Ritual Folklore of the Abkhazians Salakaia, by Sh. Kh. Salakaia (1975)

Abkhazians in 1867

Soviet Anthropology and Archeology, Vol. 14:1-2, 168-178, July 1975.

Depending on the nature of their economies, different types of ritual poetry moved to the fore among different peoples at various times. While poetry of familial ritual is of a single type among all peoples, or at least a majority of them, insofar as its principal features are concerned, one cannot say this with respect to the poetry associated with work. Among those peoples whose principal occupation was tilling the soil, it was naturally ritual poetry having to do with the agricultural calendar that developed to the highest degree; while among those who chiefly engaged in hunting, it was hunting songs that took pride of place, and so forth.

In Abkhazian folklore, despite the fact that those who created it were from antiquity familiar with agriculture, as numerous archeological and ethnographic data show, calendrical agricultural poetry occupies an utterly insignificant place or, in any case, has not come down to our day and has gone unrecorded. The numerous rituals associated with farming and cattle raising are not, as a rule, accompanied by songs or other works of poetry created specifically for that occasion, but are confined simply to prayers, to verbal formulae of a very general character, sometimes uttered by a priest but most often by the master, the head of the family, and addressed to the protectors of various branches of the economy.

The poetry of the hunt is quite another story. For the Abkhazians, as for many other mountain peoples of the Caucasus, hunting remained until quite recently one of the most favored occupations, while in remote antiquity it was indubitably the foundation of the entire economic activity of our forebears. This explains the fact that among the Abkhazians, as among other hunting peoples, the hunt developed a regular institution of rituals, taboos, and limitations, going as far as the creation of a special idiom, the so-called language of the forests, or hunters' language (abna byzshea). From the ethnographic point of view, the hunt among the Abkhazians has been investigated in ample detail both by prerevolutionary and Soviet scholars.

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