LIFE AND CULTURE IN THE CAUCASUS

CAUCASUS FAMILY LIFE

Certain similarities can be found among many of the Caucasus’s people. These include fur caps, jacket styles and daggers worn by men; elaborate jewelry and elevated headgear worn by women; segregation and division of labor between men and women; compacted village style, often in beehive model; developed patterns of ritual kinship and hospitality; and the offering of toasts.

The Khinalugh are a people that live in the remote village of Khinalugh in the Kuba District of the Azerbaijan Republic in a mountainous area more than 2,300 meters in elevation. The climate in Khinalugh, in comparison with that in lowland villages: the winters are sunny and snow seldom falls. In some ways the customs and life of the Khinalugh reflects those of other Caucasus people.

Natalia G. Volkova wrote: basic domestic unit of the Khinalugh “was the nuclear family, although extended families were present up into the nineteenth century. It was not rare for four or five brothers, each with his nuclear family, to live under the same roof. Each married son has his own room in addition to the large common room with hearth (tonur ). The home occupied by an extended family was called tsoy and the head of the family tsoychïkhidu. The father, or in his absence the elder son, served as head of the household, and as such oversaw the domestic economy and apportioned the property in case the family split up. Everyone shared in the work. One part of the household (a son and his nuclear family) would drive the livestock out to the summer pastures. Another son and his family would do so the following year. All produce was considered common property. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“Both mother and father participated in the raising of children. At age 5 or 6 children began to share in the work: girls learned domestic tasks, sewing, and knitting; boys learned to work with livestock and to ride horses. Moral instruction and the teaching of local traditions concerning family and social life were equally important.” <>

Caucasus Marriage Process

Natalia G. Volkova wrote: The Khinalugh community was strictly endogamous, with marriage between cousins preferred. In earlier times, betrothals were arranged between very young children, practically in the cradle. Before the Soviet Revolution the marriageable age was 14 to 15 for girls and 20 to 21 for boys. Marriages were ordinarily arranged by the relatives of the couple; abductions and elopements were rare. The girl and boy themselves were not asked for their consent. If older relatives took a liking to a girl, they would place a scarf on her, as a way of announcing their claim to her. The negotiations for marriage were undertaken by the suitor's father's brother and a more distant senior relative, who went to the young woman's home. Her mother's consent was considered decisive. (Should the mother refuse, the suitor might try to abduct the woman from her home—with or without the woman's consent.) [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“Once agreement had been reached between the two families, the betrothal would take place a few days later. The young man's relatives (among whom the paternal uncle had to be present) went to the young woman's home, bearing gifts for her: clothing, two or three pieces of soap, sweets (halvah, raisins, or, more recently, candy). The gifts were carried on five or six wooden trays. They also brought three rams, which became the property of the bride's father. The fiancée received a ring of plain metal from the groom-to-be. On each festival day between the betrothal and the wedding, the young man's relatives would go to the fiancée's home, bringing gifts from him: pilaf, sweets, and clothing. During this period as well, respected senior members of the groom-to-be's family visited their counterparts in the young woman's household to negotiate the bride-price. This was paid in livestock (sheep), rice, and, far more rarely, money. In the 1930s a typical bride-price included twenty rams and a sack of sugar.

“Some Khinalugh suitors would work in the Baku oilfields for several years to earn the necessary sum to pay the bride-price. The young man could not visit the woman's family prior to the wedding and took measures to avoid encounters with her and her parents. The young woman, once engaged, had to cover the lower part of her face with a kerchief. During this time she was busy preparing her dowry, largely consisting of woolen goods made by her own hands: five or six carpets, up to fifteen khurjins (carrying sacks for fruit and other objects), fifty to sixty pairs of knit stockings, one large sack and several smaller ones, a soft suitcase (mafrash ), and men's gaiters (white and black). The dowry also included up to 60 meters of homespun woolen cloth, prepared by weavers at the family's expense, and numerous other items, including silk thread, goat's-wool cord, copper utensils, colored curtains, cushions, and bed linens. From purchased silk the bride-to-be sewed small pouches and purses to be given as gifts to her husband's relatives.” <>

After the wedding, “for a period of time after her arrival in her husband's home, the bride practiced various avoidance customs: for as long as two to three years she did not speak to her father-in-law (that period has now been reduced to a year); likewise she did not speak to her husband's brother or paternal uncle (for two to three months at present). She refrained from speaking to her mother-in-law for three to four days. Khinalugh women did not wear the Islamic veil, although married women of all ages covered the lower part of their faces with a kerchief (yashmag ).” <>

Caucasus Wedding

On a Khinalugh wedding, Natalia G. Volkova wrote: “The wedding took place over two or three days. At this time the groom stayed at the home of his maternal uncle. Starting at noon of the first day, guests were entertained there. They brought gifts of cloth, shirts, and tobacco pouches; there was dancing and music. The bride meanwhile went to the home of her maternal uncle. There, in the evening, the groom's father officially presented the bride-price. The bride, riding a horse led by her uncle or brother, was then escorted from her uncle's home to that of the groom. She was accompanied by her and her husband's brothers and her friends. Traditionally the bride was covered by a large red woolen cloth, and her face was veiled by several small red kerchiefs. She was greeted at the threshold of the groom's home by his mother, who gave her honey or sugar to eat and wished her a happy life. The groom's father or brother thereupon slaughtered a ram, across which the bride stepped, after which she had to tread upon a copper tray placed on the threshold. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“The bride was led to a special room where she remained standing for two or more hours. The groom's father brought presents to her, after which she might sit down on a cushion. She was accompanied by her close friends (only women were allowed in this room). Meanwhile the male guests were served pilaf in another room. During this time the groom remained in the home of his maternal uncle, and only at midnight was he escorted home by his friends to be with his bride. The next morning he left again. Throughout the wedding there was much dancing, wrestling matches accompanied by the music of the zuma (a clarinetlike instrument), and horse racing. The winner of the horse race received a tray of sweets and a ram. <>

“On the third day the bride went to her husband's parents, the mother-in-law lifted the veil from her face, and the young woman was put to work in the household. Relatives and neighbors were entertained throughout the day. After a month the bride went with a jug to fetch water, this being her first opportunity to leave the house after her marriage. Upon her return she was given a tray of sweets, and sugar was sprinkled over her. Two or three months later her parents invited her and her husband to pay a visit. <>

Caucasus Villages and Homes

A typical village in the Caucasus region is comprised of some dilapidated houses. A corrugated aluminum kiosks sells cigarettes and basic food supplies. Water is collected with buckets from streams and hand pumps. Many people get around with horses and carts. Those with motor vehicles are run with gasoline sold by men along the roads. Khinalugh, like many mountain settlements, is densely packed, with narrow sinuous streets and a terraced layout, in which the roof of one house serves as a courtyard for the house above. In the mountain areas the homes are often built on slopes in terraces. In the old days many had stone towers built for defensive purposes. These are mostly gone now.

Many Caucasus people live in stone buildings with vine-shrouded courtyards. The house itself its centered around a central hearth with a cooking pot suspended from a chain. A decorated polse is situated in the main room. A large porch has traditionally been the focal point of many family activities. Some houses are divided into men’s sections and women’s sections. Some have specific rooms set aside for guests.

Natalia G. Volkova wrote: “The Khinalugh house (ts'wa ) is built from unfinished stones and clay mortar, and is plastered in the interior. The house has two stories; cattle are kept on the lower floor (tsuga ) and the living quarters are on the upper floor (otag ). The otag includes a separate room for entertaining the husband's guests. The number of rooms in a traditional house varied according to the size and structure of the family. An extended family unit might have one large room of 40 square meters or more, or perhaps separate sleeping quarters for each of the married sons and his nuclear family. In either case, there was always a common room with hearth. The roof was flat and covered with a thick layer of packed earth; it was supported by wooden beams propped by one or more pillars (kheche ). [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“The beams and pillars were decorated with carvings. In earlier times the floor was covered with clay; more recently this has been supplanted by wood floors, although in most respects the house has preserved its traditional form. Smallish holes in the walls once served as windows; some light was also admitted through the smoke hole (murog ) in the roof. Since the late nineteenth century well-to-do Khinalughs have built galleries (eyvan ) onto the upper floor, reached by an outside stone staircase. The inside walls contained niches for blankets, cushions, and clothing. Grain and flour were kept in large wooden coffers. <>

