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ETHNONYM: Mükhadar


Identification. The Rutuls are a people living in the Caucasus region of what is now southern Russia, in the southern part of Daghestan (Rutul District) in the valleys of the Samur River and its tributaries. Traditionally, the Rutuls had no collective term for themselves, identifying themselves only by village.

Location. Two settlements, Khnov and Borch, are located in the valley of the Akhtï-chay River, and two settlements, Shin and Kaynar, are on the territory of Azerbaijan. Some resettled Rutuls live in new settlements in the littoral plain by the Caspian Sea and some in towns of Daghestan. The Rutuls are bounded on the east by the Lezgins, on the north by the Aghuls, on the northwest by the Laks, on the west by the Tsakhurs, and on the south by the Azerbaijanis. The traditional territory of the Rutuls lies between mountain ranges that are hard to traverse and is marked by the gorges of torrential rivers. The Rutuls of the Samur are separated from the Akhtï-chay Rutuls by the Tseylakhanski range (up to 4,015 meters above sea level) and from the Azerbaijani territories by the main Caucasian range. In the major part of the territory the winter is cold, and the summer is moderately cool with fogs and rains. The mountain slopes are covered with grassy vegetation and present good summer pasture for livestock. The northern slopes of some mountains are covered year round with snow.

Demography. The total number of Rutuls in the USSR is 20,672 (1989 census), with a rate of growth of 37 percent and average population density of 52 people per square kilometer.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Rutul language belongs to the Lezghian (Samurian) Subgroup of the Daghestanian Group of the North-East Caucasian Family. The dialects are Mukhad, Shinaz, Mükh River, Ikh River, and Borch-Khnov. Knowledge of Russian is widespread, and some among the elder generation still know Azerbaijani Turkish. The dissemination of written language is connected with the penetration of Islam. The earliest known inscriptions are epitaphs and building inscriptions, made in Arabic in Kufic script, dating from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. The Arabic script was used in Rutul until the 1930s. Rutul has not been a written language throughout the Soviet period, Azerbaijani, Russian, and Lezgian being used for that purpose.

History and Cultural Relations

The early history of the Rutuls is bound up with that of Caucasian Albania, within whose territory the people of Daghestan, including the Rutuls, were subsumed under the general name "country of the Gels" (with a hard G). After Albania was conquered by Iran, the Rutuls and other Daghestani peoples formed a sovereign state. The local chronicle Akhtï Nameh contains an eighth-century account of the united forces "of the Emirs of Tars, Rutul, Jinikh, and Rufuk" setting out against the Khazars. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there are reports of attacks by Rutuls, along with Turks and Laks, against the neighboring Tsakhurs and Lezgins. In the sixteenth century Rutul was ruled by a khan and begs (nobles) and maintained diplomatic relations with the governments of the neighboring countries. At the same time there was a Rutul mahal (free society, a kind of microrepublic) that politically united a sizable number of the Rutuls. In 1812 the Rutuls, together with other free Samurian societies, were annexed to Russia and formed a Rutul-chay association that united eighteen Rutul settlements and became part of the so-called Samur Province. Since the 1860s, after the end of the Caucasus Wars, the territory of the Rutuls was governed by a naib (a Muslim ruler belonging to a Sufi sect) who was appointed from the begs and subordinated to the chief of the Samur District.


Many of the Rutulian settlements are quite old. Their location was determined by many factors common for all the population of Daghestan: economic (scarcity of land fit for plowing), natural-geographic (proximity to water, solar orientation), and political (defensive capacity). The earliest settlements were small tukhum (patrilineally organized villages). These were subsequently consolidated into settlements as patrilineality weakened because of the need to increase defensive capacity. In the nineteenth century the main consideration for locating a settlement was territorial. In each settlement there were several quarters; it appears that each was originally inhabited by one tukhum (clan). The form and layout of the Rutul settlement result from the topographical conditions of the region, with settlements having a layered design. In accordance with the distribution of houses within the settlements, two types of organization are singled out: a horizontal one and a vertical. In the past the center of the settlement was a mosque and a neighboring godekan (teahouse) or kim (a men's club based on the clan). For defensive purposes major roads were laid out in the lower outlying reaches and the cemetery was outside the aul (mountain village). Settlements of the Soviet period are built along the gently sloping sides of the mountains, as it was more convenient to build new houses, schools, and municipal buildings on flatter surfaces; sometimes whole settlements were relocated to the former agricultural areas, or even to the Caspian plain. The center of the modern settlement is formed by a club or by a "house of culture."

