidzina Choloqashvili of Kakheti and, together with Shalva and his uncle Elizbar, princes of Aragvi and Ksani provinces, he led a struggle to liberate Kakheti from the Tatars. (The Persian governor of Kakheti, Salim Khan (ruled 1656–1664), had been encouraging the Tatar tribesmen to profane the Christian churches.)
Fearing that the enemy, who had already conquered Kakheti, would soon move in and also dominate Kartli, the princes Bidzina, Shalva, and Elizbar united the forces of those two regions in preparation for the attack. After much deliberation, Bidzina announced his intention to his father-in-law, Prince Zaal of Aragvi. Zaal’s soul was spiritually pained by the countless misfortunes and injustices his country had suffered, and he quickly pledged his support for the effort. He agreed to participate in the insurrection anonymously, while the Ksani rulers Shalva and Elizbar would command the armies.
On the moonless night of September 15, 1659, the feast of the Alaverdi Church (The feast of St. Joseph of Alaverdi) the united army of all eastern Georgia assembled and crossed over the mountains, past the village of Akhmeta, and launched a surprise attack on the Persians from Bakhtrioni Fortress and Alaverdi Church. The invader’s armies were so utterly crushed that their leader, Salim Khan, the Persian governor of Kakheti, barely succeeded in escaping from the avengers, after he had abandoned his family and army.
The victorious Georgian army offered prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord God and Great-martyr George, the protector of the Georgian people, who had appeared visibly to all during the battle, riding his white horse like a flash of lightning and leading the Georgians to victory."
Following this decisive (but short-lived) victory against the Persians, it was decided to reward the Tush forces which participated in the battle. When asked whether they wished for gold, weapons, or land, the leader of the Tush answered that his people had no land [in the Alazani Valley, where their flocks of sheep could spend the cold winter]. He was therefore told that, as far as he could ride his horse, the land thus encompassed would be granted to him. Setting out from Bakhtrioni, he rode as far as Takhtis Bogiri (near the village of Laliskuri), where his horse - no doubt exhausted from the battle - collapsed and died. The area of the Alazani Valley which he thus secured includes the villages of Zemo- and Kvemo-Alvani, where the Tush live to this day.
This Sunday, 20 horsemen will set out from Kvemo- to Zemo-Alvani. They will be greeted by a carpet, upon which will be placed water, salt, bread, barley, and (obviously, for this is Georgia!) wine and vodka. Without dismounting, they will first drink the water and the alcohol, then sing the first of three ceremonial songs, called "dalai" (from "dal", "God"). They will then eat the bread and the salt, and sing a "dalai" for a second time. Then their horses will be fed the barley, and the riders will intone the third and last "dalai". A piece of white cloth will be tied to the horses' bridles, and the riders will set off to Takhtis Bogiri, where they will make ready for a "dori" (a horse-race) which will take them back to Kvemo-Alvani. (Horses which will participate in this race cannot do so without the piece of white cloth.)
More soon.

Friday, May 18, 2007


The annual "Dadaloba" festival will be held in Indurta (in Tsovata) on Sunday 5 August. --- This day - now a "supra"-style feast attended by a handful of Bats - apparently used to be a sort of "day of judgement" (the name's etymology). Incredibly, according to what I have been told, crimes in ancient Tsovata basically went unjudged (and therefore unpunished) until a decision was made during this one day in August. On "dadaloba", a meeting attended by all the village headmen - usually the heads of the Bats families - passed judgement upon crimes committed during the previous year. --- Expect a "dori" (a horse-race), music, and feasting.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

A Bats Poem & Some Notes on Horses and Horsemanship

If I had seen the mountains again.
If I had saddled my horse again,

And placed colourful saddlebags on him again,

To go into the mountains.

If I could pass through Tbatana again,

For the children to hand me apples.

If I had once again seen the Bats horses on the Mountain of the Kists.

If I could return to the source of the Alazani.

If I had milked the nanny goats one last time,

And oncemore carried the wooden pail full of milk.

If only I could return to Tsovata again,

And return from there and die here.


This poem or song was most likely written by a certain Longishvili in the late nineteenth-century. It is dedicated to an ageing shepherd, who (as the narrator) laments the fact that he is too old to leave the Bats village of Zemo Alvani and return to the mountains of Tusheti and Tsovata one last time.

I have two recordings of this piece in Bats - one spoken, the other sung - which I hope to be able to put online soon. This is my meagre translation into English - the full cycle was Bats into Georgian into French into English, so this translation is probably anything but accurate! (I am not even sure the French version I was working from is complete.)

