The Abkhaz traditional culture and its spiritual core – Apsuara


The Abkhaz living in Abkhazia since ancient times have created their distinctive culture. The warm and mild climate and rich vegetation have determined the life of the Abkhaz people. Their main occupations were farming, cattle breeding, hunting, fishing and handicraft. Protecting themselves from invasions or participating in wars the Abkhaz have been developed their military art and skills for creation of arms.

The core part of the Abkhaz culture is a traditional ethic code “apsuara”, literally meaning “abkhazship”. According to the definition of the famous Abkhaz ethnologist, professor Sh.D. Inal-ipa, “apsuara” is a historically established form of manifestation of national identity and and self-assertion of the Abkhaz people, an unwritten code of traditional knowledge and values, including the whole range of customs, concepts and principles.

The Abkhaz traditional culture and its spiritual core – Apsuara – is a product of the historical process. Its origins go back to the roots of the people. Throughout its history, the Abkhaz people perceived from the cultures of neighboring nations only those things which exactly were acceptable and meet their needs, their aspirations. It is not mechanically adoption of the cultural values of other nations, and the people accumulated them in their cultural environment in relation to their way of life, to their own traditions, customs, and morals. So in the process of interaction with other cultures every nation enriches, consolidates and develops its own culture.

Apsuara rooted in life, passed down from generation to generation through education and training. Its moral principles and canons learned from an early age in a family where the parents have always been an example for children. In parallel, lifestyles of the Abkhaz community cultivated and fixed the moral foundations and standards of behavior required both in the family and in society.
In Abkhazia until the XXth century there were large families with strong family ties. Back to the beginning of this century, most Abkhaz family had up to 30 persons. Great-grandfather, grandfather, great-grandmother, grandmother who had wise life experience occupied a special position in traditional large families. They were living bearers of traditional culture. Seniors were the most respected people in the family and were surrounded by honor and special attention.
Family relationships – between husband and wife, parents and children, children and other family members have been identified by firmly established norms, which were based on love, honesty, purity, caring for each other, a sense of responsibility to each other.
Moral education of the children was in the home and in the community. Senior, whether he was a relative, a neighbor or a stranger, had the right to make an observation of their children for any wrongdoing. Public opinion was very important. Children learn to consider it.
The importance of inculcating to children a negative attitude towards immorality was very great. In their pedagogy methods restrictive category of etiquette played a very important role – pkhasharoup (literally “ashamed”) and tsasym (literally, “not the custom”), genaharoup (literally “sin”). Children from early years were taught to understand what actions are undesirable and prohibitive in relation to others – in the family, peer, senior, etc.
The boys, spending most of their time with their grandfathers, fathers, older brothers, learned men issues, economic affairs, acquired work skills, began to appreciate the results of labor. Girls learned from their mothers art of Abkhazian cuisine and ritual of guest reception, ethical standards of conduct befitting wives and mothers. The most important task of physical education of young men among the Abkhaz was to develop the moral and volitional qualities: courage, determination, perseverance, courage, bravado, self-control. Physical exercise, sports games and competitions that existed among the people, by their nature are closely related to the historical conditions of life required of members of the society of constant readiness to labor and combat.
A special place in the intellectual upbringing of children occupied folklore. Children from early age listen to their seniors who told tales, legends and stories of Narts, proverbs, tongue twisters, riddles. It develops the mind, wit and intelligence of children. Characters of the folklore stories appear noble, generous; they show courage, the ability to endure suffering, restraint, patience, respect for elders and women – all of them appear as ideals. Children absorbed these characters’ types.

[1][1] Inal-Ipa Sh.D.: Abkhazians. Sukhum “Alashara”, 1965.