The traditions and customs of the Adyghe people are of genuine interest, because this is one of the few ethnic groups that has retained its identity and adheres to the cultural foundations of its ancestors. The first mention of it is found in the writings of ancient Greek writers of the 5th-6th centuries. BC. In those days, Meotian tribes lived on the territory of modern Adygea, from which various nationalities came, united today by the common name “Adyghe”.
Adyghes are one of the ethnic groups of the Adyghe family, which also includes Kabardians, Circassians, Shapsugs, Ubykhs and Abkhazians. The history of this people is very complex and confusing: its ancestors were Meots, Zikhs, Kasogs, Kerkets. For many centuries, there was an active assimilation of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasus and the Kuban, which is why the Adyghes have never been a single conglomerate. Until the Caucasian War of 1817-1867. there were several separate principalities: Kabarda (Big and Small), Bzhedugia, Natukhai, Ubykhia, etc. Kabarda was considered the most powerful of them. It was the encroachment of Russia that forced the Adyghe people to begin rapprochement between the individual principalities, but time was lost: first, by royal decree, most of the Adyghes were deported to the Ottoman Empire, and then the Soviet government artificially divided the sub-ethnic groups, forming three subjects within the USSR: Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygea.
It is interesting that the representatives of this ethnic group themselves call themselves Adygei. Philologists trying to reveal the secret of the ethnonym “Adyghe” have come to the conclusion that in translation this word means “children of the sun”. A synonym for the name of the nationality is the Circassians, therefore, among scientists, a double definition of the Adyghe people (Circassians) has been adopted.
Life of the Adyghes
In the Republic of Adygea, the traditions of the ancestors have been preserved to the maximum. This is especially noticeable in the example of farming. Until the middle of the XIX century. in society, they adhered to the foundations of the feudal-slave-owning system, which was characterized by a class hierarchy. According to the same rules, duties in the community were regulated.
In the traditions of the peoples of Adygea – life in family settlements of up to 100 people. The father is considered the head of the family. Indisputable authority – older people. The principle of seniority is preserved throughout life: if several boys grow up in a family, then, according to custom, the eldest son should marry first.
Despite the fact that the Circassians are considered excellent warriors, the main occupations of this people are peaceful. Modern Adyghes of the Krasnodar Territory remain true to the traditions of their ancestors and are most often engaged in agriculture and cattle breeding. Each family has a large subsidiary farm: ducks, chickens, geese. In the mountains, shepherds graze sheep, goats, mules and yaks. Wheat, corn, barley and millet are sown in the fields. Craftsmanship is also developed: the Adyghe people are famous for their blacksmiths and pass on their skills from generation to generation. Women have no equal in the manufacture of fabrics.
The Adyghe cuisine is quite simple, it is even called “military field”. Dishes here are mostly prepared on the basis of lamb, milk and cereals. A separate place is occupied by the tradition of making the famous Adyghe cheese. From generation to generation, the history of its recipe is passed down: according to legend, the god of cattle breeding Amysh revealed the manufacturing technology to Circassian girls as a reward for saving a flock of sheep from death.
These people prefer wooden houses. And this is also a tribute to the customs of the ancestors of the Adyghe people: once dwellings were made not from logs, but from branches, so that you could assemble and disassemble the house in wartime conditions. Separately, they equip a guest room, which is called “Kunacka”. Previously, in large communities, a separate house was built for guests.
Women and men
Adyghe man is not only the head of the family. First of all, he is the protector of his land. From time immemorial, this people was famous for its fearlessness and courage. At the end of the first millennium BC, his ancestors were able to form a powerful state of Sindiku on the Black Sea coast of the Krasnodar Territory, possessing such an army that even Tsar Mithridates was afraid of.
The traditions and customs of the Adyghe regarding the upbringing of boys have survived to this day: from early childhood, children are taught how to handle a knife, bow and arrow, stay in the saddle and take care of horses. Cowardice for men, regardless of age, is unacceptable, but boasting is considered a vice. A true Circassian is modest and courageous. A man can be in the center of attention only 3 times in his life: at the moment of birth, on the day of death and at his own wedding.
Women are the standard of beauty. Many note the special becoming of Adyghe women. And this is no accident: from the age of 12, girls here begin to wear a corset, which helps to keep their posture and makes the waist very thin. Dark long hair is considered a symbol of beauty, which they braid into braids before marriage, and after the wedding they hide it under a scarf. For the bright appearance, magnificent figure and complaisant nature of women from Adygea, rich people from many countries wanted to have concubines.
The attitude towards women among this people is unusual for Caucasians. Ladies are held in high esteem here: you can’t use foul language, smoke, quarrel, fight in front of them. A man always gets up if a woman enters the room, and the riders dismount when they meet a traveler on the road. Earlier, according to the Adyghe custom, warriors who returned after a successful campaign came to the house of the most respected woman in the community and brought her gifts. If there was no such lady in the settlement, then they gave gifts to the first Adyghe woman they met on the way.
By tradition, the birth of a child is celebrated with special joy by the Adyghe people. One of the customs is hanging a flag on the roof of the house. If a girl is born, then a colorful flag flutters over the dwelling, if a boy, then a monophonic cloth is attached, most often red. In the first year of a baby’s life, the paternal grandfather plants a tree. This symbolizes the beginning of the formation of the life path of a new family member: as a tree grows stronger, so does a child grow stronger and smarter.
