David Tsotskolauri                                                                                                                                                                     # 10

Pshavian Highland Tribal Community Traditions in Vazha-Pshavela’s Life and Creative Works


The life and creative environment of Vazha-Pshavela is one and indivisible. The basis of the creator’s unique activity is his personal features and artistic talent. The nature of a talent or artistic thinking can be properly manifested only in the world of letters. Creativity is a phenomenon of complex structure. Whether the writer wishes it or not, he appears as a kind of split personality. He looks like an ordinary man who lives everyday life with its routine and, at the same time, he should express his alter ego, i.e. creative personality.

A great writer sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously makes projection of what he has seen, experienced or thought in artistic creations on the base of natural phenomena,  every day life and personal spiritual abilities. The writer’s nature, the ideal and personal characteristics of his existence are not identical to ordinary man’s features, although there is not a blank wall between them. Obviously, man’s ordinary character traits and his poetic aspirations are in constant interaction with each other. Without action of this universal rule the impact of artistic work on us would be much less. A creator differs from an ordinary man by the spirituality which elevates him to the highest purity, frees from all that is mean, trivial and accidental. He tries to escape or rise above littleness although sometimes he has no power to do it.

In the history of Georgian writing it fell to Vazha-Pshavela’s lot to live in two social structures simultaneously. He was a resident of the Georgian highlands, namely Pshavi’s tribal community structure (temi) and lowlands’ feudal structure and his creative biography was formed there. Vazha-Pshavela’s life and literary activity is complex and diverse. His artistic creations clearly show the writer’s connection with both patriarchal commune and lowland life. The typical features of both social structures are expressed in his artistic works. The poet’s amazing talent, diversity of emotions, the greatness of artistic expression, large-scale of world outlook - all this evidence the value of archaic community life in which the writer lived in reality and as a poet. For the creator, social and psychological, mythological, religious and ethical realities of the classless society and the facts of feudal-class interrelations had different meanings. In the plots of Vazha-Pshavela’s artistic creations, different from each other events of living in Georgian highlands and lowland went freely although both materials with unrivalled artistic force served the country and the highest purposes of man’s freedom.

It has been established that tribal community structure was the most long-term social and economic structure in the world. In Georgia, particularly in the Pshavi province the community (temi) structure had been preserved nearly up to the thirties of the 20th century. Naturally, in the course of thousands of years numerous customs and rituals were forgotten but it was the principles of traditional basic commune interrelations that had remained constant. Everywhere the patriarchal community life and, of course in Pshavi too, was based on belief of a certain kin eternal blood relationship. Community social relations did not recognize division of men according to the property, status and rights. In tribal communities or their united communes the equality of rights was protected by shrine priests (xevisberi). According to the legend from the beginning in Pshavi there were 15 communes (temi), and in the following centuries only 12 communes are mentioned. Each commune was ruled by shrine priests (xevisberi) on voluntary basis. Two or four respected people elected at commune gathering helped him to rule. The solution of common commune or Pshavians problems happened with participation of 12 commune priests under the presidency of the priest of Lasharis-Jvari to discuss important matters concerning the entire valley. Common Pshavian decisions were made by voting of 13 priests. Family commune unit was ruled by the board of shrine priests. The priest was in charge of both secular and religious life.

If any shrine priest of a separate commune had difficulties to make decisions then he asked for assistance the priest of Lasharis-Jvari and he performed his duty. The shrine priests did not get any payment for fulfilling their secular or religious duties. After ending their duties they returned back to their everyday life (agricultural work or farming) like other members of the community.  Besides the shrine priests in communitye, there were much respected warriors (kai qmebi) fighting bravely against enemies. The only reward for their great deeds and loyalty was people’s love and respect. During religious feasts there was everybody’s duty to bless them with a special honorable cup (sakargkmko). 

The Pshavi province, Vazha Pshavela’s native land, is one of the most unique of Georgian highlands. According to Professor Giorgi Melikishvili, the first mentioning of this site is found in the Khettian documents under the name Pakhuva from the second half of the 14th century B.C. “The name  almost precisely repeated the tribe name Pkhovi of the Caucasian mountaineers tribe” (Melikishvili 1965: 100).

The reference to the name of Pshavi and its history is found in Georgian historiography in the thirties of the 4th century and from the 5th-7th centuries it appears in Armenian records too. Historical designation of Pshavi as Pakura equals to the time of Troy’s war. The Troy war was described by Homeros in his Iliad 5-6 centuries later. If we compare the social structure of the participants of this war with Pshavians traditional structure it appears that Pshsavs social structure is older.

In the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century, Vazha Pshavela (1861-1915) was recognized not only as a great poet, but his knowledge of Georgian history, ethnography, myth, religion and folklore was remarkable. The poet lived the life of the Pshavi community and the feudal system of the lowlands. Being a great artist, the writer connected the unwritten laws of highlanders with positive human values with the single Georgian historical requirements.

Vazha Pshavela’s life and creative aspirations were determined by difference between the social structures  in Georgian highlands and lowlands. Therefore the poet, as an ordinary man and as a creative person seemed strange to everybody. That might be true if we considered his artistic creations as self-expression of poet’s complex personality. Thus, two types of social structures and the poet’s dual interest to them must have been matched in artistic images. Such type of creative interest, on the base of priority of eternal single national values, must have singled out the link between the oldest magical and mythical, religious and traditional events and new realities. Vazha Pshavela’s epic artistic images: Aluda, Jokola, Aghaza, Lukhumi, Kviria, Sanata, Mindia and numerous lyrical heroes brought to light the problems of much suffered Georgia of the 19th century. They find the similarity to Georgian consciousness and traditional behavior of the pre-Christian time.

Vazha Pshavela died at the age of 53 but his creative output is amazing. In the course of 35 years parallel to constant physical work in the village he published 507 lyrical verses, 38 poems, 105 novels, 4 plays, 145 literary publicist letters and translated 12 works of foreign writers. His works are compiled in 10 volumes. The writer’s creations reflect diversity of themes and motifs, namely, freedom of the native land, interrelations of society and individual, cosmic order and nature, essence of life and death, transient world, love, public duty, war and labor, conscience, human’ existence in this life and after death, etc. The poet in his artistic creations gives the priority to the material displaying Pshavs community men character so as to fit into the frames of spiritual and intellectual requirements of the whole Georgia. Legend says that in olden times there were 15 communes in Pshavi. At the end only 12 communes left. Other communes and excess population was settled in Kartle-Kakheti region. The Pshavs residing in other places used to maintain the relative connection with their ancestors in highlands and loyalty to their belief. Only communist regime broke traditional authorization system of shrine priests (xevisberi). The Pshavs always defend bravery Georgian kings but there was an agreement between them that their autonomy of social life would be guaranteed. The Psavs did not permit neither kings nor feudal to infringe their property, status and rights. Sometimes they defend their own social status with weapon, and they were proud of their own social justice. The Georgian kings did not interfere in Pshavs domestic relations.

In Vazha Pshavela’s view, writers of all epochs, their world outlook and formation of creative aspirations were subjected to the influence of the uniqueness of the Nature, men’s life and the environment. It is the creator’s environment of action and he expressed his views on the character of his artistic thinking relation. “It is a great matter for the writer to acknowledge his roots –impressions of childhood feed the poet creative nectar”, as well as talented writer "true genius cannot feel this world in half, thirds or forth but he feels a whole unity”.

The works of genius writers are germinated on the national ground and often based on ethnography, and therefore the private features become general and universal and equally loved by people whatever nationality they belong to”( Melikishvili 1965: 100).  It was not the books from which Vazha Pshavela learned about  the Pshavians mythological and religious concepts and essence of traditional laws of justice but immediately from his people’s life, behavior and speech; it was preserved in traditions of each family and commune. The synthesis of Vazh Pshavela’s thinking and symbolic and metaphoric artistic imagination helped him to create original artistic images on the basis of the mentioned material. It is poet’s belief that each social system contains general national and universal values in more or less degree. For him such environment was Pshavi. Traditional archetypes existed there were filled with poet’s fantasy with new human spirituality and in this way created the personages with great polyphonic character.




Melikishvili 1965: Melikishvili G. On Problems of Georgia, Caucasus and Near East Oldesy Population. Tbilisi, 1965.

Vazha-Pshavela 1964: Vazha-Pshavela, The 10-volume of complete collective works. Tbilisi, v.IX, 1964, 295-296.



Volume 2, issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature