Festivals and rites

Festivals play an important part in the life of Tushs. Traditionally, they delimited certain periods in the farming cycle and used to have a considerable religious undertone. During the Soviet period of the 50-70's of the 20th century, when most of the Tushetian population remained in the lowlands even in summer, summer festivals stood for the main motives for the return to the mountains. At present, annual celebrations serve for renewal and affirmation of mutual relationships in the village and, in some cases, e.g. in abandoned villages of Tsovata, they are a unique opportunity for gatherings in the mountains. In contrast, winter festivals are rather celebrated in a Georgian style or are celebrated in lowlands in various modified forms.


Atnigenoba

This festival is the most important and, for tourists who come in the right time, also the most visible one in the summer season. Traditionally, it was celebrated before the beginning of autumn work (haymaking, preparations for winter), 100 days after Easter. The entire festival takes about two weeks and takes place on different days in different villages. The main festive day is preceded by several weeks of preparations. In each village there is one person responsible for the organization (shulta), selected by the community for the entire year and also working as a servant at the shrines (jvaris kma). His main task is to brew beer (aludi) for all the festival and prepare the banquet. The brewery is considered a sacred place and is not accessible for women during their period (i.e. only young girls and elderly women are allowed to enter). Shulta usually has several people at hand. The spiritual part of the festival is provided for by the guard of the shrine ( priest of local syncretic religion called khelosani) who carries the pennon out of the shrine, blesses the cauldron with beer and performs religious tasks. Until the 19th century, these guards often came from the neighbouring Khevsureti and moved to Tusheti for the festivals.

A few days before the festival, shulta, his helpers and more significant men in the village meet at a sacred place to sacrifice a sheep or a ram. During this rite men stay awake, pray and toast. Loud calls of "stskalobdes" ("Let the God bless the work") are heard from the place. This call actually accompanies the entire festival. The blood from the sacrificed animal has purifying effects. That is why, on some festive occasions a Christian priest makes a cross on the foreheads of the believers with his finger dipped in the animal's blood.

On the main day of the festival (dgheoba), there is a joint prayer held at the shrine or local churches (Omalo, Shenako, Iliurta, etc.). It is when invited monks and priests appear in Tusheti. The feast climax is the afternoon reception (suphra) prepared by shulta, his family and other helpers. In Tsovata, they call the feast dadaloba, which is probably a compound word from Bats term "dal" ("God") and Georgian suffix oba (among others standing for "event"). This part of the festival - the feast - may be seen by visitors most often and part of Tushetian hospitality is to invite even unknown guests to the table. The meat from the sacrificed animal is a must on the banquet table whether roasted or, more frequently, boiled (khashlama). Women (in some cases also men) bring their musical instruments, and toasts are alternated with music and dance. Tamada, the chief of the banquet, determines the set of toasts (sadghegrdzelo) and possibly gives the floor to others to have their own toast. The second day after the main banquet the feast is usually ended with another reception, for which khinkali are prepared (khinkaloba).

Horse races are integral part of celebrations in many communities. They are attractive especially in valleys where riders cross the rivers (Girevi, Tsovata). Horse races in Omalo are usually part of festival tushetoba (see below). Traditional korbeghela is held in other places. During this rite men from the village make a circle, holding tight their waists or shoulders. Other men jump on them forming a human pyramid and the circle turns around towards the village shrine, accompanied with religious songs.

Amaghleba (Ascension Day). The feast is held on the 40th day after Easter. As well as in other parts of Georgia, people decorate their festive tables for the dead and the Tushs visit cemeteries where, as part of the rite, they share a few drops from their toasts with the dead ancestors. This time the sheep were finally driven to the region and people who had spent the winter in Kakheti were coming from the lowlands. The people who had spent their winter in Tusheti moved from their winter homes (boslebi) to the villages.


Other festivals

Zezvaoba. The festival is held on the last Saturday of May in Zemo (Upper) and Kvemo (Lower) Alvani. It commemorates the famous battle at Bakhtrioni in 1659 and brave Tush hero Zezva Gaphrindauli. In the past the festival was celebrated at the time when sheep were driven from winter pastures in Shiraki steppes near borders with Azerbaijan to their summer pastures in Tusheti. A horse race (doghi) is held as main part of the event. It follows the track of Zezva's horse Saghiri from Takhti Bogiri, i.e. the place where the horse died, to Kvemo Alvani. The actual race is preceded by ritual commemoration of deceased ancestors (dalaoba) of Zezva Gaphrindauli at Zemo Alvani. Here, horses and riders are blessed within rites. Riders will drink a cup of wine or beer and symbolically pour a draft of the drink on their horses, which also get symbolic grain and a small textile flag tied on their rein as a blessing. Only horses marked with the flag may take part in the race. Then, riders move to Takhti Borigi to honour Zezva's horse, the moment being accompanied with another dalaoba. This is where the race of about 4km in length starts. For more details on the festival you may refer to the website dedicated to Tsova-Tushs (https://www.batsav.com/pages/zezvaoba.html).

Tushetoba. This traditional festival of all Tusheti has been celebrated since the 90's. In the last years, it has been held in about the middle of August and has been changed into the Day of Shepherds (metskhvaris dghe). It is an artificial festival not based on any Tusheti tradition and is partly organized by the Akhmeta Municipality and the Tusheti Protected Areas Administration in Omalo. Horse races (from Lower to Upper Omalo) are also usually part of the festival, along with archery, musical performances (traditional and modern music), production and sales of traditional products and souvenirs, tug-of-war, and sometimes also competition in making khinkali, etc.

Mariamoba. The holy day of Virgin Mary is celebrated at the end of August (28 August in the Georgian calendar). In general, all August is dedicated to the cult of Virgin Mary in Georgia. It is a national holiday commemorating the ancestors. Tusheti churches usually hold a mass on that day. The month of August was also considered the best day for agreeing marriages and weddings as such. The traditional cycle understands it as one of the most difficult periods related to haymaking and sheep shearing.

Alaverdoba. Despite not being a purely Tushetian festival, this September event in Alaverdi is one of the most significant for Tusheti people. Its origin is linked to the founder of the local monastery Joseph of Alaverdi, one of the 13 Syrian ascetics. It used to be celebrated on 3 November. When King Levan brought a part of the holy cross from Jerusalem in the 16th century, the holiday was changed to 28 September (a day after the Feast of the Cross). It also commemorates the martyrdom of the Kakheti Queen Ketevan, who was tortured to death for her creed when captured by a Persian shah (detailed descriptions by catholic missionaries in Persia have been preserved). In the time of Alaverdoba, shepherds usually drive their herds from Tusheti to Shiraki plains in south Kakheti and pass close to their homes, i.e. Alvani and Alaverdi. Alaverdi also was a point where Tushs, Khevsurs, Pshavs, Kakhetians, Armenians, or Muslim Kists would meet. The festival related to exchange of information and today still existing traditional lively outdoor market. Many people, including owners of guest houses, have recently been coming back to the lowlands from the mountains, where they spent the summer season. Local wineries are being opened in Alaverdi and its surroundings and the monastery organizes a wine competition. As a recently established tradition (since 2008), newborns are baptized in large numbers by the Georgian patriarch.

Giorgoba. The holiday of St. George is celebrated in spring and in autumn. The autumn celebration (23 November in the Georgian calendar) is more important, though. In the traditional Tusheti year, the festival represented a split of the year in farming, i.e. the real end of autumn work and beginning of winter. The Tushs would then move to their winter homes (boslebi). In the cycle of sheep breeding this period was marked with mating. The organization of the feast was the task of shulta, who was responsible for brewing beer and organizing around food, which was cooked by all villagers. Any daily routine work was prohibited on that day.

