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Identification and Location. The Udis inhabit eastern Transcaucasia, in the district center Vartashen and in settlements in the Nij Kutkashen Raion of the Azerbaijan Republic. In 1921-1922, after the civil war, a group of Udis settled in eastern Georgia, where they founded the village Oktomberi (Q'vareli Raion).

Demography. The Udi population was 7,100 in 1886; 2,500 in 1926; and 6,900 (of which 5,800 lived in Azerbaijan) in 1979. Behind these figures is a rate of natural population growth offset by an intensive assimilation of Udis into the Azeri (and to a lesser degree, Armenian) ethnic communities. The Udi settlements are located at the base of the southern slopes of the Caucasian range. Clean mountain rivers, a healthy climate without abrupt weather changes, a rich variety of flora (fir, hornbeam, beech, linden, etc.) and fauna (squirrels, sables, wild boars, rabbits, and so on.), all provide conditions conducive to the economic welfare of the Udis.

linguistic Affiliation. The Udi language is classified in the Daghestanian Group of the Northeast Caucasian (Nakh-Daghestanian) Language Family. Several linguists (G. Klimov, A. Chikobava, V. Gukasian) consider it a descendant of one of the languages of ancient Caucasian Albania. It is the only Daghestanian language known to have had an orthography before modern times. The decipherment of the small number of surviving epigraphic texts in the Caucasian Albanian alphabet (dating from the seventh to ninth centuries) indicates that the written language of Albania was related to Udi. The Albanian alphabet is considered by experts to have been a distinct, original offshoot from the Aramaic script. In recent times Udi has been an unwritten language. During the nineteenth century Udis of the Armeno-Gregorian faith wrote in the Armenian language for clerical purposes and used Classical Armenian in church services. Armenian was likewise used as the medium of instruction in parish schools. Udis belonging to the Orthodox church attended services conducted by Georgian priests in the Georgian language, which they could not understand. In the early 1930s an Udi orthography was devised using the Latin script, and a primer was prepared by the Udi linguist brothers Jeiranishvili (published in 1934 in Sukhumi). At this time in Vartashen an elementary school was opened with two sections: one with instruction in Armenian, the other in Udi. After only three years the Udi section was closed. At the present time the Orthodox Udis attend Russian-language schools, and the Gregorian Udis study in Armenian. The Udi language is primarily used within the domestic circle. The majority of Udis are multilingual, with a good command of Azerbaijani and Russian, and often Armenian as well. The younger generation of Udis in Georgia can speak Georgian.

History and Cultural Relations

The modern Udis are descendants of the Uti, one of the ancient tribes of eastern Transcaucasia. Classical sources place this tribe in the vicinity of Uti (the chief city of Partav Barda) in Caucasian Albania (which corresponds basically to northern Azerbaijan and southern Daghestan). The continual migration of Turkic tribes into eastern Transcaucasia led to the assimilation of the majority of the Udis, who converted to Islam and came to speak the Azeri Turkish language. One segment of the Udis, who adopted the Armeno-Gregorian faith, became Armenian-speaking and eventually considered themselves Armenian. Their descendants are found in Nij and, to a lesser extent, Vartashen. A small group of Orthodox Udis (living in Oktomberi and Vartashen) have preserved their self-identity, language, and cultural characteristics. During the eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries the Udi villages were within the Shekin Khanate, and after annexation by Russia they were included in the Nukhinski Uezd of the Elisavetpol Province.


The Udi villages lie in the lowlands at the foot of the Caucasus; they have a free, unstructured layout and wide streets. In Vartashen the Udis live side by side with Armenians, Azeris, Mountain Jews, and Lezgins; the Udis of Nij have Azeris as neighbors. Vartashen is divided into three quarters: Jegutlar is inhabited by Mountain Jews, and in the other two quarters live Udis, Armenians, and Azeris (the population of the last has recently increased). Nij was also segmented into three familial-based quarters at the beginning of the nineteenth century, growing to twelve in the twentieth century. The Udi farmstead contains an orchard, kitchen garden, and courtyard, enclosed by a wattle or stone fence. The house is set back in the garden, sometimes with its front turned away from the street.

The Udi house traditionally had one story, built of stone or simple bricks, set on a raised stone foundation. The house was surmounted by a two-or four-sloped thatch (later tiled) roof. The traditional house was windowless, with light being admitted through small holes in the walls and ceiling, and also through the always-open door. The house contained one to three chambers (k'oj ); one room with a fireplace was used for receiving guests. In the largest room, the ceiling was supported by thick beams, which in turn were held by wooden pillars. A square vent was built into the ceiling, under which was the hearth, where food was cooked and around which the family kept warm in winter. At the end of the nineteenth century the hearth was replaced by a fireplace (bokharik ) with chimney, and more recently by an iron stove. One important component of an Udi home was the spacious attic (rarely with a fireplace) that was used used as a silkworm nursery and for drying and preserving fruit. At the beginning of the twentieth century two-story houses with balconies (eivan ) built onto the facade, large glazed windows, and wooden floors made their appearance.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Up to the 1930s the base of the Udi economy was agriculture (wheat, barley, rice, millet) and viticulture (long-stem vines). Animal husbandry was not as significant, but each household had its cattle, a few sheep, and poultry (chickens, turkeys). In Vartashen many engaged in silk production and the spinning of silk thread, for which a silk-spinning shop was constructed at that village. Orchards are maintained in Udi villages (pears, apples, plums, cherries, and apricots) along with vegetable gardens (cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, beans). The Udis in Georgia preserve the tradition of raising maize and barley, viticulture (short-stem vines), and sericulture. The cocoons are turned over to the government, which processes them at the silk factory in Telavi (eastern Georgia). Upon their arrival in Georgia the Udis engaged in rice production, but this turned out to be unprofitable in their new surroundings and was discontinued.

Clothing. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Udis wore apparel similar to that of Karabagh Armenians. The undergarments consisted of a shirt (gurat ) and trousers; the overgarments were, for men, a chokha (frock) and an arkhalug (shirt). The chokha had a low neckline, and was worn over the tightly buttoned high-collared arkhalug. Across the breast of the chokha was affixed a row of cartridge holders. Originally these served to hold spare ammunition, but subsequently they took on a merely decorative function. The arkhalug was cinched with a leather belt decorated with silver adornments. Crude raw-leather shoes were worn with knitted stockings; the well-to-do had footwear of softened leather. The male headdress was a conical sheep's-wool papakha. Women's apparel included wide, long trousers, an even wider skirt, above which was worn a knee-length arkhalug gathered at the waist, with long sleeves (slit open their entire length). The woman's arkhalug was worn with a wide silver belt with a heavy buckle; less wealthy women wore a belt (kushtuk ) made of fabric. Below the arkhalug hung an apron that could be tied up almost to the armpits. On feast days the well-to-do wore short-sleeved velvet coats adorned with fur and leather shoes with low heels. The Udi woman's headdress was a complex affair, formed from several kerchiefs, held with a silver chain across the forehead, to which silver coins were attached; strips of fabric were tied on by the temples, adorned as well with coins. Married women covered the lower part of their face with a kerchief (yashmag ). In the nineteenth century it was common for girls and boys to daub henna on their hands as a sort of cosmetic. The fabrics used to make Udi garments were homespun calico, velvet, and silk; girls and young women wore bright hues (especially red), whereas elderly women and men preferred darker shades. In the 1920s Western urban apparel began to supplant traditional Udi dress, with some exceptions. Men continued to wear tunics, riding breeches, and peaked caps; women always wore kerchiefs on their heads, but the wide silver kushtuk was reserved as festival apparel. Elderly men would wear the chokha and papakha and for a long time women continued to conceal the lower part of their faces, usually with a kerchief. Most of these dress styles have disappeared by now, in favor of Western apparel.

Food. Udi cuisine is based on agricultural products such as bread, beans, rice, walnuts, fruits, berries, vegetables, and greens. Bread (shum ) is made from wheat flour (urum ) and baked in a tome. Pilaf is an important component of the diet, and several varieties are eaten. Chainakhup is prepared from rice, beans (pakhla ), raisins, persimmons, and chestnuts; the pilaf pakhlimkhup consists of rice and beans with walnuts. Rice is also eaten with sour milk. Roasted and cooked chestnuts are popular; the Udis produce them for sale to buyers from Baku and Tbilisi. Walnuts and walnut oil are important components of the cuisine. Many dishes consist of vegetables (pumpkin, cabbage, eggplant); cucumbers and tomatoes were pickled. Beans are also part of the Udi diet: aside from being used in pilaf dishes, they are eaten fried with butter and eggs, made into porridge or soup, or wrapped in cabbage leaves. The diet is supplemented by wild greens, fruits, and berries (along with raspberries, cornel berries, and blackberries from the gardens). A soup is prepared from nettles and sorrels, or they may be stuffed into khinkals (dough pouches, which are then boiled); sorrels are also eaten raw. Among the dairy foods are fermented milk, cream, sour cream, and butter. Eggs are made into omelettes. Meat is not part of the everyday diet, being reserved for holidays and festivals; it is obligatory when entertaining guests. A soup (similar to Georgian chikhirtma ) is made from chicken bouillon, egg yolks, wine vinegar, and herbs. Cabbage leaves are stuffed with meat. Beef, mutton, chicken, and turkey may be served in a variety of ways (cooked, roasted, or as shish kebab). Roosters, which are specially fed with boiled millet, are stuffed with rice and roasted in the fireplace. Chicken or turkey meat may be added to pilaf. Among the seafood dishes are salmon, lobster, lamprey, and stellate sturgeon (sevruga ) cut into pieces and roasted on a spit. Lampreys traditionally were brought in by camel caravans from Evalkha, Azerbaijan, where they are fished from the Kura River. Lamprey fat is used as fuel in oil lamps. Honey (uchch' ) is used in making halvah. Beverages are produced from berries and herbs and vodka from grapes (t'ul ), pears, apples, cornel berries, and mulberries. Those Udis who settled in Georgia have adopted Georgian dishes, such as khach'ap'uri (cheese bread) and satsivi (chicken or turkey with walnut sauce).

Industrial Arts. In the workshops in Azerbaijan Udis manufacture tiles and clay vessels. Some of the inhabitants of Oktomberi (Georgia) work as seasonal laborers. Some Udis hire out as migrant construction workers in neighboring regions of Caucasia.

Trade. The Udis traditionally traded in tiles, bricks, earthenware, chestnuts, walnuts, rice, wheat, and cheese.

Division of Labor. Historically, labor was apportioned according to gender and age. Men worked in agriculture, animal husbandry, construction, the manufacture of tiles and bricks, and woodworking. Women were responsible for housekeeping and child rearing; in addition they tended to gardens and orchards and to the production of silk, rice, and dairy products.

Land Tenure. Both private and communal landownership was known. Arable land and rice fields, pastures, and forests were communal property. Gardens and orchards were privately owned. Communal land was, as a rule, divided among households before sowing began by a person specially appointed for that role by the community. With collectivization in the 1930s came the system of kolkhozy, which appropriated arable land, pastures, and forests. Collective farmers retained ownership of small individual plots.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The Udi village community traditionally comprised small and large patriarchally organized families and patronymic groups.

Marriage. The Udis observed exogamy, and the typical marriageable age was 16 for boys, 13 for girls. Traditionally, marriages were arranged through negotiation between the parents of marriageable children. After an agreement was reached, the young man, his parents, godfather, and other male friends and relatives celebrated the betrothal. They thereupon proceeded, in a formal procession, to the fiancee's home, driving before them a ram with ribbons and lit candles affixed to its horns. The members of the procession bore four copper or wooden trays (khoncha ) laden with sweets, cooked chicken, and wine; they also brought the wedding ring and fabric for the bride's dress. After presentation of the gifts the two parties agreed on the wedding date (generally within a year). From this time the young man had the right to visit his fiancée at her home, in the company of some of his close friends. Likewise during this period the fiancée became acquainted with women from her fiancé's family, who would bring her presents. There was also a formal presentation of gifts purchased by the fiancé (dress, shoes, linens, watch, etc.) to the young woman. Besides the numerous presents exchanged between the two families, the fiancée was obliged to provide "money for the road" (10 to 60 rubles), a "bribe" of 12 rubles, a silver belt, coins to adorn the bride's headdress, and many other items. The wedding took place over three to four days. Relatives and friends of the groom headed to the bride's house and escorted her back to the groom's home, where she was presented with yet another gift by the groom's father. The groom brought melted butter on a dish, which he smeared on the doorposts, and the groomsmen (makrukh ) applied butter over their lips in the form of a moustache. The bride was escorted into the house under a canopy of crossed swords. Throughout the wedding feast the bride stood with veiled face behind a curtain in a corner of the room, accompanied by her father's sister. Her new mother-in-law brought her food to eat. Meanwhile the groom was seated at the table with the guests. (Nowadays the bride and groom sit together at the wedding banquet.) It was customary for the host to present the musicians with gifts of money (shabash ). The bride's parents did not attend the wedding. Contemporary Udi weddings preserve some old traditions. They have been shortened to a single day (usually Sunday), although weddings have become more lavish and more guests are invited.

Domestic Unit. In the nineteenth century Udis mostly lived in small families, consisting of parents and their children. Large patriarchal families were primarily observed at Nij. These included parents and their married sons. Each couple had their separate room with its entrance from the balcony. The chief of the family was the father or, in his absence, the eldest son; the chief exercised considerable authority over the other members of the family, who submitted to him without question. The chief occupied the place of honor by the hearth, decided matters concerning the household, and assigned tasks. The eldest female held similar authority in regard to the preparation and distribution of food.

Family life was governed by certain constraints on interaction. Women dined separately from men, did not speak to outsiders, and kept their distance from thema wife could not leave the homestead without the permission of her husband. For a period extending to many years after her arrival in the household, a daughter-in-law was not permitted to speak to her husband's father, nor (for a lesser period) her mother-in-law. She was expected to stay out of the presence of her husband's elder brother and father and of elders from outside the family for several years after her marriage. After the father-in-law presented her with a gift, she could speak to him. For his part, the husband avoided contact with his wife's parents and close relatives for a week after the wedding. On the eighth day he invited his in-laws to dinner, to indicate the end of the avoidance period. According to custom the daughter-in-law had to perform certain obeisances before her in-laws: she had to kiss the hands of her husband's parents and elder brother and each evening wash the feet of all elder males in her husband's family.

Inheritance. The rights of inheritance were fixed by customary law. The inheritance was divided evenly among sons, with unmarried sons receiving a larger portion to cover future marital expenses.

Socialization. Children learn to work beginning at an early age. By the age of 8 a boy is helping his father in most tasks, and a girl her mother. A high premium is placed on moral training.

Sociopolitical Organization

The community life of Orthodox and Armeno-Gregorian Udis is regulated by customary laws (adat ). The churches also exercise an important authority, as did the czarist Russian government.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. The Udis are Christians (Orthodox and Armeno-Gregorian), although they continue to observe many pagan practices. There are cults of saints (pir ), the sun (bïgh ; cf. the Udi word for "God," bikhajukh ), the moon (the chief deity of Caucasian Albania), fire, the heart, and ancestors. The ruins of certain churches are considered especially sacred: Saint Elisey (named for a saint who preached Christianity to the Udis) and Saint Egishe Arakela (at which people of many different faiths worship).

Arts. As a result of assimilation a distinctive Udi folklore and folk music has not been preserved. At the beginning of the twentieth century some folk songs were still recalled, a few of which were recorded by the noted Caucasologist A. Dirr. At that time Udi tales, proverbs, and sayings were still known. In present-day Vartashen and Nij the Udis sing Azerbaijan and Armenian songs and Azerbaijan and Armenian tunes are played at their weddings. The young generation of Udis dwelling in Georgia know Georgian songs. Most dances are of Azerbaijan origin (uzundara, shalakho ), and Georgian Udis dance the Georgian lek'uri.

Death and Afterlife. After death the body was traditionally washed and wrapped in a shroud; the gathered relatives and neighbors mourned, and a priest chanted the funeral rites. The dead person was brought out to the courtyard on a mattress and set on a special wooden stretcher, like a ladder, covered with silk clothes. The priest made the sign of the cross over the deceased, and all those present crossed themselves and gave gifts of money to the priest. The corpse was buried on the day following death. Four men carried the body to the church, where the funeral rites were sung, and then to the graveyard. The women thereupon returned home, and the men accompanied the body to the cemetery. After interment all gathered at the home of the deceased for a funeral banquet. Since food was not to be prepared in that house, each family brought pilaf, wine, and other food from their own homes. Memorial banquets were held on the seventh and fortieth days and the first anniversary after death. Mourning lasted forty days. Caucasian mourning practices, such as the wearing of black and letting one's beard grow out, were not obligatory. Nowadays only women closely related to the deceased wear black dresses, kerchiefs, and stockings; men affix a small photograph of the deceased to their clothing.


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Volkova, N. G. (1977). Udiny Gruzii: Polevye issledovaniia Instituta etnografii AN SSSR, 1975 (The Udis of Georgia: Field research of the Institute of Ethnography of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1975). Moscow.

NATALIA G. VOLKOVA (Translated by Kevin Tuite)