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.