ALTERNATE NAMES: Kartvelebi; Gurji
POPULATION: 5–5.4 million (total population); 3.8 million are ethnic Georgians
RELIGION: Georgian Orthodoxy
1 • INTRODUCTION
The people we know as Georgians call themselves the Kartvelebi and they call their country Sa-kartvel-o , literally, "the land of the Kartvelebi."
Georgia is strategically located at a crossroads between Europe and Asia. Through the centuries, it has been invaded and settled by Greeks, Romans, Persians, Turkish tribes, Arabs, Mongols, and Russians. Georgia was also on one of the branches of the Silk Road, which carried trade from China and India to Europe. So the Georgian people have been influenced by many cultures, both Asian and European. The Georgians' architecture, language, literature, and cooking draw upon Persian, Arabic, Greek, and Russian sources. Georgians probably developed a national identity around the tenth century AD . At that time the Bagratid dynasty founded an independent and powerful Georgian nation. The Georgians resemble Greeks and Turks in appearance, and they think of themselves as an Eastern Mediterranean culture.
2 • LOCATION
Georgia covers 27,657 square miles (71,632 square kilometers), about twice the area of Belgium. The Greater Caucasian mountain range rises in the north and the Southern Georgian Highlands in the south. Two- thirds of Georgian territory is mountainous. Between the mountains lie fertile lowlands with orchards and vineyards. Most of the land can be farmed.
Ethnic Georgians number 3.8 million and make up 70 percent of the population in Georgia. Ethnic groups, including the Abkhazians and the Adjarians, make up the rest of the population of Georgia, which was part of the former Soviet Union (1921–91). The capital of Georgia is Tbilisi.
3 • LANGUAGE.
Georgian is part of the South Caucasian family of languages: Zan (Mengrelo-Chan), Svan, and Georgian proper (Kartuli). It does not belong to any of the world's major language categories, such as Indo-European or Semitic. Over 98 percent of Georgians consider Georgian their native tongue. Business, political, and cultural activities are conducted in Georgian.
Although it has borrowed many words from Arabic, Turkic, Persian, and Russian, Georgian has remained distinctive. For example, "father" in Georgian is mama and "mother" is deda. Georgian is rich in words connected with agriculture, winemaking, and metalworking. These are areas in which Georgians have specialized for a long time. For example, all metals have native words, not borrowing from Latin or some other language. For example, gold is okro , silver is vertskhli , brass is titberi , and copper is spilendzi.
Everyday terms in Georgian include gamardzhobut (hello), ki (yes), ara (no), getakhvat (please), madlobt (thank you), and nakhvamdis (good-bye).
4 • FOLKLORE
Georgian folklore is rich in magicians, beasts, heroes, and spirits. Many are preserved in song, and in popular customs and superstitions. Some of the favorite characters in Georgian folk tales are mzetunakhavi (the most beautiful woman in the world), modzalade devi (a violent beast, sometimes with three heads), and natsarkekia (a ne'erdo-well, or a person who cannot do anything worthwhile).
A well-known Georgian legend is about the location of the capital, Tbilisi. According to the legend, King Vakhtang Gorgasali ( AD 452–502) was hunting on the site of present-day Tbilisi. He wounded a deer. As the deer was bleeding to death, it fell into a warm sulfur spring. The spring water instantly cleansed and healed the wound, and the deer ran off into the woods. The king inspected the spring. Because he was pleased with the healing power of the water, he decided to settle there.
Another famous Georgian legend tells of two Georgian Jews, Elioz Karsneli and Longinoz Mtskheteli, who witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. At the moment that Jesus died on the cross in Jerusalem, the mother of Longinoz died as well. The two men returned from Jerusalem and brought the tunic of Jesus back with them. The sister of Elioz died when she held the tunic next to her heart. According to the legend, the tunic is buried somewhere in Mtskheta, which is just north of Tbilisi.
Georgians are very superstitious. In the countryside one still can see trees with ribbons tied to them, each ribbon standing for a wish. Before setting off on a trip, Georgians often sit on their suitcase for a few seconds to ensure a safe journey. If a knife falls off a table, Georgians believe they will have a male guest.