Earlier, several types of domestic complexes were common. (1) A two-storied house without a yard and barns, containing living, domestic, and storage areas. The first story is used for keeping cattle and for domestic and storage purposes. (2) A two-storied square house with an inner small yard in the center; the house contains living, domestic, and storage areas. (3) A complex consisting of a dwelling (one- or two-storied) with separate outbuildings. There is a special cattle shed with a hayloft structurally independent of the house. The dwelling has neither a yard nor a fence and is located in a row with other houses. Both stories are used as living areas. (4) One-or two-storied houses with a small open front yard and with out-buildings. The earliest form of dwelling and a prototype for later ones is a one-storied, one-chambered building with an adjoining one-storied outbuilding. Characteristic of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a two-chambered, one- or two-storied stone house without a veranda and without a yard. The basic building materials are crushed stone, clay, and wood. Houses had flat clay roofs. Traditional dwellings had light-holes of different sizes instead of windows, sometimes in the form of a slit; they did not admit much light but in wartime could be used as loopholes. Glass was not used until the Soviet period. Both traditional and modern Rutul homes are decorated with carpets and thick felts, both handmade and machine-made.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The main occupations are stockbreeding (cattle and sheep) and agriculture (spring and winter wheat, rye, barley, millet, spelt). Sheep raising in the second part of the nineteenth century was quite primitive: the livestock were simply left outside throughout the year, and the sheep received no additional food for the winter. Annual drives from summer pastures to winter ones and back led to heavy losses of animals owing to lack of food and water, overcrowded roads, and forced stops on the way. The sheep are still driven to pasture today, but conditions are better: there are special schedules so as not to overcrowd the paths, veterinary stations, additional pastures, and a system of special transportation for young and tired animals. Warm housing for sheep and herdsmen is built in winter pastures. In bad weather sheep get an additional food supply. The agricultural system was also primitive: single-crop fields, natural fertilizers, wooden plows with metal shares, and sickles. Now the plowing area has been increased through the use of former winter pastures. Fruit and vegetable gardening is developing, which is an innovation for the Rutuls.

Clothing. Traditional clothing belongs to the general Lezghian type of clothing. Men wore a tuniclike shirt (ukhun ) with a rounded decorated neckline and a vertical cut in front and breeches of moderate width (badu ). Over the shirt a short narrow-waisted beshmet (quilted jacket) was worn. Festive clothes included a cherkeska of a northern Caucasian type (a caftanlike coat, narrow-waisted with a flaring lower part), decorated with cartridgelike silver casings that once held a measure of powder for the old muskets (gazïr ) and worn over the beshmet. The headdress was a tall sheepskin hat (barmah ) made of shaggy wool sheepskin, similar to the Caucasian papakha; the dress footwear (kyamashbïr ), high boots with upturned toes, was of felt made of multicolored woolen threads. The everyday shoes were made of one piece of leather. In colder weather one wore an uncovered sheepskin coat with sleeves (qqabachey ), of a cut similar to that of a beshmet. During leisure time men of all ages wore a large sheepskin coat with long false sleeves (gïtimat ). A special burka -style cloak (lit), which had the form of a half-circle, served for traveling. The professional shepherd's clothing was a felt tuniclike cloak (chopuz ). The everyday clothes of a Rutul woman consisted of a tuniclike shirt-dress (ukhun) and of trousers of middle width (vakhchag ). In the neighboring Azerbaijani settlements women wore wide trousers (kvyakike ). The overcoat (valzhag ) was open in front without buttonslong in the main Rutul territory and short, down to the thighs, on the borders with Azerbaijan. In the second case, the beshmet, which had the form of a loose shirt beneath the waist, was worn with a wide long skirt. In cold weather women wore a waisted sheepskin overcoat of the same type as the men's qqabachey and felt high boots with upturned toes (which differed from the men's boots only in color). On the head they wore a special hairnet (qqatsigen ) and scarf folded in the form of a triangle. Silver jewelry was an important component of women's dress. Now both men and women wear European-style clothes, which have largely supplanted traditional clothing. Only some kinds of traditional wear are used by the older generation (sheepskin hats, women's scarves, and sheepskin coats).

