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Papakhi, those circular hats

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, July 9
One of the most familiar elements of Georgian traditional costume, which is still worn today in the mountainous regions of Georgia and is very much liked by foreign visitors, is the papakhi (a type of hat).

Georgian papakhi are made of wool and are circular. They are mostly worn in mountainous regions such as Pshavi, Khevi, Mtiuleti and Tusheti. Papakhi are also worn by the Chechens and other Caucasian tribes and were introduced to the Russian Army following its campaigns in the Caucasus Mountains, becoming an official part of the Cossack uniform in 1855, and the rest of the cavalry's later.

Shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 papakhas were removed from the new Red Army uniform because of their association with the old Tsarist regime and the fact that many Cossack regiments of the Tsarist Army had fought against the Bolsheviks. During the Russian Civil War many Bolshevik cavalrymen and officers wore papakhas however because many of them were Cossacks and the hat had become a customary part of a cavalryman's costume. Papakhas became part of the uniform again in 1935 but in 1941 were reserved exclusively for Generals and Marshals, thus becoming a symbol of status and high rank.

In 1994 they were once again removed from military use, allegedly upon the request of the wearers, who found the hat inefficient since it is relatively short and does not protect the ears well - this might have been acceptable in the mild climate of the Caucasus, but not in lower temperatures - and is not very wind-proof. Removing the papakhas was also seen in some quarters as an attempt by the Yeltsin regime to abandon earlier Soviet traditions and symbolically demonstrate the country's commitment to a new political course.

The traditional Georgian papakhi remains as one of the most characteristic parts of the Georgian national dress. There are white and black versions and people in the Georgian highlands still use them. They are also widely used in traditional Georgian folk dances, particularly mountain region dances. There is hardly a tourist or visitor to Georgia, who has not likes and bought one. Despite its unusual design and traditional roots, the papakhi has some positive medical properties, as it is made of wool, which is famous for its healthful features.