22 May 2003, 12:55

Abkhazs

They call themselves apsua. A nation in the Caucasus, they are the aboriginal population of Abkhazia. More than 91 thousand of Abkhazs live on the territory of the former USSR, among those more than 83 thousand live on the territory of Abkhazia; some live in Turkey and the Arab countries where Abkhazs moved in the 2nd half of the 19th century. There are sub-ethnic groups: Abzhui, Gudaut (Bzyb) and Samuzakan. They belong to the Balkan-Caucasus race of the big European race. They speak the Abkhaz language of the Abchaz-Adug group of the North Caucasus family. Dialects: Abzhui (literary language is based on it) and Bzub. Russian and Georgian languages are also in use. Literacy is based on Russian alphabet. The believers are Moslems-sunnits and Christian orthodox.

The ancestors of the Abkhazs belonged to the aboriginal population of the western Caucasus. It was mentioned in the Assyrian scripts under the name or Abeshla, later it was mentioned in the antique sources that described the tribe unions of Abazgs in the north, Apsils in the South etc. At the period of the Abkhaz kingdom (8-10th centuries) there has finished the joining up of the ancient Abkhaz tribes into the Abkhaz nationality. Since Abkhazia joined Russia (1810) in the middle of the 19th century the written language based on Russian alphabet started to form. The process of national consolidation speeded up when Abkhaz Soviet Socialist Republic was formed in 1921 (since 1931 - Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic). In 1992 Abkhazia proclaimed independence, but its status remains undetermined. On the opinion of Georgian government, there exists an Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia within the borders of Georgia, its administrative center is The city of Sukhumi. According to the constitution of Abkhazia it?s a sovereign state, but this hasn?t been accepted on the international level.

Traditional occupations of the Abkhazs are agriculture and distant pasture cattle-breeding, by-works are bee-keeping and hunting. They grow corn and other cereals, tobacco, cotton, grapes, fruit, tea, citrus, breed cattle, breed goats in the mountains. Traditional trades are making agricultural instruments, utensils, clothes, items made of metal and horn, embroidery, carpet-making, encrusting, wood-carving.

From the point of view of traditional social organization the most typical is an extended patriarchal family and patronimia, alatuchestvo and other kinds of fictive relationships. The system of relationship is of Arab type. Since the middle of the 19th century there prevailed a nucleus family and a neighborhood community. There survived the family exogamia and other kinds of patriarchal-clan organization.

Traditional villages are scattered. Round and square wicker constructions with conic or two-slope straw roofs were replaced with houses made of wooden boards with elevated floor on piles as early as the 19th century; during the years of the Soviet power there were common the two-floor stone houses of a city type.

Traditional male costume - woolen or cotton trousers, a shirt, a beshmet, cherkeska, belt with metal decorations and a burka. Head gear - mainly a felt hat or a bashluk, footwear - chuviaki and nogovisty. Female dress - trousers, dresses with a high collar, beshmets, kerchiefs, chuviaki and wooden boots. Traditional clothes are only worn by the elderly people on holidays.

Main foods are corn porridge, sour milk, cheese, vegetables, boiled beef and fried chicken with spices (adjika etc.).

Folklore is well developed ( Nart epic stories).

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