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ETHNONYMS: Self-designation: Ugbug, Ugbugan. Russian: Kubachintsy


Identification. The Kubachins, one of the small ethnic groups of Daghestan, live in the settlement of Kubachi (also known as Arbukanti), and elsewhere in the cities of Caucasia and Central Asia. Administratively, Kubachi belongs to the Khadaev District of the Daghestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which is otherwise inhabited by Dargins. The name "Kubachi," known since the sixteenth century, derives from the Turkish word kube (armor plating, coat of mail); according to medieval written sources, this settlement also had a Persian name with the same meaning, "Zirekhgeran."

Location. Kubachi is situated in the mountainous zone of southern Daghestan at an elevation of 1,350 to 1,575 meters, compactly occupying the steep rocky slope of a mountain. The climate is severe: winter is cold; summer is cool, usually rainy, and often foggy. Vegetation and animal life are variegated. The slopes of the mountains surrounding the settlement are covered with alpine meadow vegetation and bushes (dog rose and rhododendron). The forests are quite far from the settlement.

Demography. The Kubachi population in 1926 was 2,579. In 1990 1,876 Kubachins were living in Kubachi territory; beyond its boundaries there were another 3,000 Kubachins, or 61.2 percent of the total. There are 980 households in Kubachi, some of which are owned by absentee craftsmen.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of the Kubachins is closely related to Dargin, which together with Kaitak forms the Dargwa Subgroup of the Lak-Dargwa Group of the Northeast Caucasian Language Family. Some linguists classify Kubachi as a dialect of Dargin, others as a separate language. Kubachi comprises the dialects of two mountain villages or auls, Ashty and Sulerkent.

History and Cultural Relations

The time of the origin of the Kubachins has not been established. The Arabian historian Baladzori (end of the ninth century) mentions Zirekhgeran-Kubachi in relation to historical events of the sixth century. In the early Middle Ages the town of Kubachi was the center of an administrative unit in the area and played an active role in the political life of the northeastern Caucasus. In the sixth century the people of Zirekhgeran became tributaries of Iran. Zirekhgeran was subdued by the Arabs in 738-739, and a yearly tax was imposed on the inhabitants. In the thirteenth century Kubachi was subjected to the Mongol invasion. Tamerlane invaded Kubachi in 1396; residents were forced to submit and deliver to him a great deal of armor plate and coats of mail. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries first the Kaitag utsmi (feudal prince) and then the Kazikumukh khan made attempts to subjugate the village of Kubachi, but it defended its independence. In the eighteenth century Kubachi endured the invasion of the hordes of the Iranian conqueror Shah Nadir. After the unification of Daghestan with Russia at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Kubachi became part of the Kaitag-Tabasaran District of Daghestan Province. The October Revolution brought radical changes to the lives of the Kubachins. A jewelry cooperative association was foundedit is now the Kubachi Art Combine. Schools, stores, a hospital, and cultural-educational establishments were opened. Even today Kubachi remains a major center of ethnic artistic production of Daghestan and of the Russian Federation. Since the distant past the Kubachins have maintained cultural and economic relations with the surrounding population and with the people of the Caucasus, the Near and Middle East, and Russia.

Language and Literacy

Literacy among the Kubachi spread between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, with the introduction of Arabic literature. In 1404-1405 a Moslem school (medresseh ) was opened in Kubachi. Until 1928 the Kubachins, like all people of Daghestan, used the so-called Ajam script: the Arabic alphabet adapted to the transcription of the phonetics of the local languages. In Soviet times a secondary school was opened in Kubachi. Study from the first grade on is conducted in Russian. Books, newspapers, magazines, radio, film, and television have become a part of the Kubachi way of life, although the Kubachi language is not used for writing (Dargin is the literary language of the community). There is a Kubachi intellectual community including one corresponding member of the Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences, five Ph.D.s, twenty doctoral candidates in the sciences, and writers, journalists, physicians, engineers, and geologists.


