Svans - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The division of society into landowning and serf classes ended in the nineteenth century. In recent times most Svans continued to work as farmers, though a number of Svans have participated in Georgian academic and artistic circles.

Political Organization. The affairs of the commune were decided by a council ( luzwrob, lukhor ) presided over by an elected headman ( makhwshi ) ; both men and women participated in the deliberations. The council decided cases of infraction of traditional law and assessed punishment by fine, exile, or, very rarely, death. Other important questions, concerning agricultural affairs, relations with other communes and with northern Caucasian tribes, and so forth, were discussed in council meetings. From time to time there would be meetings of the commune makhwshis from all Svaneti to decide critical questions affecting the whole province. Czarist authorities abolished the institution of makhwshi in 1869. With the imposition of Soviet rule, the luzwrob has been supplanted by the village council (Russian: sel'<skij>sovet ) . The jurisdiction of these councils usually corresponds to the traditional commune.

Social Control. In case of a dispute, the parties could select a committee of judge-mediators ( môrew ) to decide the issue. The decisions of the committee could not be appealed. Before giving testimony, the disputants were required to take an oath of honesty upon an icon. As icons were regarded by the Svans as having the power to bring misfortune to a family for many generations to come, these oaths were not taken lightly.

Conflict. All too often Svans bypassed the justice system (see "Social Control") and took matters into their own hands. Should a member of a clan be killed or seriously wounded—even if accidentally—or in some way humiliated by a member of another clan, the first clan was dishonored as a whole. Any male member of the clan felt entitled to exact revenge ( lits'wri ) upon any adult male in the offending clan. In this way blood feuds were started, which at times extended over several generations and claimed the lives of dozens of people. In addition to killing, one could exact revenge by capturing and imprisoning a member of the enemy clan and holding him for ransom. This was considered to be an extremely serious humiliation. Feuds could be halted or avoided if the offending clan paid an indemnity or blood-price ( ts'or ) to the other party. The ts'or for killing a man was very costly (six parcels of prime farmland or thirty-six bulls); lesser compensation was exacted for cases of wounding, insult, thievery, and breach of engagement to marry.

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