Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Abkhazians mostly live in the de facto autonomous republic of Abkhazia located between the southwestern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and a narrow strip along the Black Sea coast in the extreme northwest region of the Republic of Georgia. Many other ethnic groups now live in Abkhazia including Kartvelians, Armenians, Russians, Greeks, and Ukrainians. The Abhkazian economy is based on animal husbandry, household craftwork, and agriculture. Abkhazian culture is centered on the family and family relations, with patterns of patrilocal residence, descent and authority dominating. The Abkhazians are known for the extreme longevity of many of their inhabitants.


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Asia --Caucasus



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The RI03 Abkhaz collection consists of four English language documents dealing with the people and culture of Abkhazia. The documents in this collection cover approximately the period from 1864 to 1979. The study by Paula Garb (1984, no. 6), based on the memories of her centenarian informants, goes back in time to the middle or late nineteenth century, recounting their experiences in growing up in Abkhazia during czarist times when the patriarchal feudal order was just giving way to capitalist development. These accounts describe the informants' relations with their parents, the way they were raised, early Soviet government, the formation of collective farms, World War II, and their opinions of modern (late twentieth century) Abkhazian youth. Benet (1974, no. 5) focuses on various environmental and biological factors leading to extreme longevity of a large number of individuals in Abkhaz society. Other ethnographic topics discussed in this document are kinship and kinship terminology, women's roles, marriage, sexual behavior, child-rearing practices, funerals, religion, and folklore. Dzhanashvili (1894, no. 1) and Dzhanashia (1937, no. 3) both deal in large part with Abkhaz religion - the gods, ceremonies, spirits of the dead, religious holidays, etc. In addition Dzhanashvili also presents some general, ethnographic information on social life (marriage, the fosterage system of the upper class etc.), with some notes on mortuary practices.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts preceding each document.

This culture summary is an updated and revised version of the article "Abkhazians" originally published in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol. 6, Russia and Eurasia/China. 1994. Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, eds. Boston, Mass., G. K. Hall &Co. B. George Hewitt revised the culture summary in June of 2008. The synopsis and indexing notes were written by John Beierle in May 2007.

Overview by

John Beierle

Abipara - sub-lineages - use "LINEAGES (613)"

Abysta (Abista) - cornmeal mash, grits, pollenta - use "DIET (262)"

Amhara - cone-shaped wicker lodging for newly married couples - use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Azhwla-ayhaby (Aila-aikhaba) - chief of the council of a lineage/sub-lineage - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" with "LINEAGES (613)"

Aywndu (A-indu) - literally "large house"; an extended family - use "EXTENDED FAMILIES (596)"

Akhwpha (Akhupha) - a type of fosterage in which a child is given up to be raised in another family - use "ARTIFICIAL KIN RELATIONSHIPS (608)"

Apatskha - the dwelling - use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Apkhjartsa (Aojgartsa) - a musical instrument similar to a two-stringed dulcimer - use "MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS (534)"

Aywnadara (Avnadara) - adoption - use "ADOPTION (597)"

Azhwla (Azhvala) - lineages; relatives with the same name - use "LINEAGES (613)"

Ch'ach'a (Chacha) - vodka distilled from grape skins - use "ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (273)"

Didebuli - the aristocracy - use "CLASSES (565)" = Georgian word

Ghomi - corn bread - use "DIET (262)" = Georgian words

Institute of Abkhazian Culture - - use "SCIENCE (815)"

K'jaraz (Kiaraz) - a work cooperative providing mutual aid in agriculture - use "TILLAGE (241)" together with "MUTUAL AID (476)" and "COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION (474)"

Komsomol - a Russian communist youth organization - use "POLITICAL PARTIES (665)"

Kulak - rich men of the peasant class - use "CLASSES (565)"

Mats'oni (Matzoni) - buttermilk; fermented milk - use "NONALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (272)" = Georgian word

Milk brotherhood - ritual kinship established between adults in order to cement friendships - use "ARTIFICIAL KIN RELATIONSHIPS (608)"

Nartaa Amateur Folk Company - use "MUSICAL AND THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS (545)"

Phatskha - see Apatskha

Wet nurse - use "INFANT FEEDING (853)"

Work brigades - use "LABOR AND LEISURE (461)" with "MUTUAL AID (476)"

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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