Food. The traditional foods are meat, dairy products, and flour-based dishes. Meat was eaten fresh, dried, and as sausages for winter. Milk was preserved as butter, brïinza (sheep's milk cheese), and cottage cheese. Many herbs and wild edible grasses were dried. In everyday meals dumplings (khinkal ) of different sizes were served as were pieces of pastry boiled in meat broth and served with meat and broth or with butter and cottage cheese. Other dishes include porridges made of flour and of grain and pies and pasties with meat, cottage cheese, different sorts of grain, and herbs. Bread was made both with and without yeast. For weddings a slightly alcoholic beverage, khyan, was served, a beerlike drink common to all Daghestan. It was prepared from flour ground from wheat grains and young sprouts with the addition of ground oats. These were poured into cold boiled water, and then allowed to ferment naturally. The ritual food consisted of millet porridge (tabag ), oat porridge (kharegvay ), large pies with liver covering (vichvichima ), and large-loaf bread (khïv ). Modern-day cuisine includes traditional dishes with additions from urban food. The diet is enriched with fruit, vegetables, and herbs, both fresh and canned.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts include pottery and the manufacturing of leather footwear and different wool-based goods (cloth, felt, carpets, ornamented socks, knitted footwear). There were also smiths, millers, masons, shoemakers, and silver jewelers. At present carpets and ornamented socks are produced commercially.

Trade. There existed a barter system of trade with a special system for measuring weight, length, and volume. After the second half of the nineteenth century trade connections grew, both with neighboring communities and among the Rutuls. At markets in Nukha, Akhtakh, and Kazikumukh, the products of animal husbandry were sold, and bread, fruit, confectionery, and factory-made and handmade goods were bought. In 1892 the first weekly market in Rutulia was opened. Trade operations were carried out in small shops owned by Rutuls and Jews.

Division of Labor. Labor in the family was distributed according to age and gender. The most labor-intensive work (sheepherding, plowing, sowing, haying, repairing agricultural implements) was reserved for men. Women were responsible for care of the cattle, dairy production, weeding, reaping, wool working, knitting, and weaving. Children and teenagers participated in all kinds of tasks, helping and acquiring experience. Girls assisted in domestic work and in raising younger children.

Land Tenure. There were several forms of land ownership: private (absolute majority of lands), communal, and mosque (waqf ). Part of the private land (pasture slopes and plow land) was possessed by begs. Another part, comprising small pieces of land (plow lands, some of the hay fields), belonged to free Rutulians. Communal property consisted of valley and mountain pastures and some of the hay lands. Conflicts connected with land ownership were constant in relations between poor and well-to-do Rutulians. In Soviet times collective farms (kolkhoz and later sovkhoz) were formed.


Kin Groups and Descent. A Daghestanian term, "tukhum," is used to designate a group of patrilineally related kin. In the nineteenth century the tukhum was neither an economic nor a political unit (purely a kin-group designation). All tukhums were named after either an ancestor, the professional activity of the members, or their former location. The tukhum's chief, ada baba, was the oldest member of the tukhum. He served as judge in conflicts between relatives and was the chief adviser for enterprises undertaken by his relatives. In especially important cases he gathered the council of the heads of the families. These councils treated cases of division of family property and agreed about future marriages. In the nineteenth century the ada baba had the right to beat a relative who contradicted him. The most severe punishment was expulsion from the tukhum. Custom allowed a weaker tukhum to be joined to a stronger one. The transfer of individuals from one tukhum to another was forbidden. Tukhums consisted of smaller units of relatives, "patronymies" (q'abila or tsikhil ), which in turn consisted of even smaller groups, qïdle, uniting the nearest relatives outside the family up to the fourth generation. Kinship relations are bilateral.