“The inhabitants slept on wide benches. The Khinalughs have traditionally sat on cushions on the floor, which was covered with thick felt and napless woolen carpets. In recent decades "European" furniture has been introduced: tables, chairs, beds, and so on. Nonetheless, the Khinalughs still prefer to sit on the floor and keep their modern furnishings in the guest room for show. The traditional Khinalugh home is heated by hearths of three types: the tunor (for baking unleavened bread); the bukhar (a fireplace set against the wall); and, in the courtyard, an open stone hearth (ojakh ) at which meals are prepared. The tunor and bukhar are inside the house. In winter, for additional heat, a wooden stool is placed over a hot brazier (kürsü ). The stool is then covered with carpets, under which the family members lay their legs to get warm. Since the 1950s metal stoves have been used in Khinalugh.”

Caucasus Food

Staples from the Caucasus include foods made of grains, dairy products and meats. Among the traditional dishes are khinkal (spiced meat stuffed in a dough pouch); other dough casings of various kinds, filled with meat, cheese, wild greens, eggs, nuts, squash, fowl, grains, dried apricots, onions, barberry; kyurze (A kind ravioli stuffed with meat, pumpkin, nettles or something else); dolma (stuffed grape or cabbage leaves); various kinds of soup made with beans, rice, groats and noodles); pilaf; shashlik (a kind of scrambled eggs); porridge made with wheat, corn or maize and cooked with water or milk. Flat loaves of unleavened or yeasted bread called tarumi or tondir are baked in clay ovens or on a griddle or a hearth. The dough is pressed against the wall of the oven. Foods introduced by the Russians includes borscht, salads and cutlets.

Bread is baked is baked in earthen ovens called tanyu. Honey is greatly valued and many groups raise bees. Rice and bean pilaf is commonly eaten by some mountains groups. The beans are of a local variety and need to be boiled for a long time and periodically poured off to get rid of the bitter taste,

Natalia G. Volkova wrote: The basis of the Khinalugh cuisine is bread—generally made from barley flour, less often from wheat purchased in the lowlands—cheese, curds, milk (usually fermented), eggs, beans, and rice (also purchased in the lowlands). Mutton is served on feast days or when entertaining guests. Thursday evenings (the eve of the day of worship) a rice and bean pilaf is prepared. The beans (a local variety) are boiled for a long time and the water is repeatedly poured off to subdue their bitter taste. Barley flour is ground with hand mills and used to make porridge. Since the 1940s the Khinalughs have planted potatoes, which they serve with meat. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“Khinalughs continue to prepare their traditional dishes, and the quantity of food available has increased. Pilaf is now made from regular beans, and bread and porridge from wheat flour. Bread is still baked as it was before: thin flat cakes (ükha pïshä ) are baked in the fireplace on thin metal sheets, and thick flat cakes (bzo pïshä ) are baked in the tunor. In recent decades many Azerbaijani dishes have been adopted—dolma; pilaf with meat, raisins, and persimmons; meat dumplings; and soup with yogurt, rice, and herbs. Shish kebab is served more frequently than before. As in the past, fragrant wild herbs are gathered, dried, and used throughout the year to flavor dishes, including such newly introduced foods as borscht and potatoes.” <>

Armenian and Georgian Dishes

Armenian Dishes include piti (traditional Armenian stew prepared in individual clay pots and made with lamb, chickpeas and plums), roast chicken; fried onions; vegetable fritters; yogurt with minced cucumber; grilled peppers, leek and parsley stalks; pickled eggplant; mutton cutlets; assorted cheeses; bread; shish kebab; dolma (minced lamb wrapped in grape leaves); pilaf with meat, raisin and persimmons; pilaf with rice, beans and walnuts; meat dumplings; soup with yogurt, rice and herbs, flour soups made with buttermilk; pantries with various fillings; and porridges made with beans, rice, oats and other grains.

Among the most common Georgian dishes are mtsvadi with tqemali (shish kebab with sour plum sauce), satsivi with bazhe (chicken with spicy walnut sauce), khachapuri (cheese-filled flat bread), chikhirtma (a soup made with chicken bouillon, egg yolks, wine vinegar and herbs), lobio (bean flavored with spices), pkhali (a salad of minced vegetables), bazhe (roasted chicken with walnut sauce), mchadi (fat corn bread), and lamb-stuffed dumplings. Tabaka is a Georgian chicken dish in which the bird is flattened under a weight.

