Khevsur - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . The Khevsur occupy a territory of approximately 1,600 square kilometers. The often steep and nearly inaccessible land surfaces of this mountainous region are exploited to the utmost as crop- and pasturelands. Animal husbandry is especially important. Specially developed farming techniques are needed to produce a sufficient amount of food in the brief summer. The harsh climate and meager soil require great effort to maximize the harvest yield. One particular difficulty is that at this elevation, the only cereal crop that can be grown profitably is barley. The valley slopes are divided vertically according to the use to which they are put. The lowest parts are for cultivation of crops. In addition to barley, potatoes and maize are also grown; the fields are apportioned among the families of the community so that none is disadvantaged. Cattle are pastured at middle elevations, where the meadows are rich enough for the livestock to restore themselves after a long winter. The higher elevations are exploited for hay fields. Cows and sheep graze in the sharply delimited high summer pastures. The Khevsur cow, which has almost died out, is a well-adapted animal, giving rich milk even when the grazing is meager.

Clothing. The Khevsur costume ( t'alavari ) is unique in the Caucasus for its colorful and rich embroidery and profusion of decorative borders, beads, metal buttons, and disks. Sheep's wool is spun into yarn, dyed, and woven into fabric. Until the middle of this century, locally produced natural colors were used to dye cloth. In earlier times three kinds of fabric were produced, which were destined for different segments of the garment. The male costume was especially lavishly ornamented. European fabrics, silver coins and disks, and brightly colored glass beads and buttons from the markets of Kakheti were used in fashioning its borders and adornments. The traditional male apparel comprised the chokha (cloak), p'erangi (shirt), nipkhavi (trousers), and mest'ebi (leggings). Of these, the shirt was the most finely and extravagantly fashioned. Its basic color is reddish-brown, blue, or black, against which are displayed numerous adornments of various colors. The traditional ornamentation consisted of finely embroidered crosses, borders, parallel bands, triangles, and the like. The cloak (usually dyed blue) is decorated with similar motifs, although not as lavishly. It is worn open in front, fastened with a belt on which weapons are carried. The embroidery, glass beads, and other adornments are arranged for good contrast of colors. The trousers are of plain black material, and the lower pant legs are bound by tight-fitting embroidered leggings. Until recently each Khevsur man possessed a full set of weaponry and would not go out of his house unarmed. The reason for this practice was the threat of attack by enemies, brigands, or avengers in blood feuds. The armor was comprised of an iron chain-mail shirt, a helmet, and protection for the arms and hands. A fully armed Khevsur bore a shield, sword, curved saber, rifle, and a thumb ring with sharp metal points for hand-to-hand combat. Before firearms were introduced to Khevsureti, the bow and arrow was used.

Women, as well, wear the chokha and p'erangi, the latter being an ankle-length frock not as richly adorned as the man's shirt. Women's garments are ornamented with embroidery, glass beads, silver trinkets, and buttons. The frock is made of blue wool; it is flat in front and folded at the back. The chokha resembles the one worn by men and is tied with a belt. Women also wear a headpiece known as a mandili, which has special cultural significance. Should a woman throw her mandili between two quarreling men, they must immediately stop fighting. If a man pulls the mandili from a woman's head, he is in effect accusing her of indecency. This headdress consists of a turbanlike cloth wrapped around the head, with two bands hanging from the ends. The lower, narrower band is used to fasten the "false tresses," and the upper, wider one is embroidered in bright colors. Additional feminine adornments are earrings and necklaces. Among the apparel common to both genders are knitted wool stockings and mittens, likewise decorated with coins and beads. In summer the mittens serve as pouches for carrying provisions.

Food. Barley is ground into a coarse meal from which flat cakes are baked. This grain is also used in the production of vodka and beer. The principal foods are the previously mentioned flat breads, milk, cheese, greens, herbs, and the meat of domestic or wild animals. Food is preserved by smoking or drying.

Division of Labor. Social life is governed by systematic conventions, and work is divided along gender lines. Women are responsible for housekeeping, care of cattle, and manufacture of clothing. Heavy labor, such as plowing or hay mowing, is reserved for men. Children must begin to help with the work while still quite young. By the age of 8 to 10 they are already fully entrusted with adult tasks. In earlier times young boys were instructed in fencing, the use of weapons, and rhetoric. It was considered desirable for even the youngest to participate in discussions at festivals and gatherings, so as to develop their verbal skills.

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