Kinship Terminology. Classificatory and descriptive principles are used: did (father), nin (mother), dukh (son), rish (daughter), khïdil (grandchild), q'ukhdu did (grandfather; lit., "great father"), q'ukhdu nin (grandmother; lit., "great mother"), shu (brother), and rishi (sister). Terms of collateral kinship have a classificatory basis: khïdi (first cousin), khïdïl (nephew/niece), didi shu (paternal uncle; lit., "father's brother"), did (maternal unclethe same as "father"), rishi (father's sister), nin (mother's sisterthe same as "mother"). Terms of in-laws are also classificatory: gag (wife's father, husband's father, husband's brother); ga'nin (wife's mother, husband's mother, husband's sister); bajanakh (wife's brother); sedivan (wife's sister).

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage was arranged by parents, primarily by fathers. Young people, especially women, had no right to choose. Choice of a marriage partner was determined by the wealth of his family, the social status of his tukhum, and by his diligence and health. The marital age for girls was 15 to 16 years, for men 18 to 20 years. Marriages were contracted within the village, but intervillage marriages also were possible. The mediation of a matchmaker was usual, though there existed other possibilities: agreement from babyhood, abduction of the bride, and leviratic and sororatic marriages. The wedding celebration lasted for two to three days. It was a solemn, all-village occasion, consisting of a series of rituals and entertainments with games, competitions, songs, dances, and masquerades. All relatives helped, financially and physically, to organize the wedding.

Domestic Unit. Nuclear families were the norm, though there still were large patrilineal families in the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. They generally included several close relatives and their spouses living in one house as a common household. Families, both extended and nuclear, were patriarchal: women were fully subordinated to men, younger to elder, and all of them to the head of the family, who possessed unrestricted power.

Socialization. The rearing of children was both a family and a public responsibility. From early childhood the family taught moral norms, norms of social behavior, a system of values, and basic labor training. The family acquainted children with the native folklore, traditions, and rituals. The treatment of children was rather strict but just. The public aspect of upbringing consisted in involving children, especially boys, in such public affairs as games, competitions, and edifying conversations of elderly men in the kirns. The rearing of young men was completed in seasonally organized communities, shahiad majlis, a kind of survival of archaic male fraternities.

Inheritance. The division of inherited property was governed by the rules of Sharia (Muslim law) and adat (customary law). According to Sharia, upon the death of the father of the family his debts were paid first; afterward his parents received one-sixth of the property each, the widow received one-eighth, and the rest was divided between sons and daughters. Sons received twice as much as daughters. If the deceased had only one daughter, she received one-half of all the property, if several daughters they received two-thirds, and the rest was transferred to the patrimonial relatives of the dead. Men received twice as much as women. According to adat a woman could not inherit any type of immovable propertyit was entirely inherited by males.

Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. All adult men of a Rutul settlement formed a village assembly, which met obligatorily once a year in the beginning of spring and otherwise when needed. The assembly discussed conflicts about land, renting of communal land, repairing and building roads and bridges, and agricultural projects. The gathering elected the administration of the settlement: the headman, bailiffs, herald, and land overseer. The headman was chief of the settlement community (jamaat ): he looked after the communal land, apportioned labor conscriptions, saw to the execution of decisions of the assemblies, and fulfilled a judicial function in conflicts and appeals. For his labors he received a certain payment from the villagers and part of the fines. He had to give an account to the assembly. The aldermen were elected from among the prominent tukhums. An administrative status independent from the village gatherings belonged to special blocks of the settlements, the mekhle, which already in the nineteenth century no longer represented a mere coalition of relatives.