The Kubachins dwell in large mountain settlements. In selecting a place for settlement four factors are taken into account: maximal productivity of the soil; the proximity of sources of water, arable land, and woodland; defensive security; and southern orientation (for sunlight). In the planning and character of its buildings Kubachi is a terrace-shaped (many-storied) settlement with closely and compactly constructed quarters and a vertical spatial arrangement. Toward the beginning of the nineteenth century Kubachi was divided into large quartersupper, middle, and lowerin which lived the members of the several tukhums (kinship groups). Since the beginning of the 1960s Kubachi has been intensively extended and rebuilt in all directions insofar as the contours of the plan allow. The dwellings of the Kubachins in the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth centuries had many rooms and three or four stories, sometimes five or six, constructed out of stone and with flat roofs. The cattle shed and the stable were located in the lower story; in the second story were the hay loft and the fuel storeroom; and in the higher stories were the living quarters (consisting of many rooms), the storage areas, and the domestic workshops of the goldsmiths and other craftsmen. The living rooms were distinguished by the presence of rugs on the floor. In the central part of a wall was located the decorated fireplace. Along another wall were shelves for various kinds of metal vessels of local manufacture and Near Eastern provenience. The other two walls were hung with rows of bronze trays and dishes of china and faience from the ceramic centers of Iran, China, Syria, Japan, Russia, and European countries. The distinctive, almost museumlike Kubachi interior can be observed today in the dwellings of the majority of the inhabitants of the settlement, although the dwellings themselves have undergone changesbeds, televisions, furniture, and so forth have appeared, and the rooms (except for the one with the chimney) are furnished in the usual urban style.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Throughout their history the Kubachins have based their economy on arts and crafts. Agriculture and animal husbandry have had an auxiliary character. The chief crafts were metal working, carving in stone and wood, construction work, and the processing of bone. Women's trades were knitting, embroidery, weaving (textile production), and the preparation of felt and felt footwear. There were no organized guilds or shops in Kubachi. Master craftsmanship was transmitted by inheritance. Migrant labor has been used since the second half of the nineteenth century. Some Kubachins are proprietors of goldsmithing workshops (who make use of hired labor); others are buyers, moneylenders, or antique collectors. A significant number of Kubachins ply their arts and crafts elsewhere in Daghestan and in the cities of Central Asia. They spend summers in Kubachi and get married there, but work abroad for seven to eight years, where they prosper. Then they return to Kubachi to spend the remainder of their days.

Clothing. Women more than men have maintained the traditional Kubachi style of dress: a shirt (or dress) cut like a tunic; a heavy brocade coat with short sleeves (out of use today) ; headgear consisting of a square fillet to which multicolored bits of cloth are sewn, a white towellike, embroidered covering, and a woolen kerchief; and white felt slippers (now out of use) and embroidered, knitted socks. At weddings Kubachi women wear dresses made of Eastern brocade, head coverings embroidered with gold and silver thread, and various adornmentssilver chains on the headgear, large golden rings, silver bracelets, and breast pendants finished with bone, pearls, and gems. The male attire was of the same type as that of other peoples of Daghestan: a shirt cut like a tunic; straight-falling pants; a quilted coat (beshmet ) and a long, narrow, collarless coat (cherkeska ); boots of morocco leather or felt; a fur jacket; and a fur cap. Also part of the clothing complex were a silver belt, a dagger, and cartridge belts for the cherkeska. Today this male attire has been supplanted by standard European urban clothing.

Food. The traditional food of the Kubachins is in general analogous to the food of other peoples of Daghestan, but with some distinctive ingredients. The basis of the diet is grain, meat, and milk products. There are dishes made of wheat and maize flour (pieces of dough boiled in a meat broth with a garlic dressing and a bit of meat), French bean soup, rice, and lentils. The Kubachins make pies and dumplings stuffed with meat, curds, eggs, potatoes, tripe, and pumpkin. Dairy products include milk, cheese, curds, and milk soups with rice, pasta, and porridge. In recent times the Kubachins have added dishes borrowed from other peoples to their cuisine: borscht, soups, cutlets, and so forth.

Industrial Arts. The principal traditional craft was metalwork, including bronze stamping and the manufacture of water vessels, ritual dishes, and the covers for cauldrons; casting of bronze cauldrons and lamps; the manufacture of artistically finished sidearms and firearms; the manufacture of various adornments for women and objects of male attire (decorated belts, cartridge belts), and details of harness. These craft products had a wide market, far beyond the boundaries of the region. Perfection of a high degree was achieved in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the pouring of decorative bronze cauldrons and the manufacture of diverse ornamental bronze utensils. Carving on stone and bone reached its high point in the fourteenth through eighteenth centuries. On many stone reliefs there are masterfully incised scenes of the hunt, of competitions and rituals, depictions of animals and birds, or epigraphic ornamentation. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Kubachi, under the influence of Islam, representative forms were discarded in favor of abstract ornamentalism. Since that time there evolved the basic types of Kubachi ornamentation in the floral style, which has been widely applied in various aspects of popular art. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Kubachins began to work intensively in the production of finely worked silver, bone carving, gold inlay in side arms and firearms, and also jewelry manufacture, knitting designs, and sewing in gold thread. Kubachi became the main center in the Caucasus for the manufacture of high-quality armament and jewelry.

A new stage in the development of art began after the October Revolution. The small jewelry workshops organized in 1924 have become a mighty enterprise in the production of the popular arts of Daghestan, where 780 male and female master craftspeople work (of these, 200 work at home knitting patterned woolen socks and about 30 live in neighboring villages). New products are being developed, such as high-quality silver pitchers, vases, goblets, cognac services, decorated plates, and women's adornments. Examples of Kubachi craft have been shown at many native and foreign exhibitions (Brussels 1958, Montreal 1967, Osaka 1970, and so forth) and they have won prizes. Among the leading master craftspeople are R. Alikharov, G. Magomed, A. Abdurakhmanov, and G. Chabkaev. Examples of Kubachi art are kept in the some of the world's greatest museums (e.g., the Hermitage, the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington).

Trade. Trade relations connected the village of Kubachi with many mountain villages and also with cities, particularly with the trade and craft centers of the eastern Caucasus, such as Derbent, Hukha, and Shemorkha. The trade route from Derbent to Gumik and Avaria ran through Kubachi. There were many bazaars in Kubachi to which were brought grain, livestock, animal products, fruits, metal products, pottery, wooden utensils, and sheepskin coats and caps. The Kubachins themselves sold the various products of their craft. Until the middle of the nineteenth century and perhaps even later, the exchange was primarily by barter.

Division of Labor. Among the Kubachins, in addition to specialization according to distinct crafts, there were also intracraft subdivisions of work. In arms making, for example, different craftsmen specialized in the manufacture of blades, barrels, locks, silver and bone ornamentation, and gold inlay in iron and bone.

Land Tenure. There were three forms of property among the Kubachins of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries: pastureland, common fields, and woods were communal property under the general ownership and usufruct of the village commune; hay fields and partitioned land constituted the private property of individual families; and ecclesiastical lands belonged to the mosques.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Kubachins of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries recognized many kinship groups. There were clans (tukhums)variously named and consisting of families related through blood, mainly in the paternal line, and then, somewhat later, also in the maternal line. There also existed intratukhum divisions according to degree of kinship: all relatives, closest relatives, and distant relatives. The tukhum could be up to 100 persons in size. The tukhum preserved a communal and ideological unity, but in economic relations every constituent family represented an independent unity. Each tukhum had its plot in the cemetery and its name derived from a known ancestor. Tukhum endogamy was preferred.

Kinship Terminology. The Kubachi have kinship terms for father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, grandson, grandfather, paternal uncle, maternal uncle, cousin, second cousin, etc. Within the tukhum consanguinity was reckoned to five or six degrees; some basic terms are atta (father), gal (son), utstse (brother), bikt ïtsik'ai (cousin), and vagilaziv (relativefor the most distant degree of relative).

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The consummation of marriage and divorce and the arrangements for the division of inherited property were determined by the norms of Quranic law (Sharia). Women were without rights and their conduct was strictly regulated by customary and Quranic law. A wife did not have the right to a divorce, whereas a man could divorce himself from her at any time and take a new wife. Polygamy was not practiced. Marriage between cousins and second cousins was permitted with the approval of the parents. The Kubachins did not marry people from other ethnic groups. The wedding was conducted with great celebration over the course of three days; in the past there was (and to some extent there continues to be) an abundance of ancient rituals and ceremonies accompanied by music, dances, gaiety, mumming, processions, salutations to the bride, visits to the house of her parents, and the ritual of "leading [her] to the water." The contemporary family is based on mutual love and the equality of women and men. Today about 30 percent of marriages are outside the tukhum, but the number is actually declining.

Domestic Unit. The basic form of the family among the Kubachins of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was the nuclear family. The extended family communes had already dispersed, but individual families could consist of three or four descending generationsgrandparents, parents, children, grandchildrenwho lived in the large, many-storied house. Consonant with the traditional division of labor by gender in the nuclear family, men were occupied with the basic productive activities outside the home for the support of the family whereas the women managed the domestic economy.

Inheritance. Personal property and privately owned land was inherited in the male line; in the absence of a direct heir it went to the nearest relative in the male line.


Training in traditional arts and crafts occupied a large place in the education of children. Between ages 12 and 14 boys entered "The Union of the Unwed" (Men's Union), where they received physical education and underwent military training (The Kubachi man was expected to be both a trained craftsman and a fighter). Girls from about age 8 to 10 helped in the home and were taught to knit and embroider and to prepare food. Children from an early age acquired the norms and ethics of "mountaineer morality." In the first through tenth grades the local school in Kubachi trains children in arts and crafts, particularly in the manufacture of jewelry; the school is also open to the children of workers from other villages who are employed in Kubachi.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The form of social organization until the end of the nineteenth century was the village territorial commune (jamaat ), the internal life of which was regulated by the norms of customary and Quranic law. It consisted basically of freeholding commune members, the majority of them craftsmen. Pasturelands, common land, hay fields, and forests were under the control of the commune. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the lands were divided into three sections corresponding to the three quarters of the village (high, middle, and low). The inhabitants of one quarter did not have the right to pasture livestock, cut hay, or cut wood in the sections belonging to other quarters. Offenders were fined. The property of individual familiessections used for growing hay or grain and certain small hay fieldscould be sold or rented. There were also church lands belonging to the mosques (waqf ). In the social life of the Kubachins before the Soviet period Men's Clubs, abounding in complex and varied, strictly observed ceremonies and rituals, enjoyed great public authority.

Political Organization. Kubachi society was governed by a special organization, the Chine, consisting of seven men selected by the commune at a town meeting. It was guided by the norms of customary law and conducted internal and external affairs. Legal and executive power were under its control. Subject to it was a military organization with the functions of guarding the village against external attacks and the defense of the forest, haying and pasturelands, and livestock. After Kubachi became part of Russia and the new administration was introduced, the Chine declined, but the village remained a self-governing entity.

Social Control. The commune regulated the activities of the Chine, Quranic judges, the personal and public life of the commune member, and the observation of customary law and of order and discipline. The most important decisions were made at town meetings.

Conflict. Lawsuits, controversies, clashes, and squabbles within the commune were considered and resolved by the Chine and the Quranic court, but unusual, more important issues were treated at the town meeting. In controversies with neighboring villages concerning forests, hay fields, or pasturelands, the Kubachins, in defense of their rights, had recourse to weapons but in some cases resorted to mediation by the elders of neighboring settlements.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The religion of the Kubachins is Sunni Islam, which they accepted toward the end of the thirteenth century. Evidence from medieval authors (e.g., Masudi, tenth century a.d.) and local legends testifies to the spread of Christianity to a certain degree (and, before that, of Zoroastrianism) among the Kubachins before the advent of Islam. Despite the supremacy of Islam, the Kubachins retain residues of ancient pagan beliefs; these are manifested in rituals for invoking the sun and the rain, reverence for sacred trees, cults of the eagle and various animals, magical rituals for curing from the evil eye, and the wearing of amulets and talismans of diverse sorts.

Religious Practitioners. The religious leaders were the mullahs and Quranic judges. Sometimes a mullah would fulfill the function of a Quranic judge. Until the Revolution their jurisdiction included the examination and judgment of civil cases and cases involving religious matters (marriage, divorce, division of property, wills and testaments, supervision of ecclesiastical laws, and so forth).

Ceremonies. The Kubachins celebrate the Islamic holidays of Uraza-bairam, Kubam-bairam, New Year (lunar), and the Day of Spring. The deeply traditional mass festival of "Going to the Waters to Avoid the Evil Eye" is celebrated annually at the beginning of May and accompanied by processions, music, dances, rejoicing, and the picking of flowers. A series of ceremonies related to the survival of the cult of fertility, the ritual of games with wooden eggs, the Holiday of the Flowers, and so forth, concludes the cycle of the Union of Unmarried Men.

Arts. Kubachi folk art is represented by industrial crafts and also by choreography, music, and folklore. Members of the Men's Club performed intricate ritual dances to the accompaniment of musicthe drum and zuma (clarinet) during the cycle of the installation of the Union of Unmarried Men and at weddings. Kubachi folklore, typologically close to the folklore of the Dargins, has its distinctive aspects, related to the basic productive activities: crafting arms and jewelry.

Medicine. The folk medicine of the Kubachins of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was based on methods of healing that had been developed over the centuries, together with sorcery. Its greatest effectiveness was in the healing of wounds, broken bones, and dislocations. Wild nuts and berries were widely used in folk medicine. Local healers were familiar with the medical treatises of Oriental countries written in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, which were copied and translated into their native language. Sorcery was based on magical techniques and ceremonies involving spells and incantations; it was used to cure people and animals affected by the the evil eye. Today a district hosital with qualified doctors and other medical personnel is operating in Kubachi. Among the better-known Kubachi physicians is Prof. I. A. Shamov, laureate of the State Prize of the USSR and Prorector of the Daghestan Medical Institute.

Death and Afterlife. Death is perceived as predestined by the will of Allah. The Kubachins believe in the oneness of God, a life after death, a day of judgment, the immortality of the soul, angels, hell, and heaven, and they revere the prophet Mohammed. Funeral rituals are carried out in Islamic form. Forty days after the death requiem prayers are read on the grave of the deceased. Lavish memorial services are conducted on that day and after a year has passed.

See also Dargins


Akiner, Shirin (1986). Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union: An Historical and Statistical Handbook. 2nd ed., 259. London: KPI.

Bennigsen, Alexandre, and S. Enders Wimbush (1986). Muslims of the Soviet Empire: A Guide, 171-172. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Shilling, E. M. (1949). Kubachintsy i ikh kul'tura (The Kubachins and their culture). Moscow and Leningrad.