Fixtures of Georgian supras (feasts) are things like baby eggplants stuffed with hazelnut paste; lamb and tarragon stew; pork with plum sauce; chicken with garlic; lamb and stewed tomatoes; meat dumplings; goat cheese; cheese pies; bread; tomatoes; cucumbers; beetroot salad; red beans with spices, green onions, garlic, spicy sauces; spinach made with garlic, ground walnuts and pomegranate seeds; and lots and lots wine. Churchkhela is gummy sweet that looks like a purple sausage and is made from dipping walnuts in boiled grape skins.

Caucasus Drinks

Many groups in the Caucasus region, such as the Chechens, have traditionally been enthusiastic alcohol drinkers even though they are Muslims. Kefir, a yoghurt-like drink that originated in the Caucasus mountains, is made from cow, goat or sheep milk fermented with whitish or yellowish Kefir grains, which when left in the milk overnight turn it into a fizzing, frothing beer-like brew. Kefir is sometimes prescribed by doctors as a treatment for tuberculosis and other diseases.

Among the Khinalughs, Natalia G. Volkova wrote: “The traditional beverages are sherbet (honey in water) and tea steeped from wild alpine herbs. Since the 1930s black tea, which has become very popular among the Khinalughs, has been available through trade. Like the Azerbaijanis, the Khinalughs drink tea before dining. Wine is only drunk by those who have lived in cities. Nowadays wine might be enjoyed by men attending a wedding, but they will not drink it if elderly men are present. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

Caucasus Clothes

Traditional Caucasus men’s clothes include a tunic-like shirt, straight pants, a short coat, the cherkeska (Caucasus jacket), a sheepskin cloak, a felt overcoat, a sheepskin hat, a felt cap, bashlik (fabric headgear worn over the sheepskin hat), knitted socks, leather footwear, leather boots and a dagger.

Traditional Caucasus women’s clothes include a tunic or a blouse, pants (with straight legs or baggy-style), the arkhaluk (a robelike dress that opens in the front), an overcoat or cloak, the chukhta (a scarf with a front), a richly embroidered head covering, kerchief and wide variety of footwear, some of them highly decorated. Women have traditionally worn a wide range of jewelry and ornamentation that includes forehead and temple pieces, earrings, necklaces and belt ornaments.

The traditional hats worn by men many groups have strong associations with honor, manhood, and prestige. To yank the hat of a man’s head has traditionally been regarded an egregious insult. To yank a headdress of the head of a women was the equivalent of calling her a whore. By the same token if a women threw here headdress or a kerchief between two fighting men the men were required to stop immediately.

Natalia G. Volkova wrote: “Traditional Khinalugh apparel resembled that of the Azerbaijanis, consisting of an undershirt, trousers, and outer clothing. For men this would included a chokha (frock), an arkhalug (shirt), outer cloth trousers, a sheepskin coat, the Caucasian woolen hat (papakha ), and rawhide boots (charïkh ) worn with woolen gaiters and knit stockings (jorab ). A Khinalugh woman would wear a wide dress with gathers; an apron tied high on the waist, almost at the armpits; wide long trousers; shoes similar to the men's charïkh; and jorab stockings. The woman's headdress was made of several small kerchiefs, tied on in a particular way. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“There were five layers of clothing: the small white lechek, then a red ketwa, over which three kalagays (silk, then wool) were worn. In winter women wore a sheepskin coat (kholu ) with the fur on the inside, and wealthier individuals sometimes added a velvet overcoat. The kholu reached to the knees and had short sleeves. Older women had a somewhat different wardrobe: a short arkhalug and long narrow trousers, all of red color. The clothing was primarily made from homespun fabrics, although materials such as calico, silk, satin, and velvet could be purchased. At the present time urban wear is preferred. Elderly women continue to wear the traditional costume, and Caucasian headgear (papakha and kerchiefs) and stockings are still in use.” <>

Caucasus Culture

The Narts is a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus that form the basic mythology of the tribes in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, Karachay-Balkar and Chechen-Ingush folklore. Many Caucasus cultures preserver the Nart .in the form of songs and prose performed by bards and storytellers. Professional mourners and lamenters are a feature of funerals. Folk dancing is a popular among many of the groups. Caucasus folk music is known for its passionate drumming and clarinet playing,

Industrial arts include the ornamentation of carpets and the carving of designs in wood. The Caucasus and Central Asian regions of the former Soviet Union are famous for carpets. Famous varities include Bukhara, Tekke, Yomud, Kazak, Sevan, Saroyk and Salor. Prized 19th-century Caucasian rugs are known for their rich pile and unusual medallion designs.

Because of the absence of professional medical care, there was a high rate of mortality among the Khinalughs in pre-Revolutionary times, especially for women in childbirth. Herbal medicine was practiced, and births were assisted by midwives. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

Many people operated without maps and locate places by heading to the general area where they think something is and began by inquiring at the bus station and among drivers until they find what they are looking for.

Folk Sports in the Caucasus

Folk sports have long been popular in the Caucasus for a long time. There are descriptions of fencing, ball games, horse riding contests and special gymnastic exercises in 11th century chronicles. Wooden saber fighting and one handed boxing contests remained popular until the 19th century.

At festivals there are often tightrope walkers. Sporting event are often accompanied by music In the old days the winner was given a live ram. Weightlifting, throwing, wrestling and horseback riding contests are popular. In one form of wrestling two combatants line up facing each on horses and try to pull each other off. Chokit-tkhoma is traditional form of Caucasus pole vaulting. The aim to go as far forward as possible. It was developed a way to cross fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers. Tutush, traditional north Caucasus wrestling, features two wrestlers with sashes knotted around their waists.

The throwing events are showcases for big, strong men. In one of these competitions men select flattish stones weighing between 8 kilograms and 10 kilograms and try to throw them as far as possible using a discus-style throw. A typical winner throws the stone about 17 meters. There is also a 32-kilogram stone throwing competition. The winners usually throw it around seven meters. In yet another competition a round 19-kilogram stone is hurled like a shotput.

In the weightlifting competition lifters press a 32-kilogram dumbbell that looks like a rock with a handles as many times as possible with one hand. Heavyweights can lift it 70 or more times. The lighter categories can only do 30 or 40 times. The lifters then jerk the weight with one hand (some can do almost 100 of these) and press two weight with two hands (it is unusual for anyone to do more than 25 of these).

Caucasian Ovtcharka Dog

The Caucasian Ovtcharka is a rare dog breed from the Caucasus region. Said to be over 2,000 years old, it is closely related to the Tibetan Mastiff, with there being some debate as to whether the Caucasian Ovtcharka descended from the Tibetan Mastiff or they both descended from a common ancestor. “Ovtcharka” means “sheepdog” or “shepherd” in Russian. The first mention of dogs resembling Caucasian Ovtcharka was in manuscript made before the A.D. 2nd century by the ancient Armenish people. In Azerbaijan there are pictures carved in stone of powerful working dogs and old folk stories about sheepdogs that save their ownerss from trouble.

The Caucasian Ovtcharka have traditionally protected shepherds and their flocks from wolves and other threatening animals. Most shepherds kept five or six dogs to protect them and males were preferred over females, with owners typically possessing about two males for every one female. Only ths strongest survived. Shepherds rarely provided food for the dogs who hunted rabbits and other small animals. Females went into heat only once a year and raised their pups in dens that dug themselves. All males puppies were kept and but only one or two females were allowed to survive. In many case the living conditions were so tough that only 20 percent of most litters survived.

The Caucasian Ovtcharka were largely confined to the Caucasus region until World War I. In the Soviet-area they were put to work at the gulags in Siberia as guards because they were hardy, fearsome and withstood the bitter Siberian cold. The were used in guarding the perimeter of the gulags and chasing after prisoners who tried to escape. Not surprisingly some Soviets have a great fear of these dogs,

Characteristics of the Caucasian Ovtcharka

A Caucasian Ovtcharka is expected to be “hard” but “not spiteful to people and domestic animals.” The dogs often die young and are in great demand. Sometimes shepherds gave puppies to their friends but selling them was traditionally almost unheard of. Caucasian Ovtcharka are also kept as guard dogs and bond closely with families while aggressively protecting the home against intruders. In the Caucasus, Caucasian Ovtcharka are sometimes used as combatants in dog fights in which money is wagered.

There are some regional variations in the Caucasian Ovtcharka, Those from Georgia tend to be particularly powerful and have “bear-type” heads while those from Dagestan are rangier and lighter. Those from the mountainous regions of Azerbaijan have deep chests and long muzzles while those from the Azerbaijan plains are smaller and have squarer bodies.

