Sona the Sash-Wearer and Tbilisi’s Legendary Karachokhians
30 October, 2014
Sona the Sash-Wearer and Tbilisi’s Legendary Karachokhians
The history of Tbilisi is unimaginable without Karachokhians (Karachokhelebi). Their name is partially Turkic in origin; it is derived from the clothing they wore and translates as “clad in black chokhas.”

Karachokhians were representatives of the city’s lower class: they were ordinary workers and craftsmen who, nevertheless, had their own code of honor. In general, they were similar to guilds that existed in medieval Europe and also included tinkers of various kinds, although this is where the similarities end.
Tbilisi
of old is unimaginable without Karachokhians’ raucous feasts and parties. They could be found in any of the city’s taverns or watering holes, as well as partying on rafts floating down Mtkvari River. They carried drinking goblets in public.
According to historian Elene Botsvadze, Karachokhians loved to party above all. They never held onto money that they got for their work, preferring to blow it on wine instead. The legend of a Karachokhian named Aleksa, who found a lot of money in Ortachala Garden used to be very popular in Tbilisi. Instead of saving the money, the Karachokhian treated his entire coterie to a feast that lasted for the entire week. Not a single workshop in Tbilisi worked that week, and regular citizens found themselves in dire straits because there were things that needed to be done, but the workers were all sitting at the tables and drinking themselves into a stupor.
It may seem unbelievable, but in the same period when women’s rights were still limited in Europe, a small footnote to a photo kept in Tbilisi Archive states the following: “Old Tbilisi’s Karachokhians didn’t count only men among their number – they also had a woman, named “Sona the Sash-Wearer.” The photo of a beautiful woman in a black dress is indeed titled “Sona the Sash-Wearer.” She has a Karachokhian’s sash wrapped around her graceful torso and holds a wine-filled vessel in her hand, in accordance with the tradition.
Besides being a full-fledged member of Karachokhians, Sona the Sash-Wearer was held in high respect in Tbilisi and her name was widely known. Sona was graceful, but gave off an air of purely masculine confidence and Karachokhian arrogance. Her voice was quite deep, too – whenever she took up a roller organ and started singing, few wouldn’t stop by to listen.
All eyes followed her whenever she walked down the street, although the sight of her sash was more than enough to fend off any unwanted suitors. If someone attempted courting her, she would put her one hand on her thigh, and hold his suitors with another, yelling curses that would make a sailor blush.
But Sona wasn’t only known for raucousness. Karachokhians were charitable people, and Sona’s virtue made her distinguished even among them. Due to her kind-heartedness and choice of attire, she was frequently dubbed “the black flag of peace”.
It is also said that in Sona’s earlier years, she used to be in love with a young Karachokhian, who contracted a potent disease and suffered an untimely death. Sona took the sash of her deceased love, wrapped it around her hips and declared that from now on, she is dead as a woman and that this sash and black dress are her only clothes now. On that day, Sona took her father’s roller organ and joined the ranks of Karachokhians.
She was also considered a patron of all who were in love – whenever a girl was angry at her beloved, Sona would calm her down and sometimes even talk her into forgetting her tears and eloping with her love instead.
It is not known how many of these legends are true, but the fact is that Sona did indeed walk the streets of Tbilisi once, carrying her roller organ.
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