The dowry for the baby is collected after his birth. Bedding is bought by women on the mother’s side: if the baby sleeps on a bed prepared by the father’s relatives, then in the future he will be unhappy in marriage. Before putting the baby in the cradle, they put the cat there and let her sleep, so that the child then sleeps just as soundly here as she does. The paternal grandmother puts the baby to sleep.
The Adyghe people of the Krasnodar Territory have an interesting tradition associated with the celebration of the first step of a child. When the baby begins to walk, they choose a day, convene guests (usually close relatives and friends), set the table, arrange games and competitions. The child’s legs are tied with a ribbon, and then the eldest woman from the family cuts it, saying: “Grow strong and healthy.” This rite symbolizes the parting words of the child for the rest of his life. An interesting tradition is to treat everyone who came to the holiday with a piece of round bread. First, a large round bread is served on a special ritual table with three legs, a baby is placed on it and a footprint is carefully cut out. This piece is intended for the child himself, while the rest of the bread is divided among the guests. Everyone should eat this treat so that the future life of the baby will be smooth.
Starting a family
The traditions of the Adyghe wedding are very reminiscent of a similar celebration of other Caucasian peoples. The essential difference lies in the freedom of choice of a couple: in the first place is the consent of the girl to marry the young man she likes. So that young people can take a closer look at each other, a separate room is made in the houses for the ceremony “Institute of the Girl’s Room”. According to the Adyghe tradition, having reached the age of majority, girls can attend weddings of close relatives and family friends. These days they can look after the groom for themselves, just as the young man can get to know the contenders for the role of his wife better.
Adyghe women of marriageable age go to the rooms allotted for them, into which young people come in turn to communicate. During the conversation, the closest relative of the girl is present in the room. Looking closely at each other, young people meet again and talk about their sympathy.
Next comes the marriage ceremony. The groom’s relatives visit the bride’s house three times, and each time they must receive an affirmative answer and refreshments. It happens that not everything works out the first time, but the perseverance and desire of the young to unite their destinies usually leads to a positive decision. Theft of a bride is permissible among Circassians, but unlike other Caucasian peoples, this does not oblige the girl in any way. If she does not agree to marry a guy, she returns home to her parents without any judgment. But the young man at the same time is disgraced, because he decided to captivate a woman.
After the matchmaking, the bride’s parents go to visit the groom to check how well the future relatives are. This custom is taken as a sign of respect and symbolizes the final approval of the couple’s choice. After 2-3 days, a return visit takes place: for the fact that they were considered worthy, close young men bring gifts and kalym for the girl to women from the bride’s clan.
Like the Chechens, Adyghe weddings are rather closed. They are attended by the groom’s relatives, but close brides stay at home. On the appointed day, a motorcade is sent for the girl from the house of her young man. He is met by children who in every possible way prevent the passage of cars, demanding sweets as a ransom. In the house of the young, everyone sits down at the laid tables, while the bride herself is in a separate room and is waiting to be picked up by women from the family of her future husband. After lunch, the motorcade goes to the registry office. A close relative or friend can accompany the young woman.
The most interesting custom in the Adyghe wedding tradition is the introduction of the bride to the groom’s house. Under the ritual songs, the young woman is led by the arms to the older women from her husband’s family. One of them showers the girl with coins and millet, which symbolizes the wishes of the new family for prosperity, abundance and large offspring. All gifts that fall on the floor must be collected by children.
After shedding, the bride symbolically crosses the threshold of the house. For this, a melyfe sheepskin is laid under her feet. Be sure to follow which foot she steps first: the right one – fortunately, the left one – to difficulties in family life. Another ancient custom is to smear the lips of a young woman with ghee and honey so that she will be eloquent in the future. Then congratulations follow. The father-in-law and the mother-in-law are the first to approach, then the women from the husband’s family in order of seniority. Everyone approaching the bride brings her money or gold, which symbolizes the purchase of the right to talk with the girl.
There is a rite of return of the groom. According to ancient traditions, the young man never attended the celebration and sat out in the house of distant relatives. In order for the newly-made husband to return home, older men from his family conduct ritual invocations. Approaching the threshold, the young man, as a sign of confirmation of his identity, must name the names of relatives up to the 3rd knee and accept the cup of truce.
Modern wedding traditions are no longer as strict as they were in the past. Today, the bride’s relatives can still get to the celebration, but usually she comes to the celebration in the evening. He brings food and dowry with him. Close relatives on both sides go to a separate room, where they get to know each other at the table. Together they must eat a lamb dish, which consists of the shoulder blade and the right side of the animal’s head. This is also a real ritual: the eldest guest should cut the head. He gives his ear to the table manager, the lower part to the guest who sits on the left, and half of the upper part of the head to the person on the right. The elder takes the rest.
In the tradition of the Adyghe wedding, noisy games and dances. Usually the guests stand in a circle so that the men are opposite the women. The host of the celebration, with a walnut tree pointer, determines the couple, which should go to the middle and dance. In such a game, everyone can demonstrate their art.
The next day after the celebration, the young people come to the bride’s house. This is also a tribute to traditions: in the past, the first visit of a girl was possible only a year after the wedding. So she showed her loved ones that she was doing well and that she was grateful to her relatives for raising her correctly.
The Adyghes are a people who have preserved their centuries-old culture and history. The main advantage for them is respect for elders and nature. Despite the fact that over the centuries the Adygs were forced to move to other regions more than once, they managed to remain true to their traditions and land.