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Batsbi/Tsova and the Tush

In ALLEN, W.E.D. (ed.), Russian Embassies to the Georgian Kings, 1589-1605, The Hakluyt Society, Series II, No. 138, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970 (pp. 288-289).


Metsk, Batsk (ref. Chap. 2, p. 111, n. 1)

'Dont la position est absolument inconnue' Brosset (EC/BHP/II, Nos. 14-15, col. 236). Some of the topographical indications of this passage are obscure but it would seem that the Georgians were proposing a route up the valley of the Argun, leading by tracks over the main chain of [the] Caucasus [mountains] into the upper valleys of the Aragvi and the Alazani. This route would cross the territory of the Akko Chechens (Shikh murza's Okok) who were friendly to the Russians and had a sloboda at Terek-town (see Introduction, Section 5 and Commentary 14). The villages of Upper and Lower Kii (Akki) lie on an affluent of the Tchanti (White) Argun, the westerly feeder of the Argun (Baddeley, RFC, Vol. II, index under 'Kii' and Map V, and for description of Argun route as far as the Tchanti Argun, ibid., Vol. I, pp. 90 ff.). West of the Tchanti Argun a track crosses the Basti-lam (lam = mountain, ridge, in Ingush), the boundary between Chechnya and Georgia (ibid., Vol. I, p. 114) to Shatil (1,524 m.) west of the great peaks of Tebulos-mta (4,494 m.); then by the Anatori Pass to Khamkheti and paths leading to the upper valleys of the Aragvi and the Alazani. From Shatil, Baddeley states, a ride to Tiflis 'in summer or early autumn' would always be feasible. Compare Radde's 'Marschroute', 1876, in Die Chews'uren und ihr Land, as far as Djarego on the Tchanti Argun. West of this river Meesti ridge or plateau is marked on Güldenstädt's map; it seems to correspond to Miskin-doukh of Baddeley's 'Map V'. Bronevski (Vol. II, p. 166) refers to an Ingush commune of Meesti, and also to the Aka and Betsi communes of the upper Kombulei. These indications explain the Metsk mountain range of Zvenigorodski. Amaley is the river Kombulei (Reineggs/W., Vol. I, p. 311; Bronevski, Vol. II, pp. 91, 152, 160), whose upper valley runs parallel with the Sunzha, the Assa and the Argun, and finally enters the Terek a few miles above Tartarup. Burnash remains obscure.

Reineggs/W. (Vol. II, p. 39), described the Basti as a sub-tribe of the Kists, then settled on the left bank of the middle Sunzha. They were neighbours of the Alti (cf. Baddeley, RFC, Vol. I, p. 79, for the commune of Aldee, famous as the base of Sheikh Mansur in 1785). These Basti may have been a fragment of an older Batsi agglomeration along the Sunzha. The Batsi (Georgian plur. Batsebi) were held to be Kists (Baddeley, RFC, Vol I, p. 90) who are related to the Chechens (Reineggs/W., Vol. I, p. 41). (Bronevski, Vol. II, p. 158, finds that the Kist language has some resemblance to Tush, and he believes therefore that the (Georgian) Tushes must be of Kist origin; it would seem here that he is in fact referring to the Batsi whose dialect has been much influenced by Georgian: see Desheriev.) In 1575 the communes of the Batsi in the tchanti-Argun district sought the protection of King Levan of Kakheti against the Avar nutsal; they were allowed to pasture their flocks in the highlands of upper Kakheti, south of the main ridge of [the] Caucasus [mountains] and south-east of the great peak of Tebulos-mta and the Kadowanis Pass (3,048 m.), where they mixed with the Tushes. During the last century they moved as far south as Akhmeti and Alvan on the Alazani (cf. Desheriev, Batsbiyski yazyk, and Radde, Chews'uren, pp. 330 ff., and map). For the suggestion that the Batsebi represent a surviving fragment of the classical Bessoi, see Karst, OM, p. 504; also Allen, 'Ex Ponto, I and II' in BK, No. 30/31 (1958), p. 51.





'Soni-land' (=Sonskaya Zemlya): note on the ethnology of the eristavate of the Aragvi (ref. Chap. 3, p. 133, n. 2)

Neighbours of the Didos to the north-west were the Sodi of Pliny, VI, 10, whom Trever (Ocherki po istorii I kulture Kavkazskoy Albanii, Moskva, 1959, p. 202, n. 3) equates with the Tsavdi. There is a reference to the Tsavdi in the fifth century A.D. when they are bracketed with the Lipni or Lbini (Trever, p. 202), who are none other than the Lupeni of the classical authors (Trever, p. 48), a people perhaps to be identified with a wolf totem (cf. Commentary 41 for the cult of a black dog without spots surviving among the Didos).