These days Caucasian Ovtcharka are still used to guard sheep and other domestic animals but not so much attention is attached to careful breeding and they are commonly bred with other breeds, By one estimate less than 20 percent are pure breeds. In Moscow they have been cross bred with St, Bernards and Newfoundlands to produce “Moscow Watchdogs,” which are used to guard warehouses and other facilities.

Caucasus Government and Legal System

On the village government in Khinalaugh, Natalia G. Volkova wrote: “Until the beginning of the nineteenth century Khinalugh and the nearby Kryz and Azerbaijani villages formed a local community that was part of the Shemakha, and later the Kuba khanates; with the incorporation of Azerbaijan into the Russian Empire in the 1820s, Khinalug became part of the Kuba District of Baku Province. The chief institution of local government was the council of household chiefs (earlier it consisted of all adult males in Khinalugh). The council selected an elder (ketkhuda ), two assistants, and a judge. The village government and the clergy oversaw the administration of various civil, criminal, and matrimonial proceedings, according to traditional (adat ) and Islamic (Sharia) law. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“The population of Khinalugh consists entirely of free peasants. At the time of the Shemakha Khanate they did not pay any sort of tax or provide services. The only obligation of the residents of Khinalugh was military service in the khan's army. Subsequently, up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, Khinalugh was obligated to pay a tax in kind for each household (barley, melted butter, sheep, cheese). As part of the Russian Empire, Khinalugh paid a monetary tax and performed other services (e.g., the maintenance of the Kuba post road).” <>

Mutual assistance was common within the community, for example, in the construction of a house. There was also the custom of sworn brotherhood (ergardash ). Since the break up of the Soviet Union grassroots democratic movements have attempted to take root among the remains of the old Soviet party system grafted onto clan hierarchies.

The justice system among Caucasus groups is generally is a combination of adat (traditional tribal laws), Soviet and Russian laws, and Islamic law if the group is Muslim. Among some groups a murderer was required to dress in a white shroud and kiss the hands of family of the murder victim and kneel upon the grave of the victim. His family was required to pay a blood price set by a local mullah or village elder: something like 30 or 40 rams and ten beehives.

Caucasus Livestock and Economy

Most people have traditionally been either engaged in agriculture or livestock raising, with people in the lowlands mostly doing the former and those in the highlands doing the later, often involving some form of annual migration to winter and summer pastures. Industry has traditionally been in the form of local cottage industries. mountainous regions, people raise sheep and cattle because the weather is too cold and harsh for agriculture. The animals are taken to highland pastures in the summer and kept near the houses, with hay, or taken to lowland pastures in winter. People have traditionally made things for themselves. There was not a big market for consumer items.

Natalia G. Volkova wrote: The traditional Khinalugh economy was based on animal husbandry: primarily sheep, but also cows, oxen, horses, and mules. The summer alpine pastures were located around Khinalugh, and the winter pastures—along with winter livestock shelters and dug-out dwellings for the shepherds—were at Müshkür in the lowlands of the Kuba District. The livestock remained in the mountains near Khinalugh from June to September, at which point they were driven to the lowlands. Several owners, usually relatives, would combine their sheep herds under the supervision of a person chosen from among the most respected villagers. He was responsible for the pasturing and maintenance of the livestock and their exploitation for products. Well-to-do owners hired workers to herd their stock; poorer peasants did the herding themselves. The animals provided an important part of the diet (cheese, butter, milk, meat), as well as wool for homespun cloth and multicolored stockings, some of which were traded. Uncolored wool was made into felt (keche ) to cover the dirt floors in homes. In Müshkür felt was traded to lowlanders in exchange for wheat. The Khinalughs also sold wool carpets woven by the womenfolk. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“Most of the production of traditional Khinalugh cottage industry was intended for local consumption, with a portion for sale to lowlanders. Woolen cloth (shal ), used for clothing and gaiters, was woven on horizontal looms. Only men worked at the looms. Up to the 1930s the majority of weavers were still men; at present this practice has died out. Previously the women knitted woolen stockings, wove carpets on vertical looms, and fulled felt. They made cord from goat's wool, which was used to bind hay for winter. All traditional forms of female industry are practiced to the present day. <>

