Chidaoba (wrestling) is an ancient form of martial art practised by a large proportion of the male population throughout all the regions, villages and communities of Georgia. Bearers of the tradition include young people, city residents, sports clubs, educational institutions and amateur organizations. The practice is a complex phenomenon that combines elements of wrestling, music, dance and special garments (‘chokha’). Having had a combat function until the late Middle Ages, Chidaoba gradually became a spectacular sport. Tournaments take place in an open-air arena, surrounded by a large audience, accompanied by a wind instrument (‘zurna’) and Georgian drum (‘doli’) music, which marks the beginning. Wrestlers attempt to defeat each other through special holds, and vibrant music enhances the dynamics of the contest. The code of conduct is chivalric, and occasionally the wrestlers leave the arena with a Georgian folk dance. Chidaoba uses an important number of special wrestling holds: there are an estimated 200 such holds and counter-holds, the combination of which speaks to the wrestlers’ creativity. The practice encourages a healthy lifestyle and plays an important role in intercultural dialogue. From early spring to autumn, young people practise wrestling outdoors, mastering skills previously acquired by watching matches, and there are wrestling sections in almost every village and city of Georgia.
The evolution of Georgia’s written language has produced three alphabets – Mrgvlovani, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli – which all remain in use today. Mrgvlovani was the first alphabet from which Nuskhuri was derived and then Mkhedruli. The alphabets coexist thanks to their different cultural and social functions, reflecting an aspect of Georgia’s diversity and identity. Their ongoing use in a cultural sense, also gives communities a feeling of continuity. The alphabets Mrgvlovani and Nuskhuri are practised and taught informally predominately by the community of the Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church. For example, the alphabets feature in texts used by church worshippers such as the psalms and hymns and on inscriptions of display items used in the church, like the icons. Traditional craftspeople (goldsmiths, embroiderers, icon-painters and sculptors) who create pieces for the church can also be considered as practitioners and transmitters of the alphabets, as well as some theological schools, tertiary institutions, linguists, scholars and historians. Georgia’s educational system, however, is based on the Mkhedruli alphabet. Taught in primary and high school, the Mkhedruli alphabet is also transmitted informally in the home from older to younger generations. The Mrgvlovani and Nuskhuri alphabets are taught in schools in Georgia but at a basic level.
Qvevri wine-making is practised throughout Georgia, particularly in village communities where unique varieties of grapes are grown. The Qvevri is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for making, ageing and storing the wine. Knowledge and experience of Qvevri manufacture and wine-making are passed down by families, neighbours, friends and relatives, all of whom join in communal harvesting and wine-making activities. Children learn how to tend the vines, press grapes, ferment wine, collect clay and make and fire Qvevris through observing their elders. The wine-making process involves pressing the grapes and then pouring the juice, grape skins, stalks and pips into the Qvevri, which is sealed and buried in the ground so that the wine can ferment for five to six months before being drunk. Most farmers and city dwellers use this method of making wine. Wine plays a vital role in everyday life and in the celebration of secular and religious events and rituals. Wine cellars are still considered the holiest place in the family home. The tradition of Qvevri wine-making defines the lifestyle of local communities and forms an inseparable part of their cultural identity and inheritance, with wine and vines frequently evoked in Georgian oral traditions and songs.
Popular singing has a highly valued place in Georgian culture. Polyphonic singing, in the Georgian language, is a secular tradition in a country whose language and culture have often been oppressed by invaders. There are three types of polyphony in Georgia: complex polyphony, which is common in Svaneti; polyphonic dialogue over a bass background, prevalent in the Kakheti region in Eastern Georgia; and contrasted polyphony with three partially improvised sung parts, characteristic of western Georgia. The Chakrulo song, which is sung at ceremonies and festivals and belongs to the first category, is distinguished by its use of metaphor and its yodel, the krimanchuli and a “cockerel’s crow”, performed by a male falsetto singer. Some of these songs are linked to the cult of the grapevine and many date back to the eighth century. The songs traditionally pervaded all areas of everyday life, ranging from work in the fields (the Naduri, which incorporates the sounds of physical effort into the music) to songs to curing of illnesses and to Christmas Carols (Alilo). Byzantine liturgical hymns also incorporated the Georgian polyphonic tradition to such an extent that they became a significant expression of it. Having previously suffered the drawbacks of socialist cultural policies, traditional Georgian music is now threatened by rural exodus as well as by the increasing success of pop music. In many archives one finds recordings of polyphonic songs from the beginning of the twentieth century; these recordings are, however, not secure enough to guarantee the long-term preservation.