Thursday, December 6, 2007

"Ravine-Dwellers" - the Khevsur People of Georgia

Ok, so the Khevsur people of Georgia aren't really Russians, but they USED to be Russians, so I figure it counts for the purposes of this blog. Besides, Khevsur culture has been sited as one of the most unique (aka weirdest) cultures in Eurasia, let alone the former Soviet Union. Most likely the preservation of their ancient traditions is due to their isolation, way up in the Caucasus mountains. The word Khevsur comes from the Georgian word qev, which means gorge or ravine, so the Khevsurs are basically "ravine-dwellers." It has long been held, though never proven, that these Georgian highlanders are the descendants of the last crusaders since their customs and social practices are so similar. Here's the rundown on some of the more interesting Khevsur practices:
  • Officially they consider themselves Christian, but their religion is really a mix of Christian, Muslim, spiritualist, and pagan beliefs.

  • Khevsur belief gives certain animals special significance. The cat is considered an unclean animal. If someone is convicted of thievery, a dead cat is hung outside his door as a sign of shame.

  • The cult of the dead is especially important in Khevsur culture. A person on the verge of death is brought outdoors, in an effort to prevent the house from being rendered unclean. Hardly a health tonic, I should think... In fact, those who come in contact with the dead body in order to prepare it for burial must remain secluded afterwards, and undergo a series of purification rituals.

  • A Khevsur horse always must be present for a burial. Afterwards, a horse race is conducted in honor of the deceased.

  • The soul is regarded as pure, and in order to reach the land of the dead it has to cross a bridge made of a single hair. Virtuous souls get to stay in a many-storied white building. Baddies reside in hell, which is thought to be a four-cornered dark room. They must know about the Stetson dorms.

  • A premarital relation exist among young people called the sts'orproba, but don't get the wrong idea - any woman found to be pregnant out of wedlock becomes the object of such scorn that she often resorts to suicide.

  • When it comes time for a pregnant woman to give birth, she must remove herself from the village and camp out by herself in an isolated childbirth hut. It used to be the case that after giving birth she would be confined to the hut for a month or more, only coming out after thorough purification rites. Afterwards the hut would be burned down. Very concerned with cleanliness, these people.

  • Women wear a headpiece called the mandili, which has a special significance. If she throws her headpiece between two quarreling men, they must immediately stop fighting. If a man takes the mandili from a woman's head, he is accusing her of indecency.

  • At the age of 8 to 10, Khevsur children are already entrusted with adult tasks. In the past, young boys were instructed primarily in fencing, weaponry, and rhetoric.
Wow, I didn't really mean for that to get so long.....ah, well, what's a poor, curious soul to do?

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