Tribes and Dialects
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The Bagulals live in inaccessible small villages on the right bank of the River Andi-Koisu and the surrounding hills, in the northwestern part of the Dagestan mountain region. There are all together six settlements, four of which are situated in Tsumanda and two in the Akhvakh district of Dagestan. The villages are called Kvanada (Khvanch in Bagulal), Tlondoda (Gijnduch), Hushtada (Gyussach), Gemerso (Gyemesi), Tlissi (Ljissi) and Tlibisho (Gijbishi). Each Bagulal village exhibits variants in their language. The dialects are called after the villages: Kvanada-Gemerso, Tlondoda-Hushtada and Tlissi-Tlibisso. The Bagulal territory is bordered to the north by Andis, to the northeast by Karatas, to the east by Akhvakhs, to the southeast and south by Tindis, to the southwest by Chamalals and to the northwest by Godoberis.
Population. Similarly to other Ando-Dido peoples the Bagulals were counted as a separate nation in the Soviet Union only in 1926. In all censuses since they have been considered as Avars. The data for 1958 and 1967 is from academic studies.
Anthropologically the Bagulals belong to the Caucasian type of the Balkano-Caucasian race, which is characterized by a comparatively dark pigmentation, a massive broad face and a round skull and large stature. The Bagulals also exhibit some features typical of the Caspian type.
Religion. The Bagulals are all Muslims (Sunnites). Islam began to spread in Mountain Dagestan following the Arab invasions of the 8th century. The period between the 9th and 14th centuries was a time of constant struggle between two rival religions: Islam, centered in the Islamized part of Transcaucasia and expanding north, and Christianity, spreading east from Georgia. After the disintegration of Georgia, Islam prevailed and by the 16th century it was established everywhere in Avaria, including amongst the Bagulals.
Ethnologically the Bagulals and the Avars both originate from the Proto-Avar tribes. Their intellectual and material culture is similar. They only differ in details (e.g. clothing). The same is also true in regard to history. For centuries foreign forces have shown an interest in Bagulal territory, however, there have been no direct invasions due to the inaccessible encircling mountains. In the 16--18th centuries the Bagulal villages were nominally dependent on the Avar khanate. In the 17th century an independent political unit was formed, the 'free community'. During the 17th and 18th centuries there were conflicts with neighbouring tribes, over the possession of pasture lands. Constant quarrels and the danger of war resulted in the founding of a military organization, Kyoki-Abi (Union of Warriors): all single men between 18 and 40 took part in spring battle drills. Warfare was very popular in Bagulal society. An original shelter (haly) was developed: a quadrangular two-storeyed thick walled building provided with a water pipe.
Economy. The characteristics of the Bagulal's economy were set by the environment. Owing to the existence of good mountain pastures the Bagulals concentrated on developing seasonal livestock breeding. The conditions were especially favourable for sheep and goats. Because of the shortage of farming land and poor equipment agriculture was not very well developed. Only a form of terrace cultivation was employed. The main crops were wheat, rye, flax, later also potatoes and other vegetables. Villages in the valley of the Andi-Koisu river had better conditions for tilling and there were even some orchards.
The primary unit of Bagulal society was the community. This was administered by an elected community or village elder (chuhbi). The religious head of the community was a Muslim cleric, qadi, who was nominated by the Avar Khan. Among other things it was his task to administer justice according to the Muslim code of shariah. With the annexation to Russia at the beginning of the 19th century Dagestan became a Russian colony. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the basic tenets of capitalist industry and economic relations began to spread through the Bagulal community and marketing grew in importance. More radical changes occurred after the establishment of Soviet rule and the consolidation of its apparatus of government and administration at the beginning of the 1930s. The goal of the new power was rapid collectivization. This was accomplished by physical force and the destruction of any opponents. One result of these policies was the liquidation of all nationalist and more active Bagulals. Collectivization completely demolished the earlier social order and way of life. Changes took place within the social structure and the Bagulals' natural isolation from the outside world was eroded.
The other main means the Soviets employed to consolidate power, were the cultural revolution and the dissemination of the Soviet schooling system. As the Bagulals were considered to have no future as a nation, the Soviet authorities paid no attention to creating a written language and a schooling programme based on the mother tongue. Instead Avar school curriculum was taken over. In the first five forms the language used for teaching was Avar and later in the school Russian. Constant brainwashing by the Soviets led to a change in the Bagulals' way of thinking, the results of which became obvious only after World War II. Among the younger generation there is a tendency to favour Soviet customs. The organic link between the national traditions has disappeared, and were maintained it is simply from habit. There have been even greater changes in the material culture which has been greatly influenced by the Soviet form of European urban culture. This prevails in clothing, household equipment, furniture, food and architecture. National costumes are no longer in everyday use.
The problem of language is of great importance, as the Bagulals' mother tongue is the only important characteristic preserving their national identity. In the present-day Bagulal society the mother tongue plays a secondary role, being only spoken at home. The language used in public is Avar. Education in a foreign language and the constant weakening of national traditions are two of the reasons why Bagulal is becoming extinct.