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ETHNONYMS: Self-designation: Ghvanal; designation by other groups: Andai, Andiitsy, Handisew


Identification. The Andis are one of the indigenous Daghestanian peoples of the former USSR. Their territory is included in the Botlikh District (raion ) of the Daghestanian Autonomous SSR.

Location. The Andis live in western Daghestan. Their neighbors to the northwest are the Chechens; to the southeast, the small ethnic groups speaking other Andian languages and the Avars. The principal area of settlement, Andia, is a vast valley bordered by the Andi ridge and its spurs. The snow-covered steep ridge forms the entire northern boundary and exercises a moderating influence on Andia's climate by sheltering it from cold winds. In the past, access to Andia could be difficult: the roads linking it to the outside world were guarded on the south by the Mynin Tower and on the north by the fortress of Butsurkha. At present, however, all of the Andian villages are linked by automobile routes.

Demography. In 1938 the Andis numbered 9,750. By 1990 the population had grown to over 25,000. The density of settlement is 39-40 persons per square kilometer. About half of the Andis have emigrated to the Daghestanian lowlands (Khasavyurt, Babayurt, and Kizilyurt districts). Although they were counted as a separate nationality in the 1926 census, the Andis, along with the seven other small communities speaking languages of the Andian Subgroup (see "Linguistic Affiliation"), have been counted as Avars in more recent Soviet censuses.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Andi language belongs to the Andian Subgroup of the Andi-Avar-Dido Group, itself a subdivision of the Daghestanian Branch of the Northeast Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) Language Family. Linguists have described seven Andi dialects, which form two closely related dialect groups: Upper Andi and Lower Andi (Munib-Kvankhidatl). The speech of women and men are distinguished by certain phonetic, lexical, and stylistic features (noted in the village of Andi).

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence from the Kuro-Araxes culture (fourth to third millennia b.c. excavated on Andian territory near the villages of Gagati and Ashali, along with linguistic evidence, links the Andis with the Caucasian world. In addition there is a tradition, based on ninth-century b.c. sources, that the Andis, after having been routed by the Assyrian King Sargon II, migrated to the Caucasus from the Near East (I. Aliev, 1960, p. 26). There is reliable testimony from Pliny the Elder (first century a.d.) that at the beginning of the Christian era the Andis were already settled in the eastern Caucasus. According to toponymic evidence the Andis once occupied a wide expanse of territory below the Andiskoe Koysu River, but evidently they were assimilated by an Avar-speaking population. Another segment of the Andi people, along the middle and upper Andiskoe Koysu, later subdivided into seven ethnic groups, each with a distinct language: the Botlikhs, Ghodoberins, Akhvakhs, K'arat'ins, Bagvalals, Ch'amalals, and Tindals.

Historical accounts and chronicles record the incursion of Tamerlane's troops into Andia and their destruction of the home of Khan Yoluk at Gagatl and of the establishment of Islam there at the same time. Documents describe Andi society as having an established political system. In the seventeenth century the Andis won a decisive victory in the battle at Akhkhulatly over the militia of the Avar nutsal Turulava, who had disputed the right of the Andi lords to collect tribute and exercise control over the neighboring communities of Avaria and Mountain Chechnia. The Andis became Russian subjects in 1731, but shortly afterward they broke away to support the Chechens against the Russian General von Frauendorf. The Andis participated in the victorious pan-Daghestanian campaign against the forces of the Persian ruler Nadir Shah in 1741. The Andi cavalry took an active part in the Caucasus Wars (1817-1864) from the beginning and distinguished themselves for their bravery. Among the better-known participants in this fight for independence were the Andi naibs Gaziyav and Labezan; the latter fought alongside Shamil, the imam of Daghestan and Chechnia, at Gubinskoy fortress. After the civil war and the establishment of Soviet authority in 1924, the Andis were integrated into the political and socioeconomic structure of the USSR. Among the more profound changes subsequent to this were the collectivization of village agriculture and the granting of winter pasturelands in the Daghestanian lowlands for the permanent use of Andi farmers. Schools were opened in all villages.

Language and Literacy. A script has been developed for the Andi language, which is used for local communications and correspondence but not in publications. In addition, folklore and literary works have been written in Andi. The official written languages before the Revolution were Arabic (for clerical and religious matters) and Avar (literature, press, religion). In the 1930s Avar became the medium of instruction in primary schools, with subsequent education being conducted in Russian. The Arabic script was used until 1928, when a Latin-based alphabet was promulgated, followed by the introduction of a Cyrillic orthography in 1937. The Andis have long been a polyglot people: most have a good command of Avar, and some speak Chechen. Since the 1960s the majority can speak Russian as well. Andi folklore and literature is marked by bilingualism (Andi and Avar).


The Andi settlements are arranged like an amphitheater along the western and northern slopes of the Andi ravine (the villages of Andi, Gukhna, Gagatl, Rikvani, Ashali, Zilo, Chanko, Rishukha) and in the valleys of the larger rivers (the villages of Muni and Kvankhidatl). The older type of Andi settlement was a tightly packed cluster of buildings. Each village had a territory reserved for its exclusive use, the boundaries of which were clearly marked and respected. The territory comprised three segments: hon (settlement), mighi (arable land, including some of the hay fields), and bil-alakhi, which included the rest of the hay fields, alpine pastures, forests, badlands, and other uncultivatable land. Over the past thirty years this traditional division has undergone change. Should the settlement become densely populated, then a portion of the mighi and a portion of the fields are converted to private garden plots.

The most extreme example of the Andi architectural style is the village of Muni, which is essentially a single complex building. The streets are paved with stones and covered overhead by the upper stories of houses, giving the impression of tunnels. Muni resembles a phalanstery, formed from rows of two-story houses with adjoining walls. The lower story is used for stabling livestock and the upper story as living quarters. The flat roof of each house serves as a terrace for the house farther uphill. The typical Upper Andi settlement has a less-constrained layout: the streets are open, courtyards are present, the roofs are not shared, etc. The traditional administrative center of Andi territory is the village of Andi, laid out like a medieval mountain town: it is divided into quarters (rekhkhun ) with a central square (kaw ) and a mosque for Friday services. Each quarter also has its own kaw. Quarters and squares are likewise found in all other Andi villages. The Upper Andi settlements were twice destroyed and burned down: after the invasion of Tamerlane, and during Vorontsov's campaign of 1845. The contemporary homestead and settlement reflect the influence of more dispersed western Caucasian and eastern European layouts. Flat roofs have been supplanted by sloped roofs of slate or zinc-plated iron. The homes of well-to-do Andis traditionally were built with a separate room for guests, a feature preserved to this day. The interior of a traditional home includes a central column and a large fireplace (tavkhan ), decorated with clay-relief ornamentation. Shelves and niches on the walls serve for the storage of domestic utensils. (The interior of a contemporary home is somewhat different.)


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The foundations of the traditional economy of the Upper Andis were terrace farming, specialized gardening (in the villages of Muni and Kvankhidatl), and livestock herding, with the animals being driven to alpine pastures in the summer. The Andis have practiced all of these agricultural activities since antiquity, and they are all complementary. Some Andis have taken jobs in the modern industrial and agricultural sectors (as workers on collective farms and in factories, etc.).

Andi apparel and cuisine are little different from those of the Avars. One exception is the traditional woman's costume, which consists of a tuniclike long dress with a tight waist, wide pantaloons, and distinctive leather shoes. The costume is completed by a headdress, chukhtu, in the form of a half-moon with the "horns" pointing downward. The portion of the chukhtu worn over the forehead is adorned with bright gold embroidery or brocaded fabric. Upper Andi women also wear a long white kerchief (kazi ) wrapped about their heads. Lower Andi women wear a black kerchief without the chukhtu. The chukhtu was worn regularly up to the 1930s; now it is worn mainly on ceremonial occasions.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally the Andis manufactured noteworthy Caucasian felt cloaks (burkas ) of long, durable black or white wool, shorn from a local (Andian) breed of sheep. This craft was practiced by women, whereas the men were responsible for the dyeing and merchandising of the cloaks. The manufacture of burkas goes back to ancient times. Historical records mention black felt cloaks as part of the battle garment of mountaineers at the time of the campaign of Alexander the Great in the Near East. There was an especially great demand and consequently increased production of burkas during the frequent warfare of the nineteenth century. The Andis considered them a specifically masculine garment, an important component of a warrior's equipment in both the cavalry and infantry. In the 1930s the production of burkas declined as a result of changes in fashion, the decreasing role of the cavalry in the army, etc. Local demand is presently supplied by the burka artel of the village of Rakhata. In only one Andi village, Gagati, is the manufacture of burkas preserved as a minor form of domestic industry. In the Lower Andi village of Kvankhidatl table salt was extracted from nearby mineral springs and refined; this enterprise continues but only to a limited degree because of the reduced demand for the salt.

