From Georges Charachidzé's article "Systèmes vindicatoires caucasiens", in La Revue du MAUSS ["Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales"] No.7 (nouvelle série, premier trimestre 1990), Paris: La Découverte, pp. 99-126 (the following extract pp. 111-119; Charachidzé's article was originally published in Vol. II of R. Verdier's (ed.) La Vengeance, 4 volumes, Paris: Cujas, 1981).
If a clan, one of whose members has killed someone, wishes to reconcile itself with the victim's clan, it must make a series of ritual offerings and carry out a certain number of customary rites. These are, in order:
I. OFFERINGS MADE BEFORE ANY ATTEMPT AT RECONCILIATION
1. The "Opening of the Grave" [Offering]—The day of the murder, as night falls, the murderer's clan offers a victim (a young bull or cow) to the clan of the deceased, who will sacrifice it before their clan's altar. This offering is made "in secret", or with extreme discretion at the very least.
2. The "Burial"—An identical offering, made under the same conditions and with the same precaution, on the day of the burial.
3. The "For the Brothers" (= the victim's patrilineal parents)—The murderer's paternal cousins (representing the entire patrilineal clan) present the victim's paternal cousins with a sacrificial victim and 20 kgs. of "coppers" (objects made of copper).
4. The "For the Mother" (= the victim's matrilineal parents)—An identical offering to the previous one is presented to the maternal uncles of the deceased by the murderer's sworn-brothers.
5. The "Opening of the Water-mill"—From the moment the murder is committed, and until the main funerary rites are completed, the murderer and his family are forbidden to mill flour, and therefore to bake bread. The purpose of the "water-mill" offering is to end this prohibition: the murderer's clan, acting through intermediaries, offers a sacrificial victim to the victim's clan.
6. The "Opening of Work"—The same procedure enables the murderer's clan to resume agricultural work, an activity they had been forbidden to undertake from the day the murder was committed.
II. THE FIRST STEPS TOWARDS RECONCILIATION
Neither meeting nor even mediation is possible until a full year has passed since the murder. When a year has passed, the mediators very cautiously and deferentially begin the process of reconciliation.
1. The "Confrontation of the Cousins"—The murderer's (paternal) cousins go to the shrine of the victim's clan, where they sacrifice a young bull and present an offering of beer. They then withdraw from the shrine's sacred enclosure and wait, on one knee. The victim's cousins and the shrine's priest then enter the enclosure, and the priest proceeds to distribute and exchange the beer: each clan uses silver cups to drink the beer which the other has provided and consecrated. [Le prêtre... procède à la distribution et à l'échange de la bière: chaque clan boit... la bière que l'autre a fournie et consacrée.]
2. The "Climbing of the Shrine" [Escalade du sanctuaire]—One evening, the murderer and some of his supporters [le meurtrier et les siens] go in secret to the shrine of the deceased, where they tie a young, three-year-old bull before withdrawing in silence. This victim is destined for the priest and the mediators.
This ritual act marks the beginning of the process of reconciliation per se.
3. The "Withdrawal of the Gun"—Following the previous rite, the victim's parents swear they will no longer shoot at the murderer or his supporters.
III. THE FINAL RECONCILIATION
The rites which finally bring an end to the vendetta cannot be accomplished until three full years have passed since the murder.
1. The "Meeting of the Murderer"—The meeting takes place at the main sanctuary [grand sanctuaire] of the offended clan; proceedings are similar to those of the "Confrontation of the Cousins" (see above), but take place in a more relaxed atmosphere. The murderer's clan sacrify a young bull, and the consecrated beer is exchanged between the two parties.
Henceforth, if a member of either clan shows any sign of hostility, verbal or physical, towards a member of the other, even if only in terms of his attitude or behaviour, he is fined five cows.
2. "Homage"—The purpose of this rite is to create a positive link between the former enemies, who will now have to show each other mutual "veneration".
3. The [Offering] "For the Shroud and the Cadaver"—A small, newspaper-sized area [un espace équivalent à un journal] of the territory belonging to the murderer's clan is marked out and preserved "as is" (it is consecrated, and may not be used). Its purpose is to remind future generations of the murder and subsequent reconciliation, and to serve as a permanent and untouchable sign reminding all the descendants of both clans that they owe each other friendship and respect.
Shopping list for the clan of a murderer:
9 young bulls (or 8 + 1 young cow)
40 kgs. of copper objects
Lots and lots of beer
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