Conflict. All kinds of legislative procedures were based on adat and Sharia. The adat system was applied mainly to criminal cases, whereas Sharia regulated cases connected with religion, family relations, and property inheritance. A kadi, an effendi, or a mullah (various grades of Muslim cleric) considered cases within Sharia; the headman and the gathering considered cases within adat. There also existed a court of arbitration, the maslaat. Civil and military control over all Rutul settlements was in the power of the divan, the council of headmen (aksakals ) headed by a beg.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The official religion was Sunni Islam, which spread among the Rutuls in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Each settlement had a mosque; large settlements had several mosques and Moslem clergy. At the same time, there were remnants of ancient beliefs: a cult of nature, hunting and fertility cults, animal worship, and occult rituals connected with family life and labor activity. For example, to frighten evil spirits a sharp iron object was hidden under the pillow of a newborn baby. Likewise, the bride was supposed to step on something iron when she entered her bridegroom's home. In order to protect the bride from being "spoiled" by the evil spirits on the wedding day, her face was covered with a red veil, and, to make the life of the couple happy, the bride was showered with small coins and candies. Magic rites existed for summoning sun and rain; sacred groves, mountains, springs, tombs, and sites connected with the lives of some saints were worshiped. The tombs of saints were marked with pirs, heaps of stones with sticks decorated with narrow ribbons driven into them. The worshiping of pirs was a combination of pre-Islamic pagan and Islamic rites.

Religious Practices. The Rutuls celebrated a series of bright and emotional festivals and rituals. The most significant yearly holiday was Er, the beginning of the spring and of a new calendar year. For this holiday special food was cooked and distributed among the villagers and a fancy tree was placed on the village square and decorated with apples, sweets, and dyed eggs. People played around it and made swings for the young girls. On this day the first ritual furrow was made. An important holiday at the end of winter marked the end of the seasonal (winter) masculine communities (fraternities). It ended with a theatrical masquerade. The Rutuls had special dances, jargov and risk kyaghrida, which were generally followed by singing.

Arts. Rutul traditional applied arts included the skillful ornamentation of carpets, woolen socks, and footwear and carving on wood and stone frames of windows, fireplaces, tomb monuments, and wooden dishes. The Rutuls have different, genres of folklore: proverbs, legends, fairy tales, ritual songs, and children's folklore. Ashugh (bardic) poetry was well developed. Some famous ashughs were Khazarchi Gaji(ev), Jammeseb Salar(ov), and Nurakhmed Ramazan(ov), who were active before the middle of the twentieth century.

Medicine and Science. Before the Revolution, Rutul settlements had no special medical institutions. Diseases of the digestive system, rheumatism, and children's infectious diseases were widespread. Folk medicine often made effective use of herbs (Saint-John's-wort, mint, plantain, etc.) and natural products (honey, sprouting grain, onion, garlic, and the like). Magical remedies were also popular: talismans, "holy" water, earth from saints' tombs, and all kinds of invocations.

During the Soviet period a Rutulian intelligentsia appeared, including physicians, teachers, engineers, and academics. Some notable figures are the scholars A. Alisultan(ov), K. Jamal (ov), A. Palamamed(ov), G. Musa(ev), F. Guseyn(ova) [Huseyn], the physicist I. Ibragim(ov) [Ibrahim], and the physician Kh. Gagay(ev). National culture is developing as a synthesis of tradition and innovation.

Death and the Afterlife. Rutuls traditionally believed that the spirits of the dead dwelt in a world parallel to the human one, governed by the same laws as the living. Some individuals were thought to be capable of communicating with the spirits. The dead, according to Muslim ritual, were to be buried before sunset on the day of death. Funeral feasts took place on the third, seventh, and fortieth days. Funeral and postfuneral rituals bear traces of pre-Islamic beliefs.


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ANGARA GAMIDOVNA BULATOVA (Translated by Inga Dolinina and John Colarusso)