Abkhazians - Settlements



Traditionally, upland homesteads tended to be isolated and hidden in wooded gorges, with gardens and fruit trees adjacent. Villages developed as sons married and established houses near their fathers; thus villages, or groupings within villages, would consist of a cluster of houses around a common lawn with the inhabitants all sharing a single surname. Individual houses might contain nuclear or extended families, however, depending on space and personal inclinations. Such houses were traditionally one-story wattle-and-daub structures, but today brick and concrete blocks are popular and many houses have two stories. Houses usually have verandas and balconies with curved wooden railings, where people spend a lot of time in good weather. The kitchen on the ground floor traditionally was dominated by a large pot, hung by a chain over the hearth, in which the family cooked the staple food, millet porridge. Also, there would be a long wooden table, on which slices of porridge were laid directly. Abkhazians considered it rude to close the kitchen door because that implied that the family was not willing to offer hospitality to any passing guests. Today the kitchen is still the main locus of family life, along with a downstairs parlor (now equipped with a television set). At least one upstairs room is usually set aside for entertaining and for displaying gifts. Instead of replacing an older house with a newer one, a family may choose to keep houses of different sizes and eras side by side; the newest is reserved for guests, whereas the oldest—the grandparents' house—is still called "the big house." Even in large villages today, patrilineally related people live in neighboring houses, cooperate economically, and recognize family shrines (often trees or mountains). They have their own holy days, on which they are forbidden to do certain kinds of work, and their own burial grounds. In the past these lineages and their councils of elders formed the main political entities of Abkhazia, and they continue to meet regularly, make communal plans, and settle disputes. With the exception of Gudauta and the mining town of T'q'varchal, all larger towns are on the coast and are inhabited by people of many ethnic groups, with the Abkhazians in the minority. In 1980 Sukhumi, the capital, had a population of 117,000.


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