Tribes and Dialects
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The Godoberis inhabit the mountains in the northwest of southern Dagestan. The official names of two villages, Godoberi (in their own language Gjudu) and Zibirhali (Shalu), which are situated on the left bank of the River Andi-Koisu, come from the Avar language. The neighbours of the Godoberis all speak Ando-Dido languages: the Botlikhs to the north, the Andis to the east, and the Bagulals and Chamalals to the south. To the west of the Godoberi habitat is Chechen territory, where the Nakh languages are spoken.
The population of the Godoberi was officially recorded only in 1926; in all subsequent censuses the Godoberi have been counted as Avars. The following approximate data was gathered in the 1950s and 1960s.
Religion. The Godoberis are Muslims (Sunnite). Islam was spread throughout western Avaria by Arab conquerors in the 8th--9th centuries. Around the same time, Christianity was introduced from Georgia. In the competition between the two faiths Islam prevailed, and was fully consolidated in the area of the Andi-Koisu river basin in the 16th--17th centuries. The pagan traditions of the Godoberis were never completely abandoned but instead were adjusted to Muslim customs and maintain their importance up to the present day.
Anthropologically, the Godoberis are closest to the Caucasian type of the Balkano-Caucasian race, though with some features characteristic of the Caspian race (relatively strong pigmentation, small skull). The Godoberi have been considered to be a transition form. The material and intellectual culture of the Godoberis resembles that of the Avars, the only differences occur in traditional dress, customs and buildings. The main distinctive feature of the Godoberis is their language. There is no definitive theory to explain when and why the Godoberis developed into a separate people. The origins of the Godoberis cannot be explained by the theory of territorial isolation, for the Ando-Dido peoples have had close connections and cooperated economically for centuries. A theory that has gained popularity in recent times suggests that the linguistic variety of the Andi-Koisu river basin is due to the traditional endogamic social order or political polystructuralism.
The habitat of the Godoberis is organically linked with Avaria, and so is their history. The ancient Greeks and Romans were the first to mention Avaria and its indigenous peoples. Beginning in the 8th century Avaria drew the attention of numerous foreign invaders (the Arabs, the Mongols and the Tatars, the Iranians, the Turks, the Russians). A succession of wars weakened the country and hampered its progress. In the 16th century the Godoberis formed a separate political unity, a 'free community', the inhabitants of which were only nominally dependent on the Avar Khanate. This free community was organized according to a feudal-patriarchal system. It was ruled by the assembly of the community (dzhamat), which elected the elder of the community (chukhbi) and village judges (karti). By the 18th century these institutions had become hereditary. Religious problems were settled by the qadi (a Muslim cleric), who was appointed by the Avar Khan. The qadi also had the right to judge people according to the rules of the shariah (Islamic code of law). Other Ando-Dido peoples had similar free communities. In 1806 Avaria and Dagestan were incorporated into the Russian Empire, but the new central power only made itself felt from the 1860s on. With the new administration came the development of new commercial and monetary relations, however, on the other hand it was the beginning of a savage economic subjugation of Dagestan in accordance with Russian colonial policy.
The economy of the Godoberi was determined by their environment. The mountain climate and pastures were favourable to seasonal livestock breeding. Sheep formed the bulk of the livestock but horses and cattle were also kept as draught animals. Land cultivation was not of great importance for the Godoberis because the land was sparse and difficult to cultivate. The Godoberis did, however, develop a complicated system of terrace fields, where they grew mainly wheat and rye. In the 19th century the growing of potatoes also spread. The Godoberis formed close trade relations with the other Ando-Dido peoples living in the Andi-Koisu river basin.
The period 1917--20 was a complicated time in Dagestan. At this time several new power groupings came into being based on three main ideological trends: nationalism, religious, and bolshevism. The first two joined forces with national liberation as their goal. There were attempts to contact the Mountain Republic, established in Georgia in 1917. In spite of a war of liberation lasting four years, in 1920 Soviet power was established in Dagestan, and the Autonomous Republic of Dagestan was incorporated into the Russian SFSR. Nevertheless, political tension persisted. In September 1920 there were swellings of an uprising and one of the centres of malcontent was within the territory of the Ando-Dido peoples. Three larger strongholds -- Hunzib, Khunzakh and Botlikh -- were conquered. It required an immense effort on the part of the Soviets to suppress the uprising, and still the mountains of Dagestan remained the most troubled region of the Soviet Union up until the beginning of World War II. In the 1920s several separatist religious organizations were active (Ittihad ve terakki "Unity and Progress", a Pan-Islamic organization Firkatul-Vedzhan). Although the local elite adjusted to Soviet rule and continued to enjoy their privileges, a new resistance movement was organised with the advent of collectivization. In ten years the central authority had gathered strength and during the suppression of the uprising, those amongst the Godoberis with nationalist sympathies were exterminated. Stability, of a kind, was achieved only following World War II.
In the 1920--1930s the Godoberis had been openly and violently suppressed. Later, more subtle and indirect means were used, but to equal effect. Gradually Communist ideology came to predominate and the resistance to Soviet rule subsided. A considerable role in this process was played by the Soviet educational and school system, which had as its secondary aim the distribution of Soviet ideology. The Godoberis have no national schools; for the first five years of schooling the Avar language is used, after that classes are conducted in Russian. Naturally this has paralyzed the use of the mother tongue. Nowadays Godoberi is spoken at home only. The younger generations have lost all links with their ethnic traditions, which are seen as a compulsory routine, not as a component of national identity. As the ethnic traditions disappear, Soviet customs and European habits of life (clothing, household appliances, architecture, food) are spreading. Family relations have undergone profound changes, with the disintegration of the former community and the replacement of large families by small. The loss of endogamous standards has caused an increase in the number of mixed marriages and migration to towns has also increased.