Code of behaviour
Tushetian philosophy, religious traditions and mythology imply a number of practical rules and code of behaviour towards each other and towards guests and foreigners. Every visitor to the region should be well acquainted with these rules and respect them. In practical life, it mainly involves the division into male and female principles. It is not appropriate to get offended about some of the restrictions for women and it is useless to give the locals lessons on gender equality. Men and women are equal to each other as understood in Tusheti dualism; however, their life roles are perceived as two distinct principles. The following lines thus give a brief survey of the most significant traditions, restrictions, and directions that also apply to tourists. If visitors adhere to these and behave appropriately when reminded of the breach (although unintentional), they will be treated as respected guests. Nevertheless, should anybody violate the local principles and traditions, still being under the protection of the village they cannot expect any warm approach
In a number of places in Tusheti we may come across
sacred places, often small shrines (khati),
but also churches or their remnants. With regard to the above-mentioned
division into a female and male principle in Tusheti mythology, these shrines
are also determined only for men or women. Around villages we can primarily
find shrines for men. Hence, women shall not approach these in order not to defile
the place and not to disrupt the harmony between the two dual principles, which
would lead to Chaos. The shrines may merely be approached by girls before their
first period or women after menopause. Due to the complexity of these rules,
female foreigners are advised not to approach these shrines at any case. If a
shrine is fenced, this shall not be accessed by anyone but knowledgeable
servants of khati (khevisberi). One of the notable places
that women should not get closer to are the ruins of the church in Dartlo or a small shrine on the ridge of the Keselo castle upon Upper Omalo. It is
also prohibited to remove anything from the shrines, whether oblations or any
other items freely placed inside or even in the vicinity. These oblations are
inseparable part of the shrines and property of those who the shrine was
Segregated seating for men and women
Such segregation used to be unequivocal while today we may see men and women sitting at one table, even though frequently at different sides. The rigorous division of tables into those for men and those for women may be seen during traditional events, such as weddings, funerals or remembrance of the deceased, or at banquets during religious festivals. It is unconditionally indispensable to respect the place being given by the hosts. Without particular consent, women may not visit the men's part of the banquet (and vice versa). This behaviour would be considered disruption of the dualistic harmony.
During their period women shall not appear in places of food storage, in breweries (typically a small structure located in the village, in Upper Omalo next to Hotel Omalo). In such time, the woman shall not appear at any public gathering or in a church, even if she were generally allowed to approach (e.g. the church in Upper Omalo).
Pork meat is considered impure by Tushs (probably under the influence of the neighbouring Muslim tribes and since pig breeding in the mountains encompasses higher risks). In spite of the fact that pigs are kept and consumed in Tusheti villages of Alvani or Laliskuri, the Tusheti mountains are considered sacred and pure (symbol of our world) in contrast to the impure lowlands. In the past, Tushs even used to change their shoes made of pig skin for any other material when entering Tusheti through the pass. Those were left there and recollected on the way back.
Visitors will enjoy people's hospitality in any parts of Georgia but hosts are particularly warm in Tusheti. The locals understand a visit as a good sign. This is why guests would greet "Aka mshvidoba" (peace to this home) when entering the hosts' house. The hosts would respond "Ghmertma mshvidoba mogtses" (let the God give peace to you, too). A toast to peace is then one of the main parts of the meeting. A guest, especially from a foreign country, may be perceived as a particularly powerful blessing and the level of hospitality may correspond. It is hence desirable and polite to accept the invitation but it is not needed to remain with the hosts for long. Time is valuable in Tusheti as in any other part of the world and as such is usually respected (see Banquets and toasts below).
Riding horses in villages
Hospitality also relates to riding a horse through a village. If you rent a horse, it is a good custom (although not always strictly followed) to dismount before entering the village. Nobody considers a horse rider an enemy or a sign of a threat today, but the local guides still commonly adhere to this tradition. The rule may not apply to the locals who are at home in the village and are well known to the others.
Banquets and toasts
As is the case in other Georgian regions, Tushs follow the traditions of toasts (sadghegrdzelo) and receptions (suphra). Traditional subjects of toasts are meeting new people, ancestors, nature, or Tusheti as such. Some toasts are to living persons, above all recognized inhabitants of the village, to guests, or to women. Foreigners usually make a mistake of trying to finish the glass in one gulp as is expected from the main person at the table. It is usually accepted when you only drink a part or even symbolically. Despite this, some toasts are to be "no heeltaps" (particularly those to ancestors and women), which is preset by the leader of the banquet (tamada).