North Caucasians have always been known for their vigour, good health,
physical strength and longevity. Circassians paid great attention to
enhancing the beauty and symmetry of their children’s physiques. This
cultic preoccupation with physical perfection meant that for male
children of princely and noble descent, a rigorous, almost severe,
martial training regimen was part and parcel of the formative years.
The use of leather straps and other devices to contract the middle area
produced the ideal shape in the folkloric ethos of a lean torso and
wide chest. A slender waist for both males and females was at a
Costumes were designed to enhance and
highlight the beauty of the body according to prevalent ideals. The
Circassians were the fashion trend-setters in the Caucasus. Their
reputation for beauty and elegance was captured in the famous saying,
‘Dressed like a Kabardian.’ However, the Circassians donned their most
dilapidated apparel when they did battle. According to John Longworth
(1840, vol. 2, p51), ‘in general the Circassians, when taking to the
field, put on the worst and coarsest attire they can find; but many of
their young heroes, out of emulation, a spirit of bravado or aspiring
to the honours of martyrdom, render themselves conspicuous by wearing
an entari [cherkesska] of the gayest colour.’
bad the attire of a mountaineer was, his arms were always kept in
perfect condition. One of Lermontov’s Caucasian, Kazbich, was described
thus, ‘His beshmet [quilted jacket] is always in tatters, but
his armament is in silver.’ Circassian costumes, etiquette, dance and
other distinctive cultural traits were borrowed by the other peoples of
the Caucasus to varying degrees. Even the Cossacks adopted Circassian
dress modes, dancing and the Circassians’ flair for horsemanship.
Spencer (1937), a British traveller to Circassia in the year 1836, left
a vivid description of the Circassian male costume:
| || |
the natives of every clime are taught by experience the dress best
calculated to protect them against its influence; and, certainly, the
Circassian costume, besides being elegant, is, in every respect, well
suited to the country: the lambswool turban preserved my head from the
vertical sun; and by enveloping myself in the ample folds of the
chlamyde, and covering my head with the capuchin on the approach of
evening, I was protected from the nightly dews so pregnant with ills to
the frame of man...
The usual dress of a
Circassian warrior of all classes is a tunic resembling a military
Polonaise, without a collar, closely fitted to the body, and descending
to the knee, secured around the middle by a leather girdle, ornamented,
according to the wealth or fancy of the wearer, with gold or silver, in
which are stuck a pair of pistols and a poniard: the latter is a most
formidable weapon in close combat; during an attack they hold it in the
left hand, and from its breadth and length, reaching to the elbow, it
serves every purpose of a shield.
to this, the Circassian is armed with a light gun, slung across the
shoulder, and a sabre suspended by a silk cord in the Turkish fashion;
attached to the belt is a powder flask, and a small metal box
containing flints, steel, gun-screws, oil, and, not infrequently, a
small hatchet. Hence, a Circassian, whether on foot, or on horseback,
is at all times completely armed. Sometimes he carries a javelin, which
he uses with singular dexterity and effect, hurling it to a
considerable distance with an aim that never errs. The latter weapon is
also used as a rest for the rifle, having a groove at the top expressly
for that purpose. Bows and arrows are now very rarely used, except in
cases where it is necessary to arm the whole population.
either side of the breast of the coat are the patron pockets, made of
morocco leather, usually containing twenty-four rounds of ball
cartridge: these not only add to the military appearance of the
soldier, but in some measure protect the breast, and are extremely
convenient: a round fur cap, with a crown the same colour as the
ammunition pocket, is the covering for the head; and cloth trousers, in
the eastern fashion, complete the costume. Princes and nobles are alone
entitled to the privilege of wearing red; and the Circassian, like the
natives of most other eastern countries, shave the head, and are never
seen barefoot. When marching, or on a journey, they always add a cloak
made from camel or goat's-hair, with a hood which completely envelopes
the whole person – this is called a tchaouka [щIакIуэ] – and
no Mackintosh was ever more impenetrable to the rain; rolled up in its
thick folds, it forms the only bed during their encampments, and
serves, besides, to protect them against the scorching rays of the
On entering the strangers’ apartment, to
which the, prince had the courtesy to conduct me himself, his squire,
according to the general custom of this people, divested me of the
whole of my weapons, and hung them up on the walls of the room with
those of his master, except the poniard, which a Circassian never parts
with, being considered a part of his costume. How like the warriors of
And now with friendly force his band he grasped,
Then led him in within his palace halls;
His coat of mail, and glittering helm unclasped,
And hung the splendid armour on the walls;
For there, Ulysses’ arms, neglected, dim,
Are left, nor more the conqueror’s crown will win.
The Cossacks adopted their male costume, arms and dances from the North Caucasians, especially the Circassians. In his book Russia: A Social History
(1931) D. S. Mirsky (Prince Dmitry Petrovich Svyatopolk-Mirsky)
observes that ‘not the least curious feature of the Russian conquest of
the Caucasus was that it led to the adoption of a number of Caucasian,
mainly Qabardi [Kabardian], cultural traits—dress, arms and dances—by
the Russian Cossacