Svans - Marriage and Family



Marriage. Marriage partners for Svan children were traditionally selected very early. On occasion two pregnant women would make a pact that, if one gives birth to a girl and the other to a boy, the children will be engaged to each other. In such cases the wedding feast, signifying the transfer of the female from her parents' household to that of her in-laws, may take place while the bride and groom are still very young. The actual matrimonial rite, a simple ceremony involving a priest, would then be held one to three years later, when the couple is of appropriate age. In practice, instances in which a young man and woman would marry against their parents' wishes have always occurred, and in modern Svaneti arranged marriages are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Though her position was not of equal status to that of her husband, the traditional Svan wife had certain rights. She could own livestock and other possessions. In the event of abuse or abandonment by her husband she had recourse to the protection of her parents' family and to the local justice system (see "Social Control"). Divorce was rare in earlier times, and usually occurred for reasons of impotence or failure to produce male offspring. As though to compensate for the irrelevance of emotional bonding in the contracting of marriages, young Svans could enter into special friendships with members of the opposite sex, even if married. This custom, linturæl, which was practiced up to the early twentieth century, bears certain resemblances to the sts'orproba relationship of the northeast Georgian mountain tribes (see the article on the Khevsur) and also to a form of adoption practiced in some northern Caucasian communities. It was marked by a ritual in which the man sprinkled salt on the woman's breast, then touched his teeth to its nipple three times, saying "You are the mother, I the son." The couple bonded by linturæl could be as affectionate as siblings with each other, no more, though in some cases the relationship did take on a romantic aspect.

Domestic Unit. Until the early twentieth century the Svan mezge (household) could include as many as fifty people: a senior male ( koræ makhwshi, "chief of the house") with his wife, younger brothers, sons, their wives and children, and sisters and daughters not yet married. The koræ makhwshi functioned as administrative head and as chief celebrant of domestic religious rites. In Svaneti, as in the northeast Georgian mountain provinces, the genders were spatially separated within the home. The main floor of the Svanetian house was divided into four quadrants, centered around the hearth ( q'welp ) . The koræ makhwshi and special guests had their seats in the eastern quadrant, which was also where the most important domestic rituals took place, and the other men sat in the quadrant to their right, closest to the entrance. The other two quadrants were reserved for the women and children. Menstruating women and women who had just given birth were considered to be impure and a potential source of ill luck. At such times they were not allowed in the home and were confined in special huts ( laushdwr ) .

Inheritance . Even after the death of their parents, brothers would usually remain together: the separation of the household was considered a great tragedy. Should they decide to split up, the brothers divided the land and property equally, save for a parcel of land (one day's plowing) that was given to the eldest. Clan subdivisions (ts'æm samkhub) originate in this way. Should a man die without sons, his property was inherited by his brother's or father's brother's family. Female relatives were not given any property, and the heirs were obliged to provide for them. Should there be no males of the above degree of relationship, the estate became the property of the clan as a whole.


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