Tribes and Dialects
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The Tindi language belongs to the Andi subgroup of the northwestern group of Dagestan languages (Avar-Ando-Dido). Tindis call their language Idarab mitstsi -- 'the language of the Idar village'. It is closely related to the languages of Chamalal and Bagulal. Two dialects, Tindi and Angida-Aknada, can be distinguished. There is no written language, instead Avar is used. The Tindi language has been poorly investigated. In the second half of the 19th century, some research was done by R. Erckert and A. Dirr, and during the Soviet period, by T. Gudava.
Habitat. The Tindis are a numerically small people who live in the mountain areas of the northwestern part of southern Dagestan. They inhabit five villages on the middle reaches of the River Andi-Koisu and in the adjacent mountains. The villages are called Tindi (native name Idari or Idi), Angida (Angia), Aknada (Agjinachi), Echeda (Echeii) and Tissi (Issi or Milchi). The regional climate is notable for its high level of rainfall; this region receives the most rain in all Dagestan. The neighbours of the Tindis are the Ando-Dido peoples: to the north, Bagulals, to the north-east, Akhvakhs, to the east, Avars, to the south and west, Khvarshis and to the northwest, Chamalals.
Population. As with other peoples of Andi region, there is scant data. The 1926 census was the only one which registered the Tindis as a separate nation. In later censuses, they have been counted as Avars. The data from 1950 to 1960, given here, is approximate. It probably does not reflect the true situation since no information is included about native speakers, migration, etc.
Anthropologically the Tindis belong to the Caucasian type of the Balkano-Caucasian race, with a few characteristics typical of the Caspian type (relatively dark pigmentation and small size of the skull).
Religion. Tindis are Muslims (Sunnites). Islam began to spread through what is now southern Dagestan following the Arab conquests of the 8th century. The Tindis have also had contact with Christianity. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, a peculiar phenomenon, the simultaneous infiltration of both religions, was taking place in western Avaria. Islam was advancing from the south, and Christianity, actively supported by Georgia, from the west. The decisive factor in favour of Islam was the 14th century campaign of Timur (Tamerlane), and Islam was subsequently established as the sole religion in Avaria. The spread of Christianity among Tindis is marked by a 9th century Christian tombstone in the village of Tindi and Georgian names which the Tindi people still have.
In their intellectual and material culture the Tindis resemble the Avars. A few local peculiarities are discernible (for example the manner of wearing certain clothes).
The history of the Tindis has also, to a great extent, been identical to that of the Avars. The exact ethnogenesis of the Tindis has created some dispute.
The theory that the Tindis have evolved from the proto-Avar tribes is one that has been widely held. A prolonged natural isolation was considered to be the main reason for any linguistic differences. However, between the Ando-Dido peoples, a perfectly functioning economic system had developed. The Tindis were isolated from the outside world, not from the Ando-Dido environment. Today, theories that view an endogamous social arrangement or polystructural political system as the main reason for the phenomenon, are more prevalent.
Classical authors were aware of Avaria as an independent region but they knew it as Serir. Around the 4th or 5th centuries, at the latest, proto-Avarian tribes were settled there. Since the 8th century, Avaria has been in the sphere of interest of foreign powers (Arabs in the 8th--9th centuries, Mongol-Tatars in the 13th--14th, Persia and Turkey in the 15th--18th and since the 19th century, Russia). Amongst this medley of conquest and intervention, in the 16th--17th centuries the Tindis contracted into a separate political unit, a "free community", nominally dependent on the Avar Khanate. In 1806 Dagestan was incorporated into Russia. The central administration, however, did not consolidate their rule until the 1870s.
The economy of the Tindis was determined by the environment, and the environment best suited the development of seasonal livestock breeding. Sheep and goats were raised and cattle were used as draught animals and for ploughing. Herding the animals on the high mountain meadows in summer necessitated the building of small high altitude villages. These tiny villages existed purely because of the cattle, and administratively and politically they had no existence; they were appendages of the principal village and its community. Using irrigated terraced fields, Tindi farmers achieved reasonable results, if not self-sufficiency. They were obliged to make the deficit by barter trade with the Avar villages on the plain. With the onset of winter the workload of the menfolk was reduced considerably and many took the opportunity to travel in search of migrant work.
An advancement in the economy and living standards was made in the last quarter of the 19th century, when Dagestan was incorporated into Russia and mercantile-monetary relations began to develop.
The most profound impact on the life of the Tindis came with the Soviet regime which was established in Dagestan in 1920. Tindi society had by that time progressed beyond the primitive clan system. The ideology of the new regime was obscured in the extreme to the Tindis. To promote their aims, the central administration launched a two-pronged campaign: collectivization combined with cultural revolution. The cultural revolution, which began in the late 1920s with the abolition of illiteracy and a regulation of the educational system, had the greater impact on the attitudes of the Tindis. For schooling, in the first five years, the Avar language was used, later, Russian. Schooling took place within the parameters of Soviet ideology which inhibited free thinking, disparaged old customs and beliefs and was generally anti-Islam. The results of these policies have only recently become fully apparent. An antagonism between the older and younger generations is one strong characteristic. Approval for the new Soviet traditions by the younger generations increases from year to year,and the traditional celebrations and customs (e.g. weddings) have lost their meaning. Young people with a relatively higher level of education are more liable to innovations.
Still more far-reaching changes took place in the Tindi material culture where the trappings of European urban culture (clothing, furniture, buildings, food, etc.) prevailed everywhere.
The basis of Tindi national identity is the language, but it is nowadays used only domestically; and even that is decreasing.
The changes in Tindi folk traditions inevitably weaken linguistic links and usage. Considering the Tindis' bilingualism and the loss of territorial isolation, the Tindis are in danger of assimilation by the Avars. An equal threat to the Tindis' national identity is a continuing migration to the plains, where they find themselves in either an Avarian or Russian environment.