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.

Batsbi Weaving

Here are some pictures relating to Batsbi carpets and felt, cropped from other photographs on this website.
- -
-The upper transversal bar of a very large upright loom (see image immediately above)

A Batsbi "Nabadi" (pressed felt)

A beautiful "buteh" pattern. (See identical carpet in previous post)


Monday, August 27, 2007

Some Bats Links

From "The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire"

From Wikipedia: the Bats people, and the Bats language

From the University of Frankfurt's
"ECLING" Project (Endangered Languages in Georgia)


From the Volkswagen Foundation's
"DOBES" Programme (documentation of endangered languages)
From the University of Graz's Languages of the World Server
From Roland Topchishvili's Article on the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia Website
From the "Europe and North Asia" Chapter of the
Encyclopedia of the world’s endangered languages
(Any more submissions would be very gratefully received!)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Batsmobile

A picture of "the Batsmobile" - i.e. a Lada Niva 4x4 full of Batsbis - and three of the Road to Tusheti: looking down towards Kakheti from the Abanos Pass; an Abandoned Electrical Pylon on the Pass itself; and looking down towards Tusheti.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Etymological Dictionaries

Have you ever wanted to look up the etymology of a High East Cushitic word? Is the origin of a term in West Central Khoisan still a mystery to you? Are you one of the 0.002 people per day who wonder what the verb "to smear" is in Proto-Lezgi? Do you sometimes ask yourself what the correspondences of Nostratic affricatives are like? Then these databases are for you!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Photographs of Tsovata during Dadaloba

Apologies for the appalling quality of these photographs - The delicate Japanese electronics of my camera didn't like being left out in the rain. (For the full, boring, yet tragic story, please see
this previous post. And for some nicer photographs - courtesy of Pridon Beroshvili at - please click here!)

The Draw to decide who the next "Shulta" Families will be.

The Classic View of Indurta.

A Double Rainbow in the Evening Sky over Jvarboseli.

A young Caucasian Sheepdog in the Tsovatistsqali Valley.

Sheltering from the Sun in Indurta.

The Supra (Feast) for Dadaloba, with the Men's Khati in the Background.


The Men's Khati (Church) in Tsovata.

Preparing for the Feast.


The Women's Khati (Church) in Tsovata.

The Skyline in Tsovata at Dusk.

The Guesthouse in Jvarboseli.

Tusheti as seen from the Abanos Pass.

From Jvarboseli to Tsovata by Satellite

The Route from Jvarboseli to Indurta.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Few Words on the Origins of the Bats People

As their two different names indicate, the Tsova-Tush/Bats are Georgians, sharing all the characteristics of their Georgian neighbours in Tusheti, and yet are profoundly different by virtue of their second, Nakh language (i.e. from the Nakh branch of Caucasian languages - See the language's lineage here.)

There is no definite information as to the origins of the Tsova-Tush/Bats. Most observers can agree upon the fact that they migrated to Tushetia in the mountains of north-eastern Georgia several centuries ago, and that they previously lived in Vainakh lands. ("Vainakh", "our people", i.e. Chechnya or Ingushetia.) This seems to me the most likely theory. A relatively detailed and complete account of the migrations of the Tsova-Tush/Bats people, based upon a story related by an elderly (b.1928) inhabitant of Zemo-Alvani, goes as follows:

"Six shepherds who lived in villages in the Georgian lowlands - one from the village of Matani, at the southern end of the Pankisi Gorge, and the others from the region of Kiziqi - stayed in the Gometsi Gorge of Pshavi [a mountainous region of north-eastern Georgia] for a long time, searching for better pastures for their flocks of sheep. A man named Sveluri joined them in Pshavi, and told them of a certain Jarieri Gorge in Ingushetia, which he said was rich in excellent pastures. The Georgian shepherds, interested by his account of this distant gorge, moved there with their flocks and families, and settled in Ingushetia permanently. Years later, they began to intermarry with the local Ingush people, and the Ingush language [like Chechen, a Nakh language] naturally became the native tongue of their descendants. After having lived in Ingushetia for a long time, the successors of the Georgian migrants were forced to leave their village and seek out a new home and new pastures. [The Tsova-Tush/Bats claim to this day that their ancestors were forced to leave Ingushetia/Chechnya to escape forced conversion to Islam; an Ingush narrative accounts for their departure on grounds of a dispute over pasture property-rights.] They left Ingushetia and spent several years wandering from place to place in Chechnya, then in Tianetia [another mountainous region of north-eastern Georgia], finally settling in the villages of Chontio, Girevi, and Hegho in northern Tushetia [in Pirikiti Tushetia]. After several years there, they moved to the nearby Tsovatsqali Valley, which became "Tsovata", the homeland of the Tsova-Tush/Bats people."

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.