The first and most important festival of the year for the Tush is “Atnigenoba”. Scholars will tell you it starts on the hundredth day after Easter and continues for two weeks. Well if you know the Tush you will smile and disagree - slightly. In principle Atnigenoba does start one hundred days after Easter but again this is an animist festival and therefore any festival days must work around the Christian calendar and in Georgia this is a complex issue. The Georgian Church is, one if not the oldest Christian faiths in the western world and as such the Christian calendar can influence festival dates if there is any conflict of interest. What is clear is the first festival kicks off around one hundred days after Easter and villages in the region will choose their own dates based on an element of tradition and what the elders can agree amongst themselves. A sort of well organised muddle, nothing fixed but at the same time there is a structure to these things. Now at this point I ask you to consider the idea of a bunch of well meaning enthusiastic Christian festival gowers attending an animist (pagan) festival. Well it works and what’s more, it makes sense. So read on.
At each summer village festival (Atnigenoba) there is a host. The “Shulta”, an exceptionally important person who is elected by the village for a year. Elected ,it’s more a question of ‘it’s your turn since your family haven’t done it for years’ or 'your brilliant at this type of thing and the family who should put forward a Shulta can’t do it this year'.In my home village we have the same situation when trying to find someone to chair a committee to run a local fete (a rural English festival). In short the Shulta is the fixer, party maker and catalyst to make it happen. An essential ingredient to a good party and we all know who they are. My accountant isn’t one but my wife thinks I should take the role up as a profession.
Two great men and me in the middle, in the Shenako beer hut. And yes you noticed we are not sober, perhaps that's why we are hanging onto each other.
At an indeterminate time before the great day a posse of men will take to the beer hut, a small house in the village built to brew beer and prepare food. If the Shulta is a man he will take control and manage the proceedings. If it’s a women ,well that can’t happen since the beer hut is a men only affair. This is Georgia and only girls before menstruation age can attend the beer hut. The beer is brewed, a very weak cloudy mixture. Often there will be good stuff for the women and another batch for the men. This elixir is brewed in vast copper caldron's and I think this experience is more about the collective spirit of men working together than the straight forward process of preparing food and drink .It’s all about sharing a few stories and generally having fun. In short this experience is hard wired into all men who want to control the barbecue, except the Tush know how to get drunk with greater style and enthusiasm and they also make all their own beer and ram stew for the festival.
This brew house or beer hut in Upper Omalo has been recently rebuilt. Notice the copper Cauldron in the top right .
From my limited experience each village have their own approach to the proceedings. The sacrificial rams for the festival ( didn’t I mention the rams) are taken to the khatis (shrine) and slaughtered very swiftly by the person who has donated the said ram. You can imagine the situation ‘A village family finds themselves naturally selected since it is generally agreed by the village that this year is their turn to provide a Ram for the festival and they have to find the cash and make the donation’.A tough call if money is short. The ram’s blood is then splashed onto the khakis, a prayer is said and the slaughterer eats some bread ,drinks some Chacha (vodka) ,salty cheese and all the attendees do much the same but in a very relaxed manner while sharing some good stories.
Now for the good bit. The rams are strung up, skinned and generally prepared for the pot. If you find this squeamish turn the other way. A small fire is prepared and the ram’s testicles are barbecued. Great food and not for the girls since this is a boys only event.
The next bit of the festival proceedings I don’t get but I understand there is another person called a “Khelosani”, He is the appointed person who has the right “to bring out” a banner and ring the bells to inform the beginning of the “Atnigenoba”.Banners are not seen everywhere in Tusheti although Parsma have a pretty magnificent affair. Once the banner (a flag) is brought out, the “Khelosani” blesses it with a cry “aludi. Well that’s the scholar version.
Kakha Khimshiashvili provided this picture
This photo was taken in the summer of 2009 in the village Dano and the following day the village festival was held.
This is a typical selection of food provided at the festival but without the meat. If you are a vegetarian, have no worries. You will eat like a king - or queen for that matter .
I found this picture from a file of discarded images but thought it might help illustrate Chacha drinking during festivals . Most families will have their own Chacha horn for drinking local vodka in fact I have two.The drinking horn has tremendous significance throughout Georgia but at the village level ,during festivals time, the horn is used for toasting and helps endorse the connection with the all important Ram.
I came across my wife and daughters having a fantastic time at this spontaneous women's party.later the accordion came out and the women used their bread making bowls as makeshift drums.
This is our Chechnya lad on festival day strutting his stuff on a local Tush horse. The sight to see was him as he took off like a bullet after asking me if he could talk with my daughters. And just talk he promised .
Here are the ladies of Shenako getting down to the the festivities. The cheese, pickle , bread, salad veg and Rams meat was wonderful and all washed down by either Chacha or beer. I never saw a jug of water on offer .
After our Chechnya lad had finished riding the girls took over racing around the village.
During the main festival day lads will race around the festivities getting ready for the afternoons racing event.
Khinkali is normally made by all the women folk in the village. Because of a clash of Christain calenders in the summer of 2008 this Khinkali was made at home as a family affair and with only one candle.
In the race to adopt a modern way of life many of the crafts have now slipped away with the passage of time.Partially due to economic considerations but also because of pressure from Russia when it yeilded power.
The Alvani Marani /"Carpet House" is located about 3-4 km distance from Alaverdi cathedral, so you can take a trip and kill two birds with one stone.
This working saddle made by Socrat illustrating Tusheti craftmanship in leather.You can just make out a felt in grey used with most saddles but sadly the felts arer no longer made in Tusheti.
This out of focus image pictures an elderly lady selling her Tushetian slippers (Chitti) in Pasma 2007. Perhaps one of the last vestages of traditional dress in Tusheti. On occasions people will sew PVC soles to thier slippers. I can vouch they are extreamly comfortable and great for the winter .I've sewn leather soles to mine and they are wonderful
My wife is quite tall but I think she does a fair job as a cloths horse although she is very self consious in this picture . In it's day this garment must have looked wonderful with the mixture of madder , weild and indigo dyed material.
I thought this shot might be interesting since it illustrates a combination of the kilm in natural wool and the traditional jerkin.
This is a picture by one of Georgia's most renowed painters from XX century,Tengiz Mirzashvili. He had a passion for Tusheti and painted a number of paintings of the region.