Mzebudoba (solstice). The sun was worshipped as female deity. Tushs believed that on 6 December (according to the Julian calendar) the sun crept to its nest and if it found a lamb there, it would leave the nest again on 9 December. On that day, women would bake ritual pastry (machkati) and decorate the dining table with these, along with a jug of ritual wine (zedashe), pancakes, and a pan with khavitsi (curd cooked with butter). A candle plays its indispensable role warming up the melted butter to let the aroma ascend towards the sun. Otherwise, the day was filled with common work. The day after solstice, people began their two-week fasting while meeting relatives and neighbours to savour khinkali.

Tseltsdobebi (New Year's holiday). New Year's holiday was preceded by two weeks of fasting, rest and spiritual contemplations, or commemorations of ancestors. A nate, having the same responsibilities as shulta during other festivals, played an important role. People used to bake New Year's bread in forms of various animals and New Year's pancakes called kotori ("for Christ on his way"). The housewife would bake small pieces of bread with a hole in the middle to "patronize" the weapons (these were left in the men's part of the house in a number corresponding the number of all males in the family). At the side of the fireplace, a figure of an angel was placed as a patron of the fireplace (ghomlis deda - "mother of the oven"). On the New Year's morning, the woman carried special tiny bread for the local spring (tskaros kveri), submerged it in the water and asked for happiness and success. During the holiday, neighbours and relatives visited each other, while in the evening all the community enjoyed together. Nate and his helpers (makalatebi) brewed beer and prepared the banquet table for all. The evening was decorated with music, dance, and games. In 1837, the villages of Shenako and Diklo had a very sad New Year. The winter was extremely dry with nearly no snow and both villages were attacked by the Didos (see details on the page DOPLNIT).

Didmarkhva (great fasting). The fasting before Easter comes after three Sundays of markhvashemoi. Legend has it that the third week in January was a week of evil spirits and devils (kdini). At present, the week of evil spirits is not remembered in Tusheti as there is no one to be harmed. The next two weeks after kdini are dedicated to Shrovetide feast. The last week in January is a meat week (khortsieli) and the first week in February is a cheese week (kvelieri). Both weeks are accompanied with rich feasts and rites. Some days, all work is prohibited in order to avoid any death or misery. At the end of kvelieri (Saturday), i.e. the last day before fasting, the people celebrated the departure of winter. For women, the time of fasting was the time of weaving or knitting. Nearly all cows were already calved. Approximately in the half of fasting, people remembered their dead, usually within their close families.

Otsoba (also Khargae). A festival celebrated on 25 March (based on the old Julian calendar) related to initiation of farming work. At the time, first men were moving from the lowlands to the mountains, bringing news from people who had spent the winter there. Farmers began to bring out their oxen to plough the fields (ugheldeba - "harnessing in a yoke"). A number of signs or events pointed at how rich in harvest the year would be. The end of ploughing and seeding was accompanied with a small celebration when people asked for good harvest.

Easter (aghdgoma). The holiday is associated with celebration of Christ's resurrection and the end of the seven-week long fasting, particularly appreciated by children. At Easter time people would meet at the shrines dedicated to St. George (Giorgitsminda), especially in Lashari (Pirikiti Valley).

Tskhvarmoe (return of sheep to Tusheti). The period is a celebration of a definite return of spring to Tusheti. At the start of May, first shepherds come back to Tusheti with their sheep. Women in all villages tidy and prepare refreshment for known and unknown passersby in form of fresh kotori (pancakes with cheese), erboankva (crushed grain mixed with butter) or vodka (araki). Husbands and sons return to their families and married men may satisfy their sexual desires for some time.

Amaghleba (Ascension Day). The feast is held on the 40th day after Easter. As well as in other parts of Georgia, people decorate their festive tables for the dead and the Tushs visit cemeteries where, as part of the rite, they share a few drops from their toasts with the dead ancestors. This time the sheep were finally driven to the region and people who had spent the winter in Kakheti were coming from the lowlands. The people who had spent their winter in Tusheti moved from their winter homes (boslebi) to the villages.