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Georgia: Feasting with the Spirits in a Dying Village

Documentary photo story posted on 5 February 2011 by Temo Bardzimashvili



Adishi villagers gather at the local cemetery for the ceremony of remembrance of the dead.

Adishi villagers gather at the local cemetery for the ceremony of remembrance of the dead.



“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.



Villager propose a toast for the spirits of the dead to ask them for help.

Villager propose a toast for the spirits of the dead to ask them for help.





Villagers leave the cemetery for their homes. It is believed that spirits follow them.

Villagers leave the cemetery for their homes. It is believed that spirits follow them.



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.



On the second day of Deads' Week every family should slaughter a pig for holiday table.

On the second day of Deads' Week every family should slaughter a pig for holiday table.



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.

 



Adishi resident Mamuka Qaldani prepares a feast table at his house.

Adishi resident Mamuka Qaldani prepares a feast table at his house.





Margo Qaldani, a former teacher at Adishi school, at her house. She says that school, shut down in Adishi a decade ago, could possibly save the village from desertion.

Margo Qaldani, a former teacher at Adishi school, at her house. She says that school, shut down in Adishi a decade ago, could possibly save the village from desertion.



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.



Bauchi and Natalia Qaldanis, the eldest people in Adishi, saw the firewood in front of their house.

Bauchi and Natalia Qaldanis, the eldest people in Adishi, saw the firewood in front of their house.





Svan elder.

Svan village elder.



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.



Most of the houses in Adishi are ruined or will be such in a few years.





Mamuka Qaldani prays in one of Adishi's churches during Deads' Week.











Mamuka Qaldani overlooks Adishi from the nearby hill.





Adishi at night. Lights illustrate how few people live there now compared to what it used to be.

Adishi at night. Lights illustrate how few people live there now compared to what it used to be.





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7 Comments »

  1. Marvelous story!! Compelling pictures and even tough life is harsh there , what a beautiful place. I hope those strong people find the strength to survive there and be happy again.

  2. Stunningly beautiful pictures. The photos take me there to the village, though I can’t imagine the hardship that the locals endure. Thanks for the excellent work.

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