Two songs of c'ac'loba, from the Northeast Georgian highlands (late 19th — early 20th c.)

The premarital relation once known in the Northeast Georgian province of Pshavi as c'ac'loba, and to the neighboring Xevsurs as sc'orproba, is one of the most fascinating, but misunderstood, practices of traditional highland culture. The Georgian-French ethnologist Georgies Charachidzé characterized c'ac'loba as "anti-marriage", a designation which succinctly captures the multi-faceted contrast between it and the relationship to which it must inevitably give way.
In the years before the Soviet takeover of Georgia, unmarried young people would on occasion pair off and sleep together (in the strict sense of the expression, that is, spend the night lying side by side, chatting and cuddling, but going no further). Some such relationships would take on a more serious nature, the young couple spending much time together, growing closer and more affectionate with each other, composing songs and poems for each other. But for all of its emotional depth, the bond of c'ac'loba could never be rendered permanent by marriage, according to the traditional code of the Pshavs and Xevsurs. When the time came to marry the partner chosen by their parents (and not necessarily with the young person's approval), the couple were expected to break off their special intimacy, and renounce the warmth and adolescent intensity of c'ac'loba for the coldly serious business of marriage and parenthood. The ethnographic accounts of pre-Soviet Pshavi and Xevsureti record numerous cases of young women and men preferring ostracism, exile, even suicide, to such a step. Readers interested in knowing more about c'ac'loba and sc'orproba are invited to consult my paper "Anti-marriage in ancient Georgian society", in the journal Anthropological Linguistics, vol. 42 #1 (2000), pages 37-60, and the references cited there. Here are my translations of two poems, which also appear in my "Anti-marriage" paper, that I hope will give a taste of the extraordinary folk literature through which the bittersweet affections of c'ac'loba once found expression.  


shen, chemo dido imedo,                                    You, my great hope,

mzev, mopenilo dilita,                                        Sun, spreading forth in the morning,

uk'vdavebisa c'q'aroo,                                     Source of immortality,

mosdixar okros milita,                                       You flow through a pipe of gold,

shentanamc q'opnit gamadzgho,                       May I be sated at your side,

shentanamc c'ola-dzilita.                                   Lying and sleeping beside you.

shenisamc namglis q'ana mkna,                       May I be a field for your sickle,

ro pxaze shagech'rebodi —                              That I be mown by its blade —

an sheni nandauri mkna,                                   Or may I become your sworn sister,

guls dardad chagech'rebodi,                             To feel pangs in my heart for you,

anamc, tasi mkna okrosi,                                  Or may I be a golden cup,

ro ghvinit agevsebodi,                                       That I be filled with wine for you,

daperili mkna c'itlada,                                       May I be tinted in red,

shamsvamdi — shagergebodi,                          Drink me — I will refresh you,

ana mkna movis p'erangi,                                 May I be a silken shirt,

ro gulze dagadnebodi.                                       That I might melt on your heart.

(Georgian text from Vazha-Pshavela [1914] "pshavlebi (etnograpiuli masala: dedak'aci)", reprinted in his Txzulebani xut t'omad. t'omi V: p'ublicist'uri da etnograpiuli c'erilebi, 1994: 368-9)



dghei sjobav tu ghamei?                                    Which is better, day or night?

xalxno, me gk'itxav amasa.                                People, I am asking you.  

ghame niade k'argia,                                         The night of course is very good

dghei sinatit sdzalavsa.                                      But day will outdo night in brightness.

xmeletze manatobeli                                           It brings light to all the land;

mzei maudis tanaca,                                          When the sun climbs in the sky

cxvar-dzroxa maepineba,                                  The cattle and the sheep spread out,

maghla mtas, dabla ch'alasa,                            Up in the mountain and down in the meadow,

maashrobs dilis cvar-namsa,                            The sun dries up the morning dew,          

mc'q'er q'anas et'q'vis salamsa.                        The quail in the field greets it.

magram ro ghame ar iq'os,                               But yet, if there would be no night,

isi ghmertm daiparasa!                                     May God save us from such a thing!

ra dadges ghamis c'q'vdiadi,                             When the dark of night has come

bevrsa uxaris kalasa.                                        A woman rejoices in her heart.    

dzmobiltan c'asvla ghgulavis,                           She longs to see her "brother-spouse,"

dznela ro daeshalasa.                                        It would be hard to keep her away.

vazhasac molodini akv,                                     The lad as well, full of eagerness,

ar ucdis p'uris ch'amasa,                                  Cannot take time to eat his meal.

c'ava, gaigebs loginsa,                                      He goes and readies the bed for her,

gaibunbulebs chalasa.                                       Lays the sheets, fluffs up the straw.

gulshia gulis misnada,                                       Heart is working its magic on heart;

tana k'i pikrobs amasa:                                     At the same time, he is thinking

"k'i ara mamivides, ra,                                     "Could it be, she will not come,

rom rait daishalasa?"                                       Or that something has gone awry?"

kal midis c'q'nari bijita,                                     The woman approaches, with quiet steps,

ar achuchunebs chalasa,                                   She draws not a rustle from the straw.

amoit'olebs botlasa,                                           In her hand she carries a bottle    

jalaptad manap'aravsa.                                     Of vodka, taken from her home.  

"ra q'inchad damdzinebia!"                              The man pretends to be asleep,

moq'me daic'q'ebs zarvasa.                              Toying with his sister-spouse.

kal male gamaaghvidzebs,                                The woman quickly rouses  him;

arc aleviebs xanasa.                                          Neither wants to waste much time.         

q'ba ro q'bas gameet'olas,                                 The jaw of one meets the other's jaw,

mk'erdi mk'erds shaaxalasa.                             Chest is pushed up against chest.

uc'indel nacnauria,                                            His feelings for her have long been known,

nadobs agharas malavsa, —                            He no longer hides them from her.           

memr daic'q'eben k'ocnasa,                              Then they begin to kiss each other,         

p'iridan nerc'q'vis p'arvasa.                             Sharing slaver from each other's mouth.

dghe tu gham, romeli jobnis?                            Day or night, which is better?      

xalxno, me gk'itxav amasa.                                People, I am asking you.  

t'urpa kveq'ana tvalit chins,                              Our eyes can see the beauteous land,

sik'etit dghei dzalavsa,                                       Day thus outdoes night in kindness.

mushais samushaveblad,                                   It gives the workers the chance to work,

sarchos shin mosat'anada,                                To bring the food their households need.

cxvar-dzroxa maepinebis,                                  The cattle and the sheep spread out,

balaxs sdzovs mtasd da barada,                       Grazing on mountain and lowland alike.

manatobeli kveq'nisa                                         It brings light to all the world,     

mzei amua tanaca,                                             When the sun ascends the sky      

gaashrobs dilis cvar-namsa,                             It dries up the morning dew,        

mc'q'er nanas et'q'vis q'anasa.                         The quail in the grass sings a lullaby.


Georgian text from: Gomiashvili, Aleksandre (ed.), Kartuli xalxuri p'oezia  [Georgian folk poetry]. Tbilisi: Merani, 1975, pp. 144-146).