Mingrelians - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Mingrelia remains a primarily agriculturally based economy. Traditionally, villagers subsisted on ghomi ( Panicum italicum ) and, since the eighteenth century, maize, which remains the staple crop, although the rich soil and subtropical climate has led to major tea and citrus-fruit industries. Georgia supplied the USSR with over 90 percent of its domestically produced citrus fruit and 97 percent of its tea, much of which comes from Mingrelia. Pig, cattle and—in the highlands—sheep breeding are important. Mingrelia also produces excellent wine, honey, and cheese, much of it privately. The extended family in the village remains the basic economic unit. Its economic base is diverse, with some family members often working in the local food-processing sites or in other industries, such as lumber, furniture, silk, or cotton. Mingrelia's main urban industries include car components, construction materials, and light manufacturing. Poti is a major port. A naval base located there made it a closed city until recently.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally, most families in Mingrelia would weave silk or cotton. They were also known for their basketry, pottery, and wooden utensils. The mountain villagers produced felt carpets and felt clothing. Such craftwork continues, though on a much smaller scale today.

Trade. Formerly, Mingrelians on the Black Sea coast had a reputation for trading skills. Today most trade is controlled by the state and conducted in Western-style stores, although there are open-air and covered private markets in all urban areas to which Mingrelian farmers bring their produce.

Division of Labor. In the traditionally patriarchal society of Mingrelia, different male and female qualities are taken as given. In the past, the gender division of labor was stressed at birth when baby boys were made to touch a plow or sword and baby girls a thimble or scissors. Agricultural tasks were divided, although men and women both worked in the fields. Domestic work such as cheese making, cleaning, cooking, child care, and weaving was almost exclusively female. In the main, men were the potters, basket weavers, and utensil makers, but women were—and still are—considered mistresses of the home. Today women still concentrate on domestic tasks, although men are expected to make repairs to the house and will share in shopping and, to a degree, in child care. Younger women before childbirth are given only lighter tasks around the home. The growing role of women in the labor force is somewhat reflected in their greater equality within the home.

Land Tenure. During the Soviet period, most land in Mingrelia was held by the state in the form of collective farms. Small private holdings and fruit or vegetable gardens were permitted, however, and much family time was spent on private agricultural activities. Under the new non-Communist Georgian government, privatization of land is expected and many collectives have already voluntarily disbanded.

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