The name Tsavdi corresponds to the Tsova of Wakhusht (Brosset ed., Description géographique de la Géorgie par le Tsarévich Wakhoucht publiée d'après l'original autograph par M. Brosset, St Petersburg, 1842, p. 327). It is possible to pinpoint the Tsavdi/Sodi from Wakhusht's account of Tusheti at the beginning of the eighteenth century (see Brosset's ed., pp. 327-9 and map 4 – 'Kakheth'). Tusheti is placed north of Mount Lopeti and the Lopotis-tsqali, clearly toponymic fossils of the old Lupeni, i.e. Lop-eti = the country of the Lup-en-i). The district lies on the flanks of the main chain where it forms the watershed of the Argun flowing north to the Terek and the Andi-koysu flowing north-east to the Sulak and the Caspian. Tusheti is divided into two valleys running from north-west to south-east. It has its own river (Tchanti-Argun on Baddeley's, The rugged flanks of Caucasus, Oxford, 1940, Map II where the place-name “Shoundee” still survives) which goes to join the Sona (here Argun) which crosses Tchatchan (Chechnia) and at Baraghan falls into the Terg (Terek). Tsova is beyond the Caucasus (i.e. south of the main ridge) in the direction of Pankisi; below Tsova is Gometsari, and lower down Tchaghma; from this last place the route leads to the valleys of Torga (cf. Commentary 28: The Village of Tog) and Lopoti: there are situated the principal villages of Tusheti but there are thirty-seven others. Of the remnants of the 'Tsoff' at the beginning of the twentieth century Baddeley, The rugged flanks of Caucasus, Vol. I, p. 90, observes that “amongst the Tousheens there is a whole community, known formerly by the name of Tsoff... which speaks a dialect of the Kist (Ingush) language and is, presumably, of Kist origin, though cut off from them as far back as history goes'.

Another group of these Sodi/Tsavdi/Tsova maintained their individuality into mediaeval times in the district of Sagaredzho, along the middle reaches of the Iori, since Janashvili, in his edition of Wakhusht (p. 104, n. 351), cites Kartlis-Tskhovreba, Vol. I, p. 239, for Sudzheti as an alternative name for Sagaredzho, naming the inhabitants Sudzhi or Sodzhi – forms which closely correspond to the classical Sodi.

Genko, Iz kulturnogo proshlogo Ingushey in Zapiski Kollegii Vostokovedov, Leningrad, 1930, p. 698, recalls that Tsiskarov, in his 'Notes on Tusheti' published in 1849 in the Tiflis journal Kavkaz, gives 'Vabua' as a second and ancient name of the original homeland of the Tsov who were then inhabiting the enclave among the Tush. He comments that 'there can be no doubt that the ancient Tsov name for Tsovata, Vabua, is identical with the tribal appellation of the Veppintsy (contemporary form fäppij) who were grouped around their ancient centre Erzi aul (Arzee on Baddeley's The rugged flanks of Caucasus, Map II) – on the river Arm-khi (Kistinka) which enters the Terek some versts below Old Lars'. According to the same author (p. 707), erziy (ärzij) is the Ingush word for 'eagle' – 'in all probability an old Iranian loan-word'. This may be compared with the totemic implications of 'Tsounta' and 'Tsesi', see p. 315 above. In the present writer's view, the Veppintsy (fäppij) can be a remnant of the classical Bessi of Macedonia and the Psessoi of the Cimmerian Bosporus, a widespread ethnic group of very ancient origins: for refs. See Bédi Karthlisa, Nos. 30-1, article by Allen, 'Ex Ponto I: Heni-Veneti and Os-Alans', passim. To the same remote background belong the Soni/Sodi/Sonti/Tsavdi, who can be identified with the varying forms Heni in classical sources.

In the 'Conversion of Georgia', a record compiled in the tenth century and relating to events of the sixth century, the Daryal gorge is named the 'Tsanar ravine' (cf. Genko, p. 711). The identity of Tsanar (in Georgian Ts'anar with ejaculative ts') with Ptolemy's Zanarioi has been accepted by Minorsky (Hudūd al-'Ālam: 'The regions of the world', Oxford, 1937, pp. 400 ff.). Zan-ari-oi, in fact represents the root zan>son with the duplication of the Svanian plural in -ar and the Greek plural in -oi. 'In the ninth to tenth century A.D. the Tsanar are often identified with the Kakhs. Finally, the Georgian-speaking peoples entirely absorbed the Tsanar... As regards the nucleus of the Tsanar trible, N.Y. Marr (Izvestiya Rossiyskoy Akademii Nauk, 1916, pp. 1397-8), hinted at its common origin with the present-day Chechen. Such is also the opinion of A.N. Genko, the undisputed authority on that part of the Caucasus' (Minorsky, ibid., and Genko, 711).

In MOSER, Louis, The Caucasus and its People, with a Brief History of their Wars and a Sketch of the Achievements of the Renowned Chief Schamyl, London 1856 (pp. 67-69).

