Tribes and Dialects
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The Udi language is believed to be the most archaic of the Dagestan languages spoken today, and therefore one of the most investigated Caucasian languages. It was through Udi that the Old Albanian inscriptions found in Mingchaur were decoded. The Udi language belongs to the Lezgi-Samur, southeastern group of the Dagestan languages and it is divided into two dialects, Vartashen and Nidj. The differences are in phonetics and morphology. During its centuries-long development, the Udi vocabulary has made numerous loans from other languages, the greatest influences today being Russian, Azerbaijani and Georgian. The Udis have no written language of their own, but instead use Russian or Georgian.
The population of the Udis has been recorded since the late 19th century -- they were counted as a separate nation in all of the censuses in the Soviet Union. In the data from 1926, the Udis that had migrated into Georgia were not taken into account. The percentage of native speakers and the Udis living in Georgia are also given.
Religion. The Udis are Christians. The inhabitants of the villages of Vartashen and Oktomber are Orthodox, those of Nidj belong to the Gregorians. The former conduct their services in Georgian, the latter in Armenian. The exact time Christianity was adopted is unknown, but it must have taken place in between the 5th and 8th centuries. The influence of Zoroastrism, which was present in Udi society before Christianity because of close contacts with Persia, is apparent even nowadays. Some features characteristic of heathenism also remain.
Anthropologically the Udis belong to the Caucasian type of the Balkano-Caucasian race, characterized by relatively light pigmentation and a massive skull. Classical authors describe Old Albanians, Udis included, as fair-haired and grey-eyed.
As mentioned above, the Udis are mentioned in the written sources of antiquity among the 26 tribal groups of the Ancient Caucasus. After the end of the Old Albanian state, in the 4th century, the Udis for centuries were robbed and ruled by foreign conquerors. Over the following 15 centuries, the Arabs, Turks and Persians came in succession to plunder and subjugate. Apart from the threat of death, the danger of assimilation became increasingly acute. Only an insignificant part of the once numerous and powerful nation of the Udis managed to remain intact. Before their incorporation into Russia in the first half of the 19th century, the Udis were part of the Khanate of Kuba.
The development of the economic life of the Udis was influenced by the environment they inhabited -- mountain areas, which were most favourable to seasonal animal-breeding. The abundance of mountain pastures and the living conditions in the mountains were best suited to raising smaller horned animals such as sheep and goats. Cattle and horses were raised for domestic use. The shortage of arable land made it unprofitable to engage in large-scale land cultivation. Some tillage was undertaken but the primitive technology and techniques used produced a low and insufficient yield. Additional food had to be purchased from the people on the plains. The usual crops were wheat, maize, and rice. Horticulture, over time, grew in popularity too (grapes, tobacco). Lesser occupations were hunting and gathering wild crops (chestnuts, nuts).
The 20th century brought new social movements and ideas into the life of the Udis. Several all-Caucasian nationalist and separatist organizations and groups emerged. The Udis had no direct independence movement but took an active part in the social life of the Caucasus. Striving for independence brought them against the imperial forces (Denikin's army, the 11th Red Army) but this was beyond the power of the Caucasians, and so, after four years of depleting struggles they submitted to the Bolsheviks. In the turbulent period around 1920, a part of the Udis emigrated to Georgia. Unrest and instability in the Caucasus continued until the late 1930s, when, in the process of collectivization, the Soviet regime succeeded in liquidating or silencing all nationalist elements. This extended to the Udi society. After World War II the actions of the central administration were of a more peaceful nature, and the main stress was put on ideological propaganda and the spiritual subordination of the people. This aim was served by schooling, the mass media and cultural activities directed by the central administration.
Centuries of life in the sphere of Azerbaijani culture has profoundly influenced the Udi culture and mentality. The Azerbaijani influence is noticeable in Udi folk traditions, as well as in the material culture. More recently, a conspicuous intrusion of elements of Soviet culture has become apparent, with the Azerbaijani culture acting as intermediary. At present, the national costume is practically forgotten, and household items are constantly being replaced by manufactured goods. Year by year, Soviet customs and notions have been integrated into folk traditions and customs. All things old and traditional is mocked by schools and social institutions (cinema, clubs, propaganda).
The most painful issue nowadays is the survival and usage of the mother tongue in Udi society. As illustrated earlier, so far, the percentage of native speakers is still quite high. However, the absence of a written language and the foreign-language schooling may gradually erode this. Nowadays the Udis in Azerbaijan are being educated in Russian, and in Georgia, in Georgian.
The rate of urbanization has risen constantly. From 1959 to 1970, it increased tenfold (in 1959, 70 Udis lived in towns, whereas in 1970 the number was 735). If the percentages of urban and rural native speakers are compared (in 1970, 82 % urban, 98 % rural), then it is apparent, that urbanization is another factor detrimental to the Udi nation. Urban life isolates a resettled people from the native cultural environment and the result is a change of mentality and a weakening of national identity.