Friday, August 31, 2007

Batsbi Fraternization, Marriage, and Traditional Justice

The aliens in Tsova Tusheti [i.e. non-Batsbi strangers, individuals or families from other regions having settled among the Batsbis in Tsovata/Tsova Tusheti from neighbouring Khevsureti or Chechnya, for example] were frequently those seeking to escape blood feuds. They were accepted in the Batsbi community on certain conditions, and after a period of several years’ observation the host Batsbi village or community would collectively decide upon the status of the new arrivals, and upon the issue of their official assimilation into their host, Batsbi community. This assimilation can be described as a form of adoption, of fraternization, whereby strangers would be officially adopted by a Batsbi family or extended family, taking their name, and becoming full (and to a large extent equal) members of their adoptive community, with the same rights and obligations as all the other family members.

This official adoption would follow a precise ritual, which was to be performed in the “Sameba” (“Holy Trinity”) church [in Tsovata?] during the Whitsunday holidays, in which all the Batsbi villages took part. The stranger who was to be adopted [i.e. an individual migrant or the head of a family] would sacrifice a white bull to the church, and sacred beer would be brewed in the church, and all concerned and attendant would join in a great feast. After this ritual, a newcomer would be considered as a member of a particular Batsbi family, as full “blood brother” and kin, and would be under the protection of his adoptive family. This ritual being dependent upon the collective decision of the stranger’s host community, following several years’ observation, it stands to reason that in some cases the hosts would decide not to accept a stranger’s claim to fraternization, and, consequently, the ritual would not be held and the newcomers would be banished.

In the early twentieth century, among the Batsbis living in Zemo Alvani in the Kakhetian lowlands, a foreign herdsman by the name of Baramidze sought to become related to the local [Batsbi] Mikeladze family. The corresponding “bull ritual” was held, but, later on, a red stain was discovered on the sacrificed animal’s hide. After this event – which in any case cannot have been very popular with the local Russian administration – such processes of fraternization were stopped, and the bull ritual disappeared.

A White Bull destined to be sacrificed during a peace conference [i.e. fraternization] between the Dinka and Nuer tribes in the Sudan in 1999.


Conjugal unity was considered to be sacred – Unfaithfulness was extremely shameful, disgraceful, and would have been an extremely rare occurrence, particularly among such small, mountain communities. Traditional habitual justice provided for severe punishments for rape, adultery, promiscuity, or other forms of extra-marital sexual relationships. A rapist would be executed, and the husband of an unfaithful wife could punish her by disfigurement, such as shaving her head or cutting off her nose or an arm; public indignation would also cause individuals deemed to be at fault to be shunned by the community. However, some ethnographers have stated that bigamy existed among the Batsbis: In marriages where the wife was found to be sterile, after a period of several years she herself would set out to look for another wife for her husband, in order to provide him with an heir.


As late as the early twentieth century, Batsbi society was to a large extent regulated through traditional, habitual justice.

For depriving someone of an arm or an eye, the guilty person had to pay 120 bulls. For breaking a tooth, 3 cows. For kidnapping a woman, the punishment would have been excommunication, banishment and exile, or death. Until the twentieth century, ransom for murder or manslaughter was common in Tusheti: A certain sum had to be paid in copper pots or salt [i.e. extremely valuable commodities unobtainable in the region]. If a person guilty of killing someone – whether intentionally or by accident – was unable to pay the decreed ransom, he and his family would have had to flee their home, for he (and his nearest relatives) would have been at risk until the age of 60!


This information was taken from Roland Topchishvili's article on the Tsova-Tush/Bats people. Prof. Topchishvili is Professor of Ethnology at the Javakhishvili Institute of History of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, and is a specialist in the ethnography of Georgia and other Caucasian regions.