5 • RELIGION
The country's great variety of ethnic groups is reflected in its variety of religions. The religion of most Georgians is Georgian Orthodoxy, a branch of Eastern Orthodoxy. St. George is the patron saint of Georgia.
The Georgian Orthodoxy service is very similar to that of most other Eastern churches. There is a formal prayer service with a choir and the burning of incense. However, there are no pews and no sermons. People walk in and out during the service, and women still cover their heads in church. The Georgian church was almost destroyed by the atheist policies of the Soviet era (1921–91). Its more than two thousand parishes were reduced to eighty by the 1960s. Since independence, the Georgian church has played an important role in national life.
There are also a small number of Georgian Catholics. There are larger numbers of Georgian Muslims (followers of Islam) in Achara in southwest Georgia and along the southern border.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
After the collapse of the Soviet Union (in 1991), the Georgian government replaced the communist holidays with patriotic or religious ones. These include Independence Day (May 26) and St. George's Day (November 23). Many Georgians continue to celebrate Christmas and Easter according to the old-style (Julian) calendar observed by the Georgian Orthodox church. In September and October, the rtveli , or grape harvest, is marked by festivals in the villages. Georgian cities also hold celebrations. In the autumn, for example, Tbilisi has a Tbilisoba festival, which celebrates the life and history of the city.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Saints' days are celebrated by Georgians. Each day on the calendar is assigned a saint's name, and people with that name are honored on that day. Orthodox baptism and wedding ceremonies serve as important milestones in Georgian life.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Georgians share many social attitudes with neighboring Mediterranean cultures. Tradition, loyalty to friends and family, and generosity toward guests are viewed as important values. Nepotism—the system by which relatives help each other get jobs—is considered honorable. Important relationships might help a child enter a university, gain a promotion for a family member, or give a close friend a new business opportunity.
According to a Georgian proverb, "A guest is sent by God." Guests are always treated generously in a Georgian home, even if the host cannot really afford it. Guests usually bring a symbolic gift, such as flowers or chocolates, when they visit. Even if an enemy crosses a Georgian threshold, he or she must be treated well and not harmed. The best way to show respect for guests is to honor them with a keipi , or feast. The keipi is a central part of Georgian social life.
There are certain important rules of behavior that all Georgians observe: always greet a person properly, stand up when someone enters a room, and never sit with your back to anyone.
The Georgian language, like the French, has two forms for "you": the familiar shen, like the French tu , which is used among friends, and the polite form tkven, like vous , which is used to address elders or strangers.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
When Georgia was part of the U.S.S.R. (from 1921 to 1991), people lived well, although their incomes were small. Services such as health care and education were free. Most people in cities paid very little for rent and utilities, and food was cheap. Most city families lived in three-room or four-room apartments (two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen). If a family was large, beds were often set up in the living room at night.
The switch to a market-based economy, which began in 1991, has been very difficult. Allowances for food and services are gone, and the state cannot afford to pay people proper salaries or pensions. University education and medicine are no longer free, and transportation is expensive. Georgians now must be much more self-reliant, doing their own house repairs and the like. In the winter there often is no heat, no gas for cooking, and no electricity for long periods.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
More and more Georgian families are increasingly nuclear (just parents and children living in a single unit). Couples have an average of two children, but relatives always live close by. Children are brought up with a strong respect for family and for older people. Women in Georgia are expected to do most of the housework and child rearing. In 1960, there were only three divorces per hundred marriages, but that figure had risen to eighteen by 1992.
Grandparents usually live close enough to take care of the grandchildren. Uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, and even godparents are considered close family and are seen frequently. A person is required to help relatives in times of crisis. With the current high rate of unemployment, the extended family has become important for of economic survival. When the time comes, both sons and daughters take equal care of their aging parents.