6. The Medzeghee or Kists, are often called Tchetchenzes, from the name of their most influential tribe. They possess the virtues and qualities peculiar to the Circassian races, and especially a most enthusiastic love of freedom and independence, submitting with the utmost reluctance to a foreign yoke, and watching with keen vigilance every opportunity of throwing it off.

Their villages consist of flat-roofed stone houses, protected by walls and towers, capable of resisting an energetic attack. Some of these tribes possess an abundance of cattle and corn, but they are nevertheless very frugal in their mode of living. They usually confine themselves to the district bordered on the west by the Terek (in the part where it flows northward), on the east by the Aksai and Engure, and bounded on the north by the Lesser Kabarda and Sundcha, and to the south by the Snowy Mountains.

The most influential tribes among them are:
1. The Ingushes, or Galgai, who reside on the Kumbolei, and in the plains between the latter and the banks of the Assai.
2. The Kists, north-west of the Ingushes, and extending to the Argun.
3. The Karabulaks, from the Zarthan to the Argun; and lastly,
4. The Tchetchenzes, who are found along the banks of the Argun, the Aksai, and the Sundcha. Several branches of this tribe inhabit the Snowy Mountain ridges, and of these the principal are: —a. The Tchavi, from the Aragvi to the springs of the Yori; and —b. The Tuschi, found to the east of the latter, on the Alazani.

In ABERCROMBY, John, A Trip through the Eastern Caucasus, with a Chapter on the Languages of the Country, London: E. Stanford, 1889.

For the first time in the Caucasus I saw a rainbow, which Mejid knew as "Peighamber's girdle," or the girdle of the Prophet. The Tush, who are closely connected in language with the Chechents, call it "the girdle of the sky"; the latter people "the bow of the sky." (p. 127)

In a general way, I ascertained that the road was very mountainous, stony, and bad; that the Tush, through whose territory it was necessary to pass, were ignorant, barbarous, and independent, paying scant attention either to the orders of the local authorities or the injunctions of the law. (pp. 147-148)

Half an hour's ride, however, along the right bank of the stream brought us opposite the village of Shatil, 4677 feet above the sea, and inhabited by a different race from the Chechents. Tatar called them Tush, but strictly speaking they were Khevsurs, an offshoot of the Georgians. Some of the Tush are, linguistically at least, Chechents, but the word seems often applied to the Georgian-speaking highlanders; for I could never get Mejid, who said he had often seen them at Nukha, to allow they were anything but Georgians. The Chechents-speaking Tush call themselves Batsav, and live south-east of the Khevsurs. (p. 172)

In BADDELEY, John Frederick, The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus, London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1908

The men of the Lioublin regiment lost their colonel, Korneeloff, cousin of the hero of Sevastopol, but bayoneted those who had killed him and hacked off their heads. The Tousheens, too, the bravest of the many brave races of the Caucasus, who contributed a small body to the native contingent, kept up their time-honoured custom of cutting off the right hand of a slain or wounded enemy (see note), and in condemning the cruelty habitually practised by the semi-savage warriors of Daghestan and Tchetchnia it is only fair to remember that their Christian foemen, who were also the invaders of their country, frequently stooped to similar practices.


Note [p. 398]: Shaté, a celebrated Tousheen warrior, who accompanied Vrevsky's Deedo expedition in 1857, had no less than seventy of these ghastly trophies nailed to his walls, and no Tousheen could obtain a bride who had not at least one severed right hand to show. The Tousheens were Christians, of Georgian extraction.

In TSAROIEVA, Mariel, Racines mésopotamiennes et anatoliennes des Ingouches et des Tchétchènes, Riveneuve: 2008

The Ingush and the Batsbi (or Batsoi)

The question of the ethnic ancestry of the Tushin, Georgian highlanders, who divide themselves into Tshagma- and Tsova-Tushin (or Batsbi / Batsoi), remains a difficult and litigious issue in modern caucasology. A.N. Guenko considered Tusheti as an ancient religious centre of "Georgianized" Ingush. One of the main arguments with which he sought to prove his case was the coincidence of the ethnonym Tush(in) with the theonym Tush(oli), the name of the goddess-mother of the Ingush, deeply venerated by this people until the early XXth century. Traces of the worship of this goddess by the Georgian highlanders could still be seen at the end of the XIXth century, despite their christianization. This was normal: newly-arrived tribes accepted the religious cults and rituals of the autochthonous populations, and worshipped them as they did their own.