"A horse" in Bats sounds like "don" (plural "dui"). A saddle is "kekh", a bridle "orzri", a saddlecloth "kekhkevan" ("saddle-carpet"), and saddlebags are "terzi". ("Real" Bats were carried in these saddlebags as babies - I met a man born in 1958 who claims that this was the case when he and his family went into the mountains in summer.)

A stirrup is "abjunt". In Georgia, it is common to drink special, more important toasts from a horn - During a dinner in Zemo-Alvani however, I partook in a toast drunk from an actual stirrup, whose base (the part upon which you place your foot) was an iron disk about 2cm deep. It was designed to be used as a cup when removed from the stirrup thong and turned over. My host assured me it was very ancient. (There is a large one on display on the first floor of the Samstkhe-Javakheti museum in Akhaltsikhe.)

Horses and horsemanship play a very important part in Bats (and, more generally, Tush) culture, even to this day. Skilled horsemanship is greatly admired, and in many of the portraits on this website, a riding-whip is as important a symbol as the traditional "khanjal" knife.

Every summer, many "doghi" (horse-races) are held all over Tusheti, and to win one of these is considered a great triumph. I have been fortunate enough to see two such races: One held for Zezwaoba ("The Day of Zezwa Prindauli" - See relevant entry), and one held in 2007 high up in the mountains of Tusheti, in Tsovata, to mark Dadaloba, "The Day of God[s?]".

This particular race took place across the valley floor, and involved about a dozen or so riders. They galloped across the valley towards the "khati" (a small church or chapel, found all over Tusheti) of the ruined Bats village of Indurta - Having reached the foot of the slope leading to it, they quickly dismounted and scrambled up to the church on foot (as dictated by tradition) as fast as they could. The first person to reach the khati was a boy of no more than 12.

A long time ago, when a Bats man died, his friends would gather at his house (where his body lay before burial). Sitting on their horses, they would form a line, and sing a song of mourning called "dalai" (from "dal", "God" - I hope to put a recording online soon). Following the funeral, a "doghi" would be held to honour the memory of the deceased.

To give you a vague idea of what a "dalai" ceremony must have looked like, here is a picture taken at the Akhmeta "cheese and traditional arts" festival last year.
The following was taken from Robert Chenciner's amazing Daghestan - Tradition and Survival (RoutledgeCurzon 1997, pp.88-91):
Horse death cults were first brought to the Caucasus by the Scyths, whose barbed arrowheads have been found widely in Daghestan, confirming Heredotus’ history, written in the fifth century BC. In the first century AD, Strabo mentions that the West Caucasian Albani also had horse funeral cults. The last traces of this tribe were among the Uden [Udi] in Georgia and in the villages of Nich and Vartashen in Azerbaijan, where there are several widely spread 17th to 19th-century horse tombstones, a partial survival. […]
Other archaeological finds, as well as later Turkic Kumyk epic songs, confirm that horses were buried with their owners. The southern Kumyks paraded horses in a circle around the corpse, like Atilla the Hun’s horsemen. A carved stone relief from Koubachi, dating around the 13th century, shows a horse sacrifice. A man stands poised with a sword, with the horse in the background, and the second man holds a beaker to pour a libation with the horse’s blood, a religious offering taken from his ewer accompanied by a prayer. […]
“During a Chechen funeral, observed by Sjigren in 1846, an animal was sacrificed and its right ear cut off and thrown into the grave. He was told that 80 years earlier, the widow of the corpse also had her ear cut off and thrown into the grave. This was later replaced by the sacrifice of the top-knot of her hair.” […] Many Caucasian mountain families would bankrupt themselves on a funeral feast. “The corpse was dressed in new clothes and laid out for two to four days.” (There is a photo of a Khevsur funeral, where the horse is being presented to the corpse, laid out on a rug, wearing a karakul hat, with his face covered by a cloth. […])
“On the day after the burial, the first memorial feast began and for three days, hundreds of guests were entertained. Everything they enjoyed benefited the soul of the dead and the belief therefore prevailed that those who partook of the feast could never be satisfied. This was rapidly followed by a second bed, or laying-out, feast to release the deceased into the after-life from the lying-down position. The main event of this feast was a horse race and the prize was the [new] clothes of the deceased. The villagers picked the best available horses and sent them to a village several miles away.” […]
“For the outward journey, the leader was given a small white flag as his badge and his companion riders held forked sticks with apples and nuts fastened on them to present to their host and the elders of the village. The following day (according to Shah Ahriev, quoted by Dubrovin), they would return, starting early. First the horses would walk, but nine miles from their village they would start to gallop. Meanwhile, the owners of the horses would each send out a few riders to meet the incoming horses and push them faster. Due to the whipping and the great distance of the race, the horses were so tired that even the winner only arrived at a slow trot. An elder who was an initiate of the cult would consecrate the winning horse to the dead man. The horse was given beer and the rider was given a piece of mutton and three loaves of bread. The elder asked the owner of the victorious horse if he would give it to the deceased to take it wherever he wished. The next three horses were then pledged to the ancestors of the dead man.”
A variant was the Kumyk custom, continued up to late last century, where they drove away the dead man’s horse, after marking it by cutting off the tail or the mane, so that no one who had known the man would take it and so prevent him getting to the next world.
For a detailed description of the celebrations held for a "doghi" amongst the Khevsurs, please click here.
A Kabard Horse named "Tajfun"
The Caucasus is famous for its horses, and the Kabard horse is perhaps one of the most sought-after breeds in the region. A saddle horse, the Kabard is not a fast galloper, and is not particularly large (average height 145cm); yet it shows incredible endurance, and is considered to rank among the best breeds for mountainous terrain, being able to travel 50km in 2 hours.
There are only four blood lines in the breed, which is to be found in Kabardino-Balkaria and Stavropol krai. A fifth line was added in the 1960s, the result of cross-breeding with English thoroughbreds. "Anglo-Kabards" are noted for their strength, speed, and vigour, and are considered a perfect combination of the endurance and sure-footedness of the Kabards with the greater strength and speed of the thoroughbreds. This information - and more - can be found on the website of the Department for Animal Science of the University of Oklahoma, Wikipedia (obviously), and there is even a video about Kabard horses on YouTube!
For more information on horses in the Bats (and, more generally, Vainkah) cultures, please also see the posts on Robert Bleichsteiner and on the "Hordune-Din", "The Sea-Stallion."