“Despite the geographic isolation of their village and the earlier lack of roads passable by wheeled vehicles, the Khinalughs have maintained continuous economic contact with other regions of Azerbaijan and southern Daghestan. They brought a variety of products down to the lowlands on pack horses: cheese, melted butter, wool, and woolen products; they also drove sheep to market. In Kuba, Shemakha, Baku, Akhtï, Ispik (near Kuba), and Lagich, they obtained materials such as copper and ceramic vessels, cloth, wheat, fruit, grapes, and potatoes. Only a few Khinalughs have gone to work in the petroleum plants for five to six years to earn money for the bride-price (kalïm ), after which they returned home. Until the 1930s there were migrant laborers from the Kutkashen and Kuba regions who came to Khinalugh to help with the harvest. Tinsmiths from Daghestan selling copper utensils came frequently up through the 1940s; since then copper vessels have all but disappeared and today they visit at most once a year. <>

“As elsewhere there was a division of labor according to age and gender. Men were entrusted with animal husbandry, agriculture, construction, and weaving; women were responsible for housework, the care of children and the aged, carpet making, and the production of felt and stockings.” <>

Caucasus Agriculture

The Caucasus nations and Moldova supply Russia and other former Soviet republics with wine and produce, which tend be grown in lowland areas. The mountain valleys are dotted with vineyards and cherry and apricot orchards.

In high mountain valleys about all that can be grown are barely, rye, wheat and a local variety of beans,. The fields are built on terraces and have traditionally been plowed with an oxen-yoked wooden mountain plow that break the soil but doesn’t overturn it, which helps preserve the topsoil and prevent erosions. The grain is reaped in mid-August and bundled into sheaves. And transported on horseback or sledge and threshed on a special threshing board with pieces of imbedded flint.

Only potatoes, barely, rye and oats can be grown in the highest villages. In the mountain areas what little agriculture there is tends to be very labor intensive. Terraced fields are used to cultivate mountainous slopes. Crops are vulnerable to frequent hailstorms and frost.

On the situaion in the high mountains village Khinalaugh, Natalia G. Volkova wrote: “Agriculture played only a secondary role. The severe climate (a warm season of only three months) and lack of arable land were not conducive to the development of agriculture in Khinalugh. Barley and a local variety of bean were cultivated. Because of the insufficiency of the yield, wheat was obtained by trade in the lowland villages or by people going there to work at harvest time. On the less steep areas of the slopes around Khinalugh, terraced fields were plowed in which the villagers planted a mixture of winter rye (silk ) and wheat. This yielded a dark-colored flour of inferior quality. Spring barley (maqa ) was also planted, and a smaller amount of lentils. [Source: Natalia G. Volkova Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia, China, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond ( 1996, C.K. Hall & Company, Boston) <>]

“The fields were worked with wooden mountain plows (ïngaz ) pulled by yoked oxen; these plows broke the surface without overturning the soil. The crops were harvested in mid-August: the grain was reaped with sickles and bundled into sheaves. The grain and hay were transported by mountain sledges or packed onto horses; the absence of roads precluded the use of oxcarts. As elsewhere in the Caucasus, grain is threshed on a special threshing board, on the surface of which chips of flint are embedded.

In some places a feudal system existed. Otherwise fields and gardens were owned by a family or clan and pastures were owned by a village. Agricultural fields and pastures were often controlled through a village commune that decided who would get what pasture and when, organized the harvest and maintenance of the terraces and decided who would get irrigation water.

Volkova wrote: “The feudal system of land ownership never existed in Khinalugh. Pastures were the common property of the village community (jamaat ), whereas arable fields and hay meadows belonged to individual homesteads. The summer pastures were apportioned according to the neighborhoods (see "Kinship Groups") in Khinalugh; winter pastures belonged to the community and were apportioned by its administration. Other lands were leased in common by a group of homesteads. After collectivization in the 1930s all land became the property of the collective farms. Up to the 1960s terrace agriculture without irrigation was the predominant form in Khinalugh. Garden farming of cabbage and potatoes (which had earlier been brought from Kuba) began in the 1930s. With the establishment of a Soviet sheep-raising farm (sovkhoz) in the 1960s, all private landholdings, which had been converted into pastures or gardens, were eliminated. The necessary supply of flour is now delivered to the village, and potatoes are also sold.” <>

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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