Most researchers link the Tsova-Tushin or Batsbi (Batsoi) with the Ingush tribes. According to Klaproth, the Ingush region of Wabua or Wobua is considered to be their original homeland. The Batsbur language has preserved a large number of elements of ancient Ingush. The Batsbi used to maintain strong ties with their ancient north Caucasian compatriots. The works of I. Detcheriev and of the new generation of caucasologists, who linked the history and language of the Batsbi with those of the Ingush, were not met with much enthusiasm. This small people has led a calm existence for hundreds of years, integrated into Georgian society and protected by the intelligent politics of its government. They were not deported to northern Kazakhstan in 1944, and have therefore not experienced the atrocities that the Vainakhs had to endure. For the Batsbi, to be related to these peoples and to their tragic history could introduce an undesirable element into their quiet lives.

The new generation of Batsbi has chosen the path of full integration into the Georgian nation; only old people still speak their mother tongue. This is their right, and none wish to dispute this. The question here is the restoration of the history of the Vainakh people, of its historical roots, where every small detail which can further enlighten us is important. The study of the history and the language of the Batsbi allows one to understand how processes of unification and assimilation changed the ethnic map of the Caucasus. And yet, it is always difficult to accept the disappearance of a language from the arena of human correlations, language which, when it dies, takes with it a part of the history of humanity itself, as Claude Hagège wrote in his work Halte à la mort des langues (Paris, Odile Jacob: 2000).

This region of intense interethnic contacts between the Vainakhs and the Georgian highlanders was in the past inhabited by vainakhophone tribes. The arrival of Georgian tribes progressively displaced them northwards. However, the cultural, religious, and linguistic syncretism continued to exist in this region until the early XXth century. According to A. Zisserman, in the 1840s Tusheti was subdivided into four communities: Tsova (or Wabua), Gometsar, Tshagma, and Pirikiti (or Damakhkroi). The [inhabitants of] Tsova (Wabua) and the Pirikit were considered as tribes of Kist, Vainakh origin. And so, in the patronym Damakhkoi the Chechen words da ("father") and mokhk ("country, land") may be discerned; the name Wabua (Wappua) corresponds with the name of the Wappi (Fappi) community in Ingushetia, the inhabitants of the Metskal district. The elderly Batsbi have not forgotten their original homeland, which they call Wobi (Wabi), also known as Tsovata by the Tsova-Tushin themselves. The Chechens (the Ingush) call Batsoi all the Tushin, dividing them into two teipa [groups]: "The Georgians, and our people. The latter speak our language" (N. Volkova).

In SERDYUCHENKO, The Linguistic Aspect of Bilingualism, in Report on an International Seminar on Bilingualism in Education, Aberystwyth, Wales, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London: 1978

Bilingualism and multilingualism is characteristic of many peoples of the Soviet Union. These features can be observed among the peoples of [the] northern Caucasus, Daghestan, Transcaucasia, the Volga regions, Central Asia, the Baltic Republic, the Far East, etc.

There are some interesting observations of bilingualism among a number of mountain nationalities in the Caucasus. We shall dwell on the example when one of the under-developed mountain nationalities had been for several centuries under the influence of a mightier nationality, in regard to its cultural economy and its language, and had then become bilingual, at the same time preserving its own national language. This concerns the Batsbi people, a Circassian - Ingush nationality, otherwise - the Veinach group, living on the territory of the Georgian SSR.

According to our data, the Batsbi, or the Tsova-Tush people, had in the 6th-7th centuries become the territorial neighbours of the Georgians. We possess historical documents testifying to the economic and cultural-historic relations between the Batsbi and the Georgian peoples in the 16th century. Apparently, the Batsbi people adopted Christianity from the Georgians. According to literary data all the Batsbi people living in Georgian surroundings had mastered the Georgian language by the twenties of the 19th century and by that time had certainly become bilingual.

We can be certain that before becoming bilingual the Batsbi people had many Georgian word-loans and significant phraseological borrowings. But still during this period (before the establishment of bilingualism) their every-day language was the Batsbi. After the establishment of bilingualism beyond the limits of their aul [sic], the Batsbi people, as a rule, communicated in Georgian, continuing to borrow into their own language Georgian words, phraseology and also individual phonetic and grammatical features.

But alongside of this, while using Georgian as a means of communication, the Batsbi people added to it the peculiarities of their own language, concerning, first of all, phonetics, separate words and even Batsbi grammar models. This resulted in the fact that at the present time there is a special Batsbi, or Tsiva-Tush dialect [sic.] of the Georgian language.

The bilingualism of the Batsbi people has apparently been in existence for several ages, but as we have observed, during a significant period of time it did not hinder the parallel usage of the Georgian language and the native language of the Batsbi people. Gradually only the sphere of usage of the Batsbi language became narrower. Also some changes have taken place in the vocabulary, phonetic and grammatical systems of the Batsbi language. The grammatical system of the Batsbi language, in general, has been preserved up till the present time, though the language is gradually giving way, even in inter-family relations, to the Batsbi dialect of the Georgian language.

In NICHOLS, Johanna, The Origin of the Chechen and Ingush: A Study in Alpine Linguistic and Ethnic Geography, in Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. XLVI, No. 2, 2004

Linguistically, the Nokhchii, Melkhii, and Kisti speak dialects of Chechen and the Ingush (including assimilated remnants of the Arshtkhoi) speak a distinct language which is not mutually intelligible with Chechen. Ingush and Chechen are very similar languages, however, and there is much passive bilingualism between their speakers, so the two languages function as a single speech community. All five of the traditional ethnolinguistic groups are collectively recognizes as vai naakh 'our (inclusive) people' and all the language varieties as vai mott 'our (inclusive) language' or Ingush vai neakha mott/Chechen vain neekhan mott 'our people's language'. In addition to forming a single speech community, all of them are united by common customs and traditional law. The Batsbi or Tsova-Tush of Georgia, whose language is related to Chechen and Ingush roughly as Czech is related to Russian and Ukrainian, do not belong to vai naakh nor their language to vai mott, though any speaker of Chechen or Ingush can immediately tell that the language is closely related and can understand some phrases of it. The Batsbi have not traditionally followed Vainakh customs or law, and they consider themselves Georgians. (A recent survey of linguistic and ethnic groups, both Nakh and Georgia, on the central south slope is Kurtsikidze and Chikovani [2002].)

Among the highland Ingush and on the south slope, we find apparently ancient geographically based ethnonyms for several Nakh groups larger than the clan. The Feappii were residents of the southern (i.e. higher) part of the Metskhaloi tribal territory in highland Ingushetia, and the Ingush called the Batsbi Feappii-baatsa (Genko 1930; Mal'sagov 1963). (Some sources consider the term Kisti equivalent to Feappii, e.g. Akhriev 2000; Krupnov 1971.) In northern Chechen, the cognate term Vaeppii refers to people from parts of southern Ingushetia (Maciev 1961), while in southern (Kisti) Chechen it refers to the Batsbi (Aliroev 1962). This terms may have been a self-designation of some Ingush, but for the most part it appears to have been used by southern Nakh speakers to refer to other, more southerly Nakh speakers.


Despite the Chechen legends of descent into previously uninhabited land, what concrete historical evidence we have indicates that descents to the lowlands over the last few centuries have involved movements to previously inhabited and previously Nakh-speaking towns. [...] the shift from Ingush to Chechen speech in the Pankisi Gorge of Georgia was evidently caused by Chechen descents which brought about swamping of an Ingush speech area by Chechen. Batsbi tradition as recorded by Desheriev (1953, 1963) preserves memory of a two-stage descent: first, abandonment of the original highland area in northern Tusheti, settling of villages lower in the mountains, and a period of transhumance plus permanent descents of a few families; then, complete abandonment of the highlands and year-round settlement in the lowlands after a flood destroyed one of the secondary mountain villages in the early nineteenth century. That is, Batsbi lowland outposts were established by a combination of transhumance and individual resettlements, and some time later there was a sizable migration into an established outpost.

In KENNAN, George, Vagabond life: The Caucasus journals of George Kennan—edited, with an introduction and afterword, by Frith Maier; with contributions by Daniel C. Waugh, Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2003

Among the Tovihetti and several of the wilder mountain tribes, when a woman is about to give birth to a child, she is conducted to a particular house at some distance from the village or in suburbs and is left there alone without any assistance whatever and there her child is born. In this house she must live alone for a whole month. Food is brought to her at stated intervals but aside from this she has no communication with any one. (Page 118)


Relics which have descended from the Crusaders are still to be found in the Caucasus. Among the Toochets especially there are still in existence great numbers of straight broad cross-handled swords, suits of armor with white crosses on them, steel helmets with veils of chain mail and the weapons of the middle ages generally. Knaz Chefchavadze [Prince Chavchavadze—A.B.] saw a Crusader's sword for which he offered 500 roubles. Previous to the invention of gunpowder they were worn in southern Daghestan and various parts of the Caucasus but since then they have simply been handed down from father to son. [...] The Toovchinni are Christians, but whether they have always been so or not [Prince Chavchavadze's] Adjudant did not know. They were long accustomed to make raids into the territory of the Dedoitse [the neighbouring Dido tribes, who live in valleys just east of Tusheti, now across the border in Daghestan—A.B.], kill as many as possible and, cutting off one hand from every dead man, carry it home and nail it on the wall of their house. 3 or 4 years ago almost every sakla [house—A.B.] in Toovchima was ornamented in this way with the black fleshless hands of murdered men. (Pages 198-199)

In BLEICHSTEINER, Robert, "Roßweihe und Pferderennen im Totenkult der Kaukasischen Völker" ["The Consecration and Racing of Horses in the Funerary Cults of the Caucasian Peoples"]—itself in KOPPERS, Dr. Wilhelm (ed.), Die Indogermanen und Germanenfrage: Neue Wege zu ihrer Lösung ['The Indo-Germans and Germans Questions: New Paths to their Solution'], Salzburg-Leipzig: Verlag Anton Pustet for the Institut für Völkerkunde an der Universität Wien, 1936 (pp. 461-7)