Trade. The Andis were traditionally considered to have an inclination for trade, deriving from the production of burkas. At one time they manufactured and sold 80,000 burkas per year throughout the entire Caucasus and Russia. Merchandisers would buy burkas from the villagers and sell them wherever it was profitable. Businesspeople organized the production of cloaks by hired laborers. By the second half of the twentieth century the burka trade was in decline. The villagers of Kvankhidatl deal in the salt they produce, which sold especially well during the economic blockade of Daghestan in the nineteenth century, at the time of the Caucasus Wars. The Lower Andis traditionally engaged in specialized gardening, all of the produce of which went to the markets to be exchanged for the products of animal husbandry and agriculture. In the past a weekly bazaar was held at the village of Andi, attended by villagers from the Andi territory and neighboring communities. At the present time the bazaar is held at Gagati. Cooperative stores are now found in all of the Andi villages.

Division of Labor. Work was strictly apportioned according to age and gender among the Andis, a practice continued up to the present time. Agricultural labor, except for plowing and the grinding of grain, is given over to women; they are also responsible for dairy production, handicrafts, and housework (cooking, cleaning, sewing, child care). The women also engage in small commerce; one can see as many women as men buying and selling at the weekly bazaar. The heaviest labor was reserved for men: woodcutting and construction, plowing and threshing, driving and tending livestock in the alpine meadows, driving sheep to winter pastures, mowing and transport of hay from distant hay fields, etc. Well-to-do Andis employed hired laborers from neighboring Avar and Chechen villages for these tasks. Division of domestic and agricultural labor by gender is still practiced today. According to tradition, men were supposed to be left free to devote their time to martial training and sports and social and political affairs, a belief deriving from the life-styles and social conditions of the past.

Land Tenure. Historically, arable land, a portion of the hay fields, and certain pasturelands were privately owned, alienable propertythat is, they could be bought, sold, inherited, given as gifts, etc. Some agricultural lots and other items were placed at the disposal of the mosque for charitable purposes. (Such items were known as waqf. ) The property of each settlement was also precisely known to those living in the area, either through written documents or collective memory. A portion of these territorial holdings might be bought, sold, leased, or yielded, as agreed upon by the negotiating communities and in accordance with traditional property law. Private and communal ownership of land and the buying and selling of it were abolished with the nationalization of the land and the establishment of collective farms under Soviet administration. Recent reforms and economic restructuring will doubtless lead to further changes regarding landownership.


Kin Groups and Descent. The patriarchal line of descent was organized into a clanlike entity called the tukhum, which was divided into smaller units according to the following hierarchy: the clan (tukhum), the group of related families (haq'u ) within the tukhum, and the nuclear family. Relations through the mother, which did not form the basis for a distinct kinship grouping, ceased to be reckoned after the third or fourth kinship link.

Kinship Terminology. The Andis reckon kinship bilaterally, using compound terms to indicate more distant generations: ima (father), imuv ima (grandfather), vosho (son), and voshuv vosho (grandson). Compare the preceding terms with the following noncompound terms for collateral relations: votsi (brother), vats'al (male first cousin), tsinaal (male second cousin), and mazhmutly (male third cousin). Some terms for relation through marriage are nusa (daughter-in-law), nuso (son-in-law), ilatloro (mother-in-law), and imatloro (father-in-law).

