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Strange Svan Traditions

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, September 3
In general, traditional elements and cultural inheritance are more protected in mountainous regions than in the lowlands. Svaneti is one of the most unique parts of Georgia, for many reasons, however traditions and customs, which are still protected in this region, make Svaneti especially attractive for visitors. Some say Svaneti is at the crossroads of pagan and Christian inheritance and ideology.

It is often said that Svanetian traditions are extremely strict, including the tradition of revenge (vendetta), exile from the community and some others. However such assessments are usually made by those who do not have enough information on how such vital decisions are discussed and decoded in the region.

There was, and still is, a family culture in Svaneti. The demise of the family was very unacceptable for the Svan. If a man made such a decision without any serious reason he was no longer respected. There were three things which were considered as the greatest sin in the eyes of Svanetians: betraying one's country, insulting icons and holy places and hijacking the wife of another man. In general, the respect of women has always been one of the main characteristics of the Svanetians.

The tradition of swearing an oath using an icon still functions in Svaneti and is considered a very holy procedure. The Svan used this procedure only when a case was very complicated - no one has dared to tell a lie using an icon.

The tradition of revenge was not as hasty as many believe. If killed person had committed a crime or some unacceptable act, his family had no right to revenge and in this case had to pardon the killer. The respected elders in the region gathered and discussed what to do and whether the wronged party had the right of revenge. A killer was pardoned if a crime was committed accidentally rather than deliberately.

One well known tradition of the Svan was the art of gold panning. It is often said by old Greek historians that the rivers of Kolkheti (ancient Georgian state) brought down gold flecks and the Kolketi residents knew how to gather them. It was also mentioned that they did so using sheepskins stretched on wood, which they put into the river. This tradition is still protected in the region.

Svaneti is well known for its engravings and frescoes. In Mestia (the administrative centre of Svaneti) History and Ethnographic Museum, thousands of unique examples of old art and culture are protected.

Finally, in addition to Georgian, Svaneti has its own unique language part of the Kartvelian (Georgian) group of languages, as well as different traditional songs and dances. Svan songs are polyphonic; the dance Svanuri is also different from other Georgian dances and is performed on the toes; peculiarly the hands are inactive during the dance.