11 • CLOTHING
Georgians have always had a reputation for being stylish dressers. Today they wear casual clothes and follow the latest fashions. However, on special occasions they wear traditional costumes. The chokha is the man's tunic. It is usually magenta or white, is belted at the waist, and has decorative cartridge pouches on the chest. The kartuli kaba is the traditional female costume. It consists of a silk veil and a long, embroidered dress having wide sleeves and gathered at the waist.
There are also costumes associated with various regions and professions. The women in Khevsureti are well known for their tsinda-pachich , thick knee-length socks colored with natural dyes. In the mountains, shepherds still wear the nabadi. This is a black felt cloak with stiff wide shoulders that can be used for shelter in winter weather.
(Georgian cheese bread)
- 2 cups unbleached white flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold butter, cut into pieces
- 2 eggs, beaten separately
- ¼ cup plain yogurt
- 1¼ pounds mixed Muenster and Havarti cheeses
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- Place flour and salt in a bowl and mix in butter pieces.
- Stir one beaten egg into the yogurt, and then add the liquid to the flour mixture.
- Shape the dough into a ball and refrigerate for one hour.
- Grate the cheese and combine with the other beaten egg. Preheat the oven to 350° F .
- Roll out dough to form a 12-by-17-inch (30-by-43-centimeter) rectangle, trimming the edges.
- Put the cheese mixture on one-half of the dough and fold the other half over the top, sealing the edges.
- Place cheese dough on a greased baking sheet. Bake for about 50 minutes or until brown.
Cut into small squares to serve. It is best served slightly warm.
Women, especially in the villages, wear black for a year or longer after a death in the family.
12 • FOOD
Georgian food combines Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and even Indian influences. It is often spicy, flavored especially with coriander, tarragon, and khmeli suneli (a mixture of spices). Hot and cold dishes are served with side dishes of tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions, sulguni (a cheese), and puri (unleavened bread baked in an open brick oven).
A typical festive table ( supra) might consist of puréed beets and spinach sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, khachapuri (a baked cheese bread), satsivi (chicken in walnut sauce), chanakhi (a lamb and vegetable stew), tolma (minced meat wrapped in vine leaves), and badrizhani nivrit (eggplant with garlic).
Wine is an essential part of any meal. Georgians make a wide variety of red wines (such as Mukuzani ) and white wines (such as Tsinandali ).
Regional differences in cuisine are pronounced. In the west, one is more likely to eat mchadi (cornbread) and cheese bread such as Acharuli , which has an egg baked in the middle of the cheese and dough.
13 • EDUCATION
Most children attend school from age six to age fifteen. Their classes include geography, Georgian literature, history, physics, chemistry, choir, and foreign languages. Russian is still the most often taught language, although English is the most popular. Students can attend two more years of school beyond age sixteen—either high school or vocational (job-training) school—if they pass a test. The completion of eleven years of schooling qualifies a student for University education. University usually lasts five years.
Teaching styles are formal; much learning is done by repetition and memorization. Final examinations are oral and marked on a scale of one to five, with five being the best. An excellent student is known as a khutosani (a "fiver"). Currently, most schools are in poor repair, with roofs leaking and a lack of equipment such as computers, scientific instruments, and even textbooks.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Most performing choruses are male, although there are also women's choirs that sing at church services. The Gurians in west Georgia are well known for their complex use of krimanchuli (yodeling). Many Georgians play the piano or guitar. Traditional instruments include the duduki (a double-reed instrument similar to a clarinet) and the panduri (a three-stringed lute).
The Georgian State Dance Company has helped make Georgian dance a favorite of international audiences. Dances include the lezginka , the samaia (performed by three women), and the mkhedruli (the military dance). Georgian children often start dancing and performing at an early age.
Georgia has many great musicians including pianists Alexander Toradze (1952–) and Eliso Virsaladze (1942–), violinist Leana Isakadze (1946–), and bass-player Paata Buchuladze. The Georgian Republic has its own symphony orchestra, and dance, opera, and ballet companies. However, because of the current economic crisis in Georgia, many arts organizations are not performing. The renowned Rustaveli Theater Company does continue to tour. The Georgian film industry has a history dating back to the early twentieth century. Famous filmmakers include Eldar Shengelaia (1933–), Giorgi Shengelaia, and Tengiz Abuladze (1924–94).
