After migrating to Georgia the Kists starting adding the suffix shvili meaning “child” in Georgian, or the suffix dze meaning “son” in Georgian, or suffix uli meaning “belonging to” or “descending from”, to establish Kist family names. Typical names for inhabitants of Kist villages are Khangoshvili, Margoshvili, Baghakashvili, Dakishvili, Turkoshvili, Andalashvili and Pareulidze.
Traditionally, the married sons lived together with their parents, though they would build separate rooms attached to their father’s residence. Individual houses were built only if the husband had two or three wives. However, it is extremely rare for a Kist man to have more than one wife or for a Kist woman to be married more than once.
Every member of the family worked together on the paternal land. They shared the crops, cattle and property. Large family structures consisted of a father, mother, their sons, unmarried daughters, daughter-in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren living together.
In the traditional Kist family, the father was regarded as the patriarch and the wife and children had to obey his rules and show him their support. Children could not cry in front of their father or argue with elder members of the family. If the father died, the eldest son would become the head of the household.
Strict divisions of responsibilities between the male and female members existed and still do. The mother of the family was regarded as khusam naan meaning “mother of the house”. The housewife’s duties consisted of preparing meals, providing family members with clothing, cleaning the house, weeding the garden, harvesting, hoeing the maize, and taking care of the cattle and birds.
Kist etiquette required strict respect toward elders not only in the family but also in society. An elder’s word was regarded as law. The elders were consulted first before any family business was conducted.
Kist tradition required that men and women of the family eat separately.
Treatment of Guests
A family’s guest was treated with great respect. Men, usually the eldest man of the family, would greet the guest and would seat them in the most honourable place. This tradition is strictly maintained even today.
Tradition of Sworn Brotherhood
The custom of sworn brotherhood was strictly observed among Georgian highlanders. Sworn brothers (or sisters) participated in each other’s lives, helping each other work, weddings, and even obliged to avenge the other’s blood if one of them was killed.
Traditionally, the Kists could only marry once. However, if a family was childless, the man could marry another woman after receiving his first wife’s and her parents’ approval.
The Kists of Pankisi have several forms of marriage which includes arrange marriage; the secret departure of a young woman from her parents’ home after an agreement with her groom and his middlemen; kidnapping (a practice which was earlier considered brave and praiseworthy); and betrothal in the cradle, which is very rare. New forms of marriage were betrothal by touching the hand and betrothal by giving money or gifts for the bride to her closest relatives.
The bride’s family would prepare a dowry and the groom’s family would organise the wedding ceremony. Typically, coals were placed in the middle of the room and the bride would be guided around the coals three times and blessed. The groom was usually not present at the marriage feast. Men and women would be seated separately. The wedding banquet in the groom’s house continued for several days. On the third or fourth day of the wedding, the bride’s relatives would be invited to join in. After a week of wedding celebrations the bride would be returned by her husband and his close relatives to stay with her father’s family for a week. After the marriage, a Kist woman changed her last name and accepted her husband’s family name.
Newlyweds observed a ritual of silence, which meant being silent around the husband’s relatives. The bride had to be silent with her father-in-law. The longer her silence lasted, the greater the respect she gained. Sometimes she was silent for years.
Today, Kist wedding ceremonies resemble those of Georgians in which the toastmaster (tamada in Georgian) makes his toasts in Georgian
Before the arrival of Islam, funerals were performed on the third or fourth day after death, but today Kists bury their dead on the same day. They depart from Muslim custom by not wearing mourning clothing. According to tradition, only men accompanied the deceased to the burial site, singing the dirge en route. Today, it is not unusual for women to accompany men. Kists also never drank alcohol during the traditional funeral repast. The traditional funeral meal consisted of bread and meat.
The societies of the Central Caucasian highlanders were largely defined by their customary law which was widespread up until the early 1920s. The class structure was unusual for the region. Social differentiation was divided into the wealthy, middle-income and poor families, and their social level was almost equal.
Council of Elders
Political authority resided in the Council of Elders in Pankisi though in later periods each village elected their own heads. The elected men were the most knowledgeable concerning the traditions and customs. The functions of the village head included keeping order in the village, negotiating between family disputes, choosing mediators, calling village meetings, distributing land to newcomers, accepting members of other families into the teyp and controlling the bridges and water reservoirs.
Over time the system of customary law began to break down. The Kists lacked spaces where they could regularly gather to discuss important matters and make collective decisions. Under Russian rule, the traditional Kist mediating court (kkhiel) continued to meet secretly and make rulings, despite being banned by Russian law.
The frightful tradition of blood revenge (tsii ietsar) among North Caucasian and Georgian highlanders was essential. It was a means of self-defence. It was obligatory for family members to defend their families. Among the Kists, blood revenge would not arise if the original killing was committed inside the family, clan or members of the same kin or descent. Matters were resolved with the help of mediators and where different communities were involved both sides were expected to apply reconciliation.
According to tradition the killer had to be killed either according to the custom of blood revenge or reconciliation had to be made by oath (dui baar).Before pursuing revenge, the victim’s side would send representatives drawn from neutral families who would officially declare the blood hostility to the other side. The suspect’s side could either accept or dispute the charge. In the case of disputation, the suspect’s side could demand that the kkhiel (or traditional court) discuss the matter. The Kist kkhiel always consisted of an odd number. Sometimes, if the plaintiff’s side agreed, the kkhiel would offer the side of the accused the opportunity for absolution through an oath sworn on the Koran. If the kkhiel found the suspect guilty, they would allow the victim’s side the right to seek blood revenge. The guilty side would then send a group of elders drawn from neutral families to request that the aggrieved side shed only the blood of the killer. Usually, the victim’s side would agree to this request, but if the killer died before revenge was taken, the blood revenge would be passed on to his closest relatives.
Custom of Payment
The custom of payment for someone’s blood differed in some aspects among Kist villages in Pankisi. For example, in the village of Jokolo the fine for killing a man was 70 cows. It was 63 cows in the village of Duisi.
Nazy's Guest House
Republic of Georgia