Mingrelians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The principal religion of Mingrelia, in common with the rest of Georgia, is Georgian Orthodoxy. The Georgian Orthodox church is autocephalic. Formerly each clan or lineage had its own patron saint and icon ( jinjikhat'i ) which were used to obtain spiritual intercession. Saint George was the most important saint and a number of his relics were allegedly kept in the most sacred of Mingrelian churches, in the village of Ilori. The archangels Michael and Gabriel (sometimes worshiped as a unit) also had high status in Mingrelia; other saints had specific spheres of competence and their name days were always observed. Ceremonies and beliefs of pre-Christian times are mixed in with Mingrelian religious observances. Formerly, Mingrelians believed in wood spirits and other pagan deities. Elements of such beliefs persist in certain customs and superstitions surrounding birth, marriage, and death and New Year or harvest festivals. Mingrelians are not, on the whole, devout churchgoers, although with the new liberal policies on religion, one may expect a degree of religious revival, as elsewhere in Georgia.

Arts. Mingrelian men, like Georgians elsewehere, are famous for their a cappella polyphonic music. Mingrelian song and dance, though in the Georgian style, contains regional distinctions. Distinctive Mingrelian musical instruments, such as the larch'emi ("reed," a form of panpipe), have now disappeared.

Medicine. Colchis, of which Mingrelia was a part, was renowned among ancient Greeks for its medicines. Medea, the enchantress, was a Colchian. Many folk medicines and cures persist, some of which have been incorporated into modern Georgian medicine. Most Mingrelians prefer modern medicines over traditional variants. Many fewer women now give birth at home.

Death and Afterlife. Death in Mingrelia is mourned openly and intensely. In both rural and urban areas, death reemphasizes kinship and lineage solidarity. Financial collections will be made for the deceased's family. Many traditional rules surrounding mourning and burial are still observed. The body is visted for four days during which time no food is prepared in the house, although a feast arranged by kin and close friends may be held for guests. Commemorative feasts are held forty days and one year after the death. Traditionally, close male kin would not shave or work on Saturdays for a year. Mourning can continue for ten to fifteen years, during which time offerings, candles, and food may be set on the grave. Mingrelians also have their equivalent of All Souls' Day ( suntaoba ), when families visit relatives' graves.

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