Khevsur - Settlements

The Khevsur build houses from sheets of slate, which are set together without mortar. Three principal types of buildings are recognized: dwellings, defense structures, and agricultural buildings. At some distance from the homesteads are the khat'i (shrines with altars, erected in a sacred grove) and the menstruation and childbirth huts. The usual house has one story with one or two rooms, though dwellings of up to three stories are known. Most often houses are set along the slope of a ravine so that the roof of one house serves as a terrace for the house above it. These mountain dwellings are windowless, and the walls and roofs are made of compressed clay. In multistory buildings the bottom floor serves as a stall for livestock, and the floor above is used as a common room. In the middle of this room is the fireplace, over which a cooking pot is suspended from a hook. The walls of the interior rooms are usually black with soot because of the lack of ventilation. Rhododendron wood or dried dung is used as fuel. Around the hearth are placed benches, small tables, and chairs, according to a precise seating arrangement. Niches, shelves, and racks on the walls serve for storage of household articles. Many of the latter are fashioned from wood or horn. Large and small chests with decorative carvings are set by the walls for the storage of food and clothing. In some locations, for example New Shat'ili, modern houses with electricity, water, gas, and sanitary facilities have been constructed.

In the older mountain villages one can still see the four-story defense towers, 10 to 20 meters high. These too are constructed without the use of mortar. They are of conical shape with cupolalike roofs, and on each side of the top floor are embrasures, narrow windows through which those inside could shoot at their attackers. In case of attack, all of the villagers could take shelter within the tower and defend themselves. Each village also had a cemetery, several small huts—within which, up to the beginning of this century, childbearing or menstruating women secluded themselves—and a sacred grove with altars and shrines. The cemeteries and groves were surrounded by low walls, beyond which women and outsiders could not set foot. The groves contained ancient trees, mostly beech, oak, and ash, to which protective and sacred powers were attributed. Only the dast'uri (see "Religious Beliefs and Practices") of the shrine was allowed to gather wood or cut down a tree within the sacred grove; anyone else might be put to death for doing so. The wood thus obtained could be used only to brew beer for ritual use. Within the sacred groves stand the shrines, constructed, like the houses, out of slate. Atop the shrine are affixed the horns of the Caucasian ibex and a bell. The huts for menstruating women, which used to be found in each village, are called samrelo. Women would stay there about two to three days, during which time they were considered unclean. Throughout this period they primarily ate bread and herbs.

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