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Andis traditionally married at the age of 15 or older. Marriages were monogamous, although polygamy was permitted. Marriages could be contracted within the clan and even between cousins; there were restrictions on marriage between classes and a preference for marital partners from the same community. Matchmakers mediated the marital arrangements, and bride-prices were not paid. A bride received as a dowry a portion of her parents' property in land and livestock. In the Soviet period, after the abolition of private landownership, this practice was simplified. The contracting of marriage (beten ) was accompanied by a three-day wedding celebration (lovzar ), and in some cases horse-racing competitions, with awarding of prizes, were also held. A more abridged variant of the wedding (nusgh'ol ) was often celebrated, without elaborate festivities, in the presence of relatives and friends. Marriage by abduction sometimes occurred, especially when the parents had refused their daughter's hand to a suitor, as well as elopement, when the young couple married without the consent of their parents. Abduction and elopement could result in discord within the community and hostility between families. In some cases the young man and woman would be forgiven.

Marriage was always patrilocal, with the father providing his newly married son a separate room or even constructing a house for him. In marriage as in divorce the woman retained the rights to her portion of the immovable property. Children remained in the paternal household, especially boys. The Andis have always preferred to settle matters of divorce without resort to the courts. A marriage could be dissolved at the request of either party.

Domestic unit. Extended family units seem not to have been known among the Andis.

Inheritance. Generally children receive their portion of the inheritance while their parents are still living, on the occasion of their getting married. The youngest son stays in his father's home, which he subsequently inherits. In the event that there are no living children, the tukhum assumes the property. The term for the last person in a lineage is vakhidob ; in such a case the property is transferred to the communal treasury of the mosque. Should the parents die before the inheritance is divided, in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law) each son receives an equal share and each daughter receives one-third of a son's share. A person might also leave a written or oral testament specifying the distribution of inheritance. Written wills were announced at the mosque. After nationalization, land could no longer be inherited.

Socialization. Traditionally Andi children, juveniles, and young adults followed a socialization pattern developed over many centuries. Even today, beginning in the early years, all games, activities, and education are geared toward a child's development. The Andis ascribe especial importance to the learning of proper behavior. Contemporary schooling adheres to the general Soviet model, leading to changes in the traditional pedagogical scheme.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In the medieval period Andi society had a many-layered class structure. The upper stratum consisted of patricians and feudal families (rekhedol ), among which the Shamkhalol lineage (referred to as the "shamkalate") enjoyed a special social hegemony throughout Daghestan, extending from the introduction of Islam in the fifteenth century up to the seventeenth century. Especially prominent in Andi society was the free peasantry (uzden ), comprising more or less prestigious tukhums of noble origin. After the Russian Empire annexed Andia in the nineteenth century, a military elite was also recognized within Andi society. The lower class included freedmen (lagi ), descendants of captives or individuals involuntarily sold into slavery. The numerous lagis, after their emancipation in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and especially during the Soviet period, were almost completely integrated into general societyalthough their earlier status is still remembered and is taken into consideration in the contracting of marital alliances.

Political Organization. Andia has been referred to as a "federated republic" (S. Bronevski) comprising seven self-governing communities: Andi, Gukhna, Gagatl, Rikvani, Ashali, Zilo, and Chanko. The villages of Muni and Kvankhidatl were part of a neighboring political entity (tekhnutsal ). The Andian alliance was once the strongest in western Daghestan, particularly in the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries, at the time of the shamkhalate, the authority of which extended to neighboring Avarian and Chechen communities. Administrative and judicial powers were exercised by governors (hilatabul ) and a council of elders (jamati ) representing the populace. The most general powers and functions were delegated to the government of the federation. The governors were selected and sworn in annually. The police function was fulfilled by appointees of the council of elders (dorghaqol ), and military matters devolved upon the seduqan (leaders).

