Georgia: Feasting with the Spirits in a Dying Village
“Tonight starts the remembrance of the spirits’ holiday. Let’s praise the souls of the dead!” Mamuka Qaldani, a thirty-eight-year-old livestock herder from Georgian mountain village of Adishi, proposes a toast at the local cemetery and then belts down a shot of vodka. Representatives from all families of the village are also here – on that very day the souls of the dead from each family should be invited home to live there along with the living for a week.
For these seven days spirits are believed to live in families, sharing the table and warmth of the house with them. For a week the living try not to produce any loud noise in order not to disturb precious “guests.” But feasting with the dead does little to stop Adishi’s own decline. Located more than 2,000 meters high in Georgia’s Svaneti region, Adishi has a rapidly decreasing population. For centuries, Svaneti’s harsh winters and natural disasters have been pushing people out of villages like Adishi. Once a place of more than fifty families, there are only nine families left there now. In 1987, after avalanches hit, nearly all of Adishi’s residents were resettled in Georgia’s eastern region of Kakheti, where the Soviet government built houses for them in a valley.
Those, who still remain are left to deal with everyday life by themselves – snowplows rarely clean the road to the village. Villagers have to cut their way through the snow to ride 9 kilometers on horseback to the nearest village. Renting a car from there to the region’s central town Mestia costs around $60. In Georgia, where the living-wage is roughly $80 such expenses are something to consider in a low-income village. “Say I need to do such trips three or more times a month. For this, I need to put aside 500 lari. Do I have such money? That means I need to sell a cow or something. I have children. What if they get sick or need something? I will need to run back and forth all the time then! But how?” says Adishi resident Mamuka Qaldani.
Recent tourism boom in highland regions gives chance to the mountain villages to survive. In summers it gives some basic money to Adishi’s nine families. But at the same times it is the stick of two ends: tourism helps villagers survive, but it also may wash the traditions and change the centuries-old lifestyle. While the affect of the tourism on region’s mentality and cultural heritage is a matter of an anthropological research, some undesirable results may be visible in a short run already: used to the seasonal big money that comes from tourists villagers will leave the mountains for the valley during the winters. But due to the harsh winter colds, those houses that are not warmed from inside will crack and crumble away. “Here a couple of winters are enough to destroy a house that is not looked after. In the winter, if nobody looks after the village, it will look like those ruined houses you see around here. Adishi will turn into ruins,” says Qaldani.
Fewer and fewer families remain to host their ghostly kin. It may be just a matter of a few years before the spirits of Adishi’s ancestors — along with their descendants — will have no homes left to call their own.
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