3. The Tush

As with the Khevsurs, the dying person may not stay in the house, and is instead placed in the courtyard regardless of the weather. The body is left there for two days and two nights. By its side are placed a cup of rock-salt, white wool and vodka. The women sing laments. In earlier times, as with many other Caucasian peoples, the widow was not allowed to express her sorrow in this manner, as it was considered shameful for her to do so. The person responsible for watching the body during the night was given a საშუაღამო გორდილა ("sashuaghamo gordila"—"midnight gordila) [note: a "gordila" is a lump of dough boiled in water instead of baked in an oven, a traditional way of preparing bread, particularly for Tush shepherds who had no access to a bread oven], a handful of roasted hops (Georgian: ბიჭონი—"bich'oni") and a drinking-horn full of vodka. The men come to lament the deceased early in the morning. In the old days, there were no coffins, and the dead were instead wrapped in a felt cloak before burial. At the head of the burial party walks a man carrying a bag with offerings of bread and vodka for the deceased. The grave is built of large flat stones, the coffin is placed inside it and it is then covered in earth. After the burial, all sit down to breakfast in the cemetery and drink to the memory of the deceased. When the burial party and guests return to the house of the deceased, the ნიშანი (G.: "nishani"—literally "sign")—the laid-out clothes of the deceased—is prepared. Alongside the clothes lie: hat, belt and dagger, socks, wool, salt and vodka. The women sit down next to the nishani and sing lamentations.

In the house, the table of the "release of the mouth" (p'irsamshnilo sup'ra) is laid; the elder holds a horn with vodka in his hand, and says: "God rest your soul! O soul of [the name of the deceased]! As custom and tradition demand, your descendants have generously provided for you. You shall have an unendless bounty of food and drink in the other world! May you be wealthy in the other world, as long as the heavens and the sun exist! May your relatives—your sisters, brothers, and parents who preceded you, as well as your "orphan" dead, those who have no-one to remember them—be remembered according to your wishes and to your will. May no-one do you any harm, may no-one attack you. For as long as the ox ploughs the field, as the mill grinds, as dew falls from the heavens and as green springs forth, may God grant his soul rest. This I do confirm with my word, with the priest's book, with the mercy of Jerusalem!" All those present drink. Then the men eat first—the women eat at noon. The nishani is brought into the house at sunset at laid out on a bed, where it will stay for a whole year. The widow cuts a lock of her hair as a sign of mourning, and the men let their hair grow—in earlier days for one year, but now for only 20 days. There is no mention of the horse of the deceased in Mak'alatia's description, but a Tush lamentation speaks of "At the feet of the deceased stands Lurdjai ("the blue-grey"—which refers to a horse), two hold his reins, he stamps with his foot and awaits the master, who is late on his journey." From this premise one may conclude that the horse of the deceased is at least present during the ceremony of mourning.

As a sign of their mourning, women used to wear a khokhira (G. ხოხირა)—a long, narrow piece of metal weave, similar in appearance to chain mail, with a black tassel at the end—on the right-hand side of their dress. Girls wore the khokhira on their backs [Mädchen trugen das Khokhira über dem Rücken]. Every Saturday, the women would go down to the river, dip the tassel in the water, and say: "May God rest the soul of [the name of the deceased]!" After a year had passed, the women would bake three kotori (G. ქოთორი) [a round, flat pocket of dough filled with cheese—A.B.], lament the deceased for the last time, and dispose of the khokhira outside of the village.

During a whole year, a mourning ceremony would be held on the first day of every month, ceremony for which a kind of porridge (G. პაპა—p'ap'a) would be prepared. Only women would take part in these ceremonies. The most important event held to commemorate the deceased was held at the end of this year of mourning—the "beer of the year" (G. წლის ალუდი—ts'lis aludi), during which a horse race (G. სადგინი or დოღი—sadgini or doghi) would be held. The chief mourner would invite the entire village to a great funerary feast [Leichenschmaus], and would brew beer, slaughter animals for meat, and prepare the feast. As "gifts" (G. მოსანიჭრედ—mosanich'red), relatives and friends would bring a cheese, a measure of barley, a cow or a sheep, up to five rubles in cash, &c. The nishani would be laid out in front of the house, and next to it would be placed several pairs of woollen socks, tobacco pouches, wool, rock salt, vodka and beer, roasted wheat, &c. The women would sit around the nishani and lament. Five riders would then line up in front of the nishani, and the dalaoba (G. დალაობა) would begin. The word dalaoba comes from dal, the Chechen word for the highest divinity i.e. God. The south Caucasian Svans also have a female divinity called Dal, the guardian of the wild. The leader of these riders—known as the modalave (G. მოდალავე)—places himself in the middle of the group and praises the deceased in song, the other riders repeating dala, dala, dala... in unison as backing to his song. During the song, those in attendance offer the riders horns full of beer, the riders pouring a small quantity of beer over their horse's mane before emptying the horn. When the song is over, the head mourner directs the riders to go to the village of the maternal uncle of the deceased. The riders pick up a flag (G. ბაირაღი, bairaghi, from the Turkish bayrak) and leave. Attached to the top of the flag are a scarf (G. ალამი, alami, from the Arabic 'ãlam, "sign, flag"), woollen socks, and a tobacco pouch. A carpet (and, if possible, a nishani) is laid out in front of the maternal uncle's house, and some barley is strewn over it. Next to it are placed salt, wool, socks, loaves of votive bread with meat, vodka and beer, a basin of milk, and flowers tied together with herbs.

When the riders arrive, they stick the flag in the nishani, repeat the dalaoba, and drink to the memory of the deceased (G. შესანდობარი, shesandobari). They then weave strips of white cloth into the horses' manes, give them a handful of barley, and sprinkle some milk over them. After a small meal in the maternal uncle's house, they pick up the flag and return to the village of the deceased, where the horse race will take place.

All the villagers can attend this horse race, and relatives of the head mourner who live in neighbouring villages attend with their own riders as a mark of respect. The horses which will take part in the race are thoroughly exercised and are dispensed from work. Some horses won over 50 scarves (alami). Before the race, the horses are fed with barley from the nishani, and strips of white cloth are woven into their manes. The flag bearer (G. მებაირაღტე, mebairaght'e) takes the flag from the nishani, gallops to the designated place where the race will finish, and sticks it into the ground. The medoghe (G. მედოღე)—an old man learnèd in the ways of horse races—ensures that the race is properly organized and carried out. The riders delegate the riding to young boys. The old man gives the signal to start the race. An observer stands next to the flag, and numbers the riders in turn as they reach the finish line. The scarf goes to the first to arrive, and the other riders are awarded (in order) socks, gloves (G. კურო, k'uro), and a tobacco pouch. The next five riders to finish are given a young sheep, which they divide amongst each other. The riders replace the flag by the nishani after the race, and next to it are placed a kodi (3 poods i.e. 48kg) of beer and round votive loaves of bread (khink'ali). [Note: Bleichsteiner is probably confusing khink'ali (pockets of dough containing meat, similar to ravioli) and kotori (round, flat breads filled with cheese)—A.B.] A short stick to which are attached small strips of red or white cloth and white wool is stuck into every loaf, and a piece of rock salt is placed next to them. The women seated around the nishani lament the deceased one last time, and the men sing the dalaoba again. The funerary feast then follows, with toasts drunk to the memory of the deceased. One used to present the horse of the deceased to the maternal uncle, and the clothes to poor relatives. One would sometimes also consult the soothsayer (G. მკიტხავი, mk'it'khavi) in order to find out whom the soul of the deceased wished one should give the horse to.

Target shooting (G. ღაბაღობა, ghabaghoba) marked the end of the festivities held for the "beer of the year" (G. წლის ალუდი, ts'lis aludi). The prizes were what was left from the nishani: wool, woollen socks, salt, a sheep. Prizes like the latter two—which one could not fasten to the target—were symbolized by small loaves of bread. The chief mourner nominated a mek'vle (G. მეკვლე) to set up the shooting field and a referee to award the prizes. One shot with bows and arrows, and the prize went to the man whose arrow hit it. Should several shooters hit a target, they must draw for the prize, but the winner of the draw must buy back the other shooters' share of the prize. A race was held instead of target shooting in some villages. Such races and shooting were only held for men who were at least nine years old when they died.

In Vol. VI, 'L'Asie russe', of RECLUS, Élisée, Nouvelle géographie universelle, Paris: Hachette, 1881, p. 215 onwards


As in the west, so in East Georgia, the ethnical picture is completed by a group of highlanders, who had till recently maintained their independence in their inaccessible upland retreats. On the one hand are the already described Svans, on the other their Khevsur, Pshav, and Tûsh neighbours. The highest eastern valleys about Mount Borbalo have afforded a refuge to fugitives of diverse race and speech, who, amidst these secluded upland snows and pastures, have gradually acquired, if not an independent type, at least a distinct physiognomy. Chechenzes, Lezghians, Georgians, and, according to tradition, even Jews have entered into the composition of these tribes, although the chief ethnical element is no doubt the Georgian from the south, whose presence is also shown by the prevailing Christian practices. Nevertheless the predominant speech on the northern slopes is of Chechenz origin.