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Some notions of the Bats' language

As previously mentioned, the Bats people rightly consider themselves to be Tush (and therefore Georgians), but their language - "batsbur mott" - has almost nothing in common with Georgian.

Put simply, it is not a Kartvelian language, despite a significant proportion of loan-words from that family: It is a close relation of the Chechen and Ingush ("vainakh", "our people") languages, and is classified as a separate branch of the Nakho-Daghestanian or "Northeastern" group of Caucasian languages. It is not known to ever have had an alphabet - a modified Georgian alphabet is used instead. (When it is written down at all, that is!)

It is frighteningly-complicated; this is mostly because of the language's bewildering number of verbal genres. I have no clear idea of what exactly a verbal genre is, but I can provide an illustration of why Bats is such a special case:

Take, for instance, the imperative "come" (as in "come here, x"):

When spoken to one man ("stak"): "volal stak";
To several men ("vaser"): "bolet vaser";
To one woman ("pstwin") or one girl ("yeuh"): "yolal pstwin" or "yolal yeuh", respectively;

To several women ("psti") or several girls ("makhar"): "dolet psti" or "dolet makhar";

To one child ("bader"): "dol bader"

To several children ("badri"): "dolat badri"

Consequently, "Hello", "Peace be with you" (perhaps descended from the Arabic, Muslim "Salaam aleikum"?) varies according to whom one is wishing it to:

To a man, "marshikhValo" [my emphasis];

To a woman, "marshikYalo";

To several men, "marshikhBalueshe";

To several women, "marshikhDalueshe".

As you may have noticed, plurals are anything but straightforward...

"Man"/"men" - "stak"/"vaser";

"Woman"/"women" - "pstwin"/"psti";

"Girl"/"girls" - "yeuh"/"makhar".

"One cow" is "tsa yett" - "ten cows" is "itt jabu";

"A sheep", "tsa jelre" - "ten sheep", "itt je";

"Dog", "peu" - "dogs", "pertcheu".