The Georgian literary tradition owes its origin to the adoption of Christianity. The earliest surviving Georgian literary works date from the fifth century AD . An early chronicle of Georgian history is known as the Kartlis Tskhovreba , written in the early years of Christianity in Georgia.
Poetry is considered one of the highest art forms in Georgia. It is recited at the dinner table and among friends. The greatest classic of Georgian literature is a twelfth-century epic by the poet Shota Rustaveli, called The Knight in the Tiger's Skin. Quotations from this work are still used as proverbs, such as this piece of advice: "What you give is yours, what you keep is lost."
Georgian writers include Ilia Chavchavadze (1837–1907), Galaktion Tabidze (1892–1959), Vazha Pshavela (1942–), and Ana Kalandadze. Georgian literature has produced prose and poetry classics such as Konstantine Gamsakhurdia's The Hand of the Great Master , or Galaktion Tabidze's great poems The Moon of Mtatsminda and The Wind Blows.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
In the late 1990s, Georgia's government was unable to pay high enough wages, create and promote new jobs, or pay social-security benefits. Most Georgians today survive by working two or three jobs or by selling their belongings. Many rely on help from families and friends. Most of the people employed by the state are forced to seek extra income. Usually they work in small businesses or trade on the black market (illegally). At least one-third of Georgians earn their living from the land.
16 • SPORTS
Traditional Georgian sports include wrestling, archery, fencing, javelin throwing, horse riding, tskhenburti (a form of polo), and leloburti (a field game similar to rugby). Today, the most popular sport in Georgia is soccer. Georgians have also achieved fame in basketball, mountain climbing, and skiing (a popular sport in the mountain resorts). As part of the U.S.S.R. Olympic team, Georgians won twenty-three gold medals between 1952 and 1980. Georgia entered the 1996 Olympics independently for the first time.
17 • RECREATION
Georgians love going to the theater and classical concerts. A favorite Georgian pastime is sitting around a table with friends and singing. Some of the most popular songs are Suliko , Mravalzamier (Be long living), and Shen khar venakhi (You are the vine). Most young people are fans of Western rock bands. Many have their own rock bands as well.
In chess, players such as Nona Gaprindishvili (1941–) and Maia Chiburdanidze (1961–) kept the world women's chess championship in Georgian hands for more than thirty years.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Making pottery is still a village craft in Georgia, and pottery can be bought at the market or even at the roadside. Most pottery is connected with drinking: simple bowls known as pialebi, which are raised to the lips with both hands; and dokebi , long-necked pots for storing and pouring wine.
Another important craft is rug making. Rugs are either woven in traditional Georgian patterns or made from compressed felt in abstract patterns. The colors used most often are deep red, brown, blue, and yellow.
Georgians are also very proud of their skills with metal, particularly gold and silver. Metal chasing (ornamentation), which Georgians call cheduroba , is a treasured craft, as are enameling and jewelry making.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Following independence and the breakdown of their economy, Georgians have suffered enormous hardships. Mutual support among friends and family is extremely important today. There are food shortages, and medicines are either not available or too expensive to buy. A lack of fuel has led to hospital closings and an insufficient emergency system. A decline in health care, poor diets, and inadequate immunization have led to a decline in Georgians' health. Lessening supervision by parents and police has led to increased crime, including organized crime.
Two nationalist movements—one in South Ossetia and the other in Abkhazia—threaten the stability of the national government and the quality of life of the people. Some Georgians are also worried that civil wars in neighboring nations might spill over into their country.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Brook, Stephen. Claws of the Crab: Georgia and Armenia in Crisis. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992.
Dolphin, Laurie. Georgia to Georgia: Making Friends in the U.S.S.R. New York: Tambourine Books, 1991.
Gachechiladze, R. G. The New Georgia: Space, Society, Politics. East European Studies, no. 3. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995.
Spilling, Michael. Georgia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1998.