Mount Borbalo is no less remarkable as an ethnological than as a water parting. Eastward stretches the Tûsh district, watered by the two head-streams of the Koisu of Andi; on the south the Alazan of Kakhetia, apart from a few Tûshes, is mainly occupied by Georgians; on the south-west the sources of the Yora and Eastern Aragva rise in the Pshav territory; while the Khevsurs, or "People of the Gorges," dwell in the west and north-west, on both slopes of the central range, though it is impossible to assign definite limits to all these peoples. They frequently shift their quarters, following their flocks to fresh pastures assigned to them by custom, or acquired by the fortunes of war.

Population of Upland Borbalo valleys in 1876, according to Seidlitz:—

Pshavs: 8,130
Khevsurs: 6,900
Tûshes: 5,505

TOTAL: 20,100

The Pshavs, who reach farthest down, or about the altitude of 3,300 feet, thus abutting on the Southern Georgians, are the most civilised of these highlanders, and speak a Georgian dialect. They have greatly increased in numbers since the pacification of the land has enabled them to bring their produce to the Tiflis market. The Tûshes, though less numerous and pent up in their rugged valleys everywhere enclosed by snowy mountains, are said to be the most industrious and intelligent of all the hillmen in this part of the Caucasus. Most of the men, being obliged, like the Savoyards, to emigrate for half the year, bring back from the lowland populations larger ideas and more enterprising habits. Many have even acquired a considerable amount of instruction, besides several foreign languages. Their own is an extremely rude dialect, poor in vowels, abounding in consonants, with no less than nine sibilants and eight gutturals, one of which combines so intimately with the preceding or following consonants that special signs had to be invented to represent the combined letters.

The Khevsurs, completely isolated from each other during the winter by the main range, are still in a very rude and almost barbarous state, although in some respects one of the most remarkable people in Asia. Generally of a lighter brown complexion than the Tûshes, they are evidently a very mixed race, varying considerably in stature, features, colour of hair and eyes, and in the shape of the cranium. Most of them have a savage aspect; some are extremely thin, like walking skeletons with miraculously animated Death's heads on their shoulders, and with large hands and feet, out of all proportion with the rest of the body. From the surroundings they have acquired muscles of steel, enabling them, even when heavily burdened, to scale the steepest cliffs, and often returning across the snows and rocks from Vladikavkaz with a hundredweight of salt on their backs.

Some of the still surviving Khevsur and Pshav customs resemble those of many Red Indian and African wild tribes. Thus the wife is coufined in an isolated hut, round which the husband prowls, encouraging her to support the pains of labour with volleys of musketry. After the delivery young girls steal to the place at dawn or dusk with bread, milk, cheese, and other comforts, the mother remaining for a month in her retreat, which is burnt after her departure. The father is congratulated on the birth of a son, and feasts are prepared at his expense, but of which he may not partake. The struggle for existence in this improductive land has introduced many practices calculated to limit the number of children to three; but infanticide does not prevail as it formerly did amongst the Svans. The Khevsurs show great affection for their offspring, though forbidden by custom to caress them in public. The boys are generally named after some wild animal—Bear, Lion, Wolf, Panther, &c., emblems of their future valour—while the girls receive such tender names as Rose, Pearl, Bright One, Daughter of the Sun, Little Sun, Sun of my Heart, &c.

Most of the marriages are arranged by the parents while the children are yet in "long clothes." Nevertheless a formal abduction is still practised, and after the wedding and attendant rejoicings, the young couple avoid being seen together for weeks and months. Yet divorce is frequent, and the example of the Mohammedans has even introduced polygamy in several Khevsur families. The funeral rites are not practised with the same rigour as formerly, when none were allowed to die under a roof, but compelled to close their eyes in face of sun or stars, and mingle their last breath with the winds. In presence of the body the relatives at first feigned to rejoice, but tears and wailings soon followed, accompanied by mournful songs for the departed.

The Khevsurs are very proud of their Christianity, which is certainly of an original type. Their chief divinity is the God of War, and amongst their other gods and angels are the Mother of the Earth, the Angel of the Oak, and the Archangel of Property. They keep the Friday like the Mohammedans, abstain from pork, worship the sacred trees, offer sacrifices to the genii of earth and air. They have priests whose duties are to examine the sick, sprinkle the victim's blood over the people, proclaim the future, prepare the sacred beer, and these dignitaries end by becoming possessed of all the precious stones, old medals, and chased silver vases in the country. The Khevsurs are also, perhaps, the only people in the world who still use armour, coats of mail, arm-pieces, and helmets like those of mediaeval knights, and formerly general amongst all the Caucasian tribes. Down to the close of the last century the Chechenz Ingushes still wore the shield and coats of mail. The traveller is often startled bv the sight of these armed warriors, who look like lineal descendants of the Crusaders, but whom the law of vendetta alone compels to go about thus cased in iron. All who have to execute or fear an act of vengeance appear abroad with all their offensive and defensive arms, including the terrible spiked gauntlet, which has left its mark ou the features of most of the natives.