The following is a brief comparison between the numerals 1-20 in Chechen and in Bats:

1 - "tsa" [identical or near-identical in both languages]

2 - "shi"

3 - "kho"

4 - "di"

5 - "pkhi"

6 - "ialkh" in Chechen, "yetr" in Bats

7 - "vorkh"

8 - "barkh"

9 - "is"

10 - "it"

11 - "tsait" ["one-ten"]

12 - "shit"

13 - "khoit"

14 - "dit" in Chechen, "devait" in Bats

15 - "pkhit"

16 - "yalkhit" in Chechen, "yetkhit" in Bats

17 - "vorkhit"

18 - "barkhit"

19 - "tkhest"

20 - "tkho"

The words for "water", "father" and "mother", "I" and "you", "guest" etc. are identical, but - rather confusingly - equally-ancient words such as "bread", "the Earth", "flower", "star", "knife", and "wolf" are completely different (the order is [English] - [Chechen] - [Bats]):

water - khi - khi

father - dad - dad

mother - nan - nan

I - so - so

you - ho - ho

guest - hash - hash

bread - bepig - mekk

the Earth - laita - metkhenmak

flower - zezag - bubuk

star - seda - terelch

knife - urs - nekk

wolf - borz - akk

For you real amateurs, here are some useful sentences:

"I love you" (man to woman) sounds like "son ho iets" (woman to man, "so ho viets");

"Happy birthday" (man to man) is "so vien de";

"No problem", "tsa tsom tsoda";

"We are drunk" (men, obviously), "wakhini";

"How are you?" is "mohvah" to a man, "mohyah" to a woman or a girl;

"Let's go" (men and women), "dakhentve";

"Thank you", "dakinda" ("thank you very much", "zoresh dakinda");

"Delicious", "tchamli";

"Cheers" (when making a toast) is "marshmakesh khilotwe";

"To the health of all children" (toast) is "badrikhilal marshmakesh";

"Good morning" is "urden marshrolia";

"Pretty girl" is "razen yeuh";

"Good-bye" is "gazishril" when said to one person, "gazishrilat" to several;

"What is it?" is "vukh da?";

"I would like", "I need", is "son dets";

"It is raining" is "kariatr";
"Blood feud" is "tsig etsar", "blood taken";
"A Georgian" is "kuikh", and "Georgia" is "kuikhta";
"My name is x" is "sokh tse x";
"Come here, guest" is "hash deuh" ("guests", "hash dahu");
"Do you like this song?" is "tsonala ho e mokk?";
"Yes, I do" is "ha, son tsonala";
"I understand" is "so dakvahen vas" (man), "son dakvahen ias" (woman) (or "khatse son");
"I miss you" is "hotsulob hohias" (?).

And, finally, a few more curiosities:

"A scratch" (or perhaps the verb "to scratch") is the same as "a shot"/"to shoot": "kebsar";

"Snow" sounds like the English "Love", but "it is snowing" is "datkhr";

"My darling", "hoch lavalos", also means "I am ready to die for you";

"Wine" is "ven" or "matchar", loan-words from Georgian. (The Georgian word "ghvino" is thought by many to be the term which gave us our word "wine".)

Bats seems to be extraordinarily precise (and concise!, as the example given below demonstrates) when it comes to indicating time:

(-1) Yesterday - "psare"

(0) Today - "tkha"

(1) Tomorrow - "ka"

(2) The day after tomorrow - "lamu"

(3) The day after the day after tomorrow - "ul"

(4) The day after the day after the day after tomorrow - "kalu"

(5) The day after the day after the day after the day after tomorrow - "palu"

(6) The day after the day after the day after the day after the day after tomorrow - "tchalu"

Love - "detsar-vetsra";

Revenge - "mastkho nanietrier" (?).
"Here" - "ese";
"There" - "isi";
"Over there" - "osi";
"This" - "e";
"That" - "o".
Some thunderstorm-related terms are:

"Lightning" is "taplekh";
"Thunder" is "gurgur";
"Thunderstorm" is "mossi" (the same word as "bad");
"Wind" is "moss" ("it is windy" - "mosba");
"Rain" is "kari".
The seasons of the year:

Summer - "khko"
Autumn - "stabo"

Winter - "ah"

Spring - "doha"
Some useful verbs:

I am - "so vas";
You are - "ho vakh";

He/She/It is - "o va";

We are - "ve batkhr";

You are - "shu desh";

They are - "obi da".

I see - "songu";

You see - "hongu";

He/She/It sees - "okvengu";

We see - "vengu";

You see - "shungu";

They see - "okarngu".

I have - "sogo";

You have - "hogo";

He/She/It has - "okgo";

We have - "vego"
You have - "shugo"
They have - "okargo".
The months of the year are:









"ghviob", "the month of wine"

"giorgob", "the month of St George"

"krishob", "the month of Christ"
(For anyone familiar with the names of the months in Georgian, it will have immediately become apparent that the Bats words are mostly loan-words from Georgian.)
Some popular toasts:
"To children" is "katsketchokhilal" (preferably the more correct "badrikhilal");
"To the [host] family" is "hekurekhilal";
"To women" is "pstiankhilal".