Social Control and Conflict. The courts based their decisions on the traditional code of laws (adat ), custom, and Sharia. Justice (according to Sharia) and spiritual authority were carried out by the qadis (judges), present in each village, from among whom was chosen the chief qadi of the federation. (One such social and religious figure was the fifteenth-century qadi Ali Mirza al Andi, who bore the title "Sheikh-ul-Shyukh.") Because of this juridical pluralism, a plaintiff could choose from among judicial systems. Public opinion exerted an important regulatory constraint, as did the maslaat (mediatory) courts. In many instances the parties settled matters without resort to the courts, on the basis of tradition and negotiation. During the time of the imamate (mid-nineteenth century) and annexation to Russia, an Andian naibate (part of the Andi okrug ) replaced the earlier federation and was subsequently liquidated with the establishment of Soviet power. At the present time village soviets administer local authority.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Andis are Sunni Muslims. They definitively adopted Islam in the fourteenth century; the Muslim faith supplanted a Christianity syncretized with more ancient religious beliefs. The pre-Islamic Andis had a cultic center on the peak of the mountain of Bakhargan, which was associated with their chief deity, Ts'ob. The Bakhargan cult declined after the propagation of Islam but did not disappear entirely. Even now, in times of summer drought, men and women ascend the mountain to perform rain-making rites. They offer thanksgiving there and perform a ritual dance (zikr, a term also used for Sufi rituals). This type of zikr was founded by Kunta Haji, a Chechen religious figure of the first half of the nineteenth century. There is also a cult connected with a local Andian holy man (ziyarat ), Sheikh Umaraji (from the village of Andi). Mosques are located in all Andi villages; the chief celebrant is termed the dibir, and the mosque attendant is the budun. Until the 1930s medresseh schools for the education of gifted children were attached to the mosques.

The spiritual life of the Andis includes elements of superstition and various metaphysical conceptions concerning the world and the course of life. Belief in good and evil spirits is very widespread. The community of souls, which the Andis seek to appease with gifts, is imagined to be a Lilliputian world of miniature beings. According to popular belief, each person has an invisible doppelgänger, and the events in people's lives are but a repetition of what had happened earlier to their doubles. Ten days before a person's death the doppelgänger abandons him or her completely.

Ceremonies. The most elaborate Andi feast day was the festival of the "bull's departure," celebrated on New Year's Day, which traditionally occurred around the spring equinox. Twin bulls were yoked to a plow, and the first furrow was plowed by a person who had volunteered for that task at the previous holiday. During the festival, champions in running, wrestling, and stone tossing were presented, and horse races were held, with prizes being awarded.

Wedding ceremonies include a bridal procession, during which the bride is stopped at various locations, the road is closed off, ransom is demanded, supporters come to her aid, and a mock altercation takes place. An especially impressive ceremony is the reconciliation of a blood feud, accompanied by oratory and speech making, the offering of thanksgiving, etc. At Andi funerals, women perform keening rituals, which normally are not part of Islamic funeral rites, whereas the men sit together to express condolence.

Arts. Andi folk music resembles that of the Avars, but it has several distinctive characteristics. The dancing style is closer to that of the Chechens. The ancient Andi dance tlibdil is especially picturesque. The Andis have a keen sense of irony, and they are renowned throughout Daghestan as unsurpassed tellers of jokes and anecdotes.

Medicine. Traditionally, certain illnesses, especially neurological and psychological disorders, were believed to have been sent by spirits, and consequently magical healing practices were once widely used. There are also medical techniques based on the empirical knowledge of the people, intermixed with those acquired from practitioners of Oriental medicine. Wounds and broken bones could be effectively treated, and the technique of trephination (boring a hole into the skull) was known. Scientific medicine has now been made available to the Andi community, with clinics in the villages and a hospital at Andi. Some Andis have themselves become doctors, including the well-known neurosurgeon Rashidbeg Umakhanov from Gagatl.

Death and Afterlife. The Andis have adopted a basically Muslim eschatology. A few pagan beliefs concerning the afterlife persist (e.g., a belief in immortal souls that take on the appearance of people and participate in the daily life of the living).


Aglarov, M. A. (1967). Andiiskaia gruppa narodnostei v 19-nach. 20 vv (The Andian group of nationalities from the 19th to early 20th centuries). Moscow.

Aliev, I. (1965). Istoriia Midii (The history of Midia). Baku.

Tsertsvadze, I. I. (1965). Andiiskii iazyk (The Andi language). Tbilisi.

MAMAYKHAN A. AGLAROV (Translated by Kevin Tuite)

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