Chokhosnebi in National Garments Remind Us of Unity
26 November, 2013
Chokhosnebi in National Garments Remind Us of Unity
Chokha is a traditional Georgian garment. Chokha means “a lamb” in some Georgian dialects as it is made of woolen material. Chokhas were often worn at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries in Georgia, but later they were overshadowed by a European style, with the advent of socialism. Now though Georgian national traditions are returning, and garments too, as an inseparable part of the national character and culture, are worth mentioning in this context.
We met Mr. Zaur Tkeshelashvili, one of the leaders of the Chokhosnebi society.
G.J: Please tell us about the history. How was the Chokhosnebi guild formed?
Z. T: The Georgian Society “Chokhosnebi” has the blessing of Catholicos-Patriach of All Georgians, his Holiness Ilia the Second. It unites around 500 members. However, the brotherhood of Chokhosnebi was formed much earlier, in 1952, under the leadership of Buka Nakaidze. Officially it was registered in 1999, and chaired by Mindia Salukvadze. Since 2006, it has been headed by the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia.
G.J: How did it happen that the spiritual leader of the nation became the head of your society?
Z.T: The Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia saw us and was attracted by the beauty of the garments. We made a live corridor around Trinity (Sameba) church on its opening day. I will tell you one story. Once, the Patriarch attended a presentation of the new fashion of national clothes. He expressed his wish that one day national ornaments be added to our everyday wear, while considering the fact that chokhas are not practical for daily use. Four TV channels came to cover the event, though only two covered it actually. However, one of them reported: “Chokhas have lost the role of Georgian national garment.” They omitted the word “everyday.” One of our members, Omar Mkheidze (one of the great soloists of the Sukhishvili National ballet troupe in its prime), is a very sensitive man and was really upset about it. He asked me to tell the Patriarch about it “to improve the situation.” I went to do it. When the woman in charge told Ilia the Second what it was all about, he received me with laughter. I was shocked, as we were not laughing at that moment. He said: “This was my dream since my childhood, to wear these clothes but then I could not afford to buy them, and now I wear a different robe (implying the clerical one).” I did not lose the opportunity, and as we were already thinking of it, I said that we, Chokhosnebi, intended to present him with a chokha. He was happy to hear that.
The patriarch is a person who has the talent to defuse any tense situation, always summoning us to unity.
G.J: What qualities should a man possess if he wants to join Chokhosnebi?
Z.T: Chokhosani is a person who is supreme in his soul, and has a heart full of a sense of patriotism and national virtues as a symbol of culture, bravery and endurance. Any person belonging to any ethnic group is welcome, who has these virtues. In history, we encounter chokhosani people (chokhosani is a man wearing chokha) in the 9th century. In different regions, chokha used to have slight variations. For instance, they were much longer in Samegrelo and Guria, the western part of Georgia. However, chokhas are mainly Khevsur, Kartl-Kakhian and Caucasian. A chokhosani wears chokha, akhalukhi, kabalakhi as a hood, and aziatski (Azian boots). The breast of the garments has the so-called “kilebi“– containers for bullets. They have a dagger and a belt on their waists. Our society has a hymn that has been based on music written by Ilia the Second and the immortal words of the great Vazha Pshavela.
G.J: Chokha regained its importance in the 19th century. What was its function then and what is its function now?
Z. T: It is said that when at the beginning of the 19th century the queen of England received skillful horsemen from Guria, a Georgian western region, they wore chokhas. The queen was so enthralled by these garments that she inquired about their origins. She was told that they were Georgians from the South Caucasus, and they were described as “so brave and witty that they could be monarchs of any country.” At the beginning of the 20th century, when Georgia was occupied by the Russian army, our outstanding Georgians Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, Pavle Ingorokva, Alexander Abasheli and Vakhtang Kotetishvili were the first four men who put on chokhas as a sign of mourning. When the 11th army entered Georgia, this was the first protest from the Georgian party. In our times, chokha made an immense contribution to the success of our famous dancing troupes - such as Sukhishvilebi, Erisioni and Rustavi - while traveling worldwide. So it continues to live and retain its glory. Nowadays, there are many people who wish to have chokhas for their sons. As in all nations, in Georgia there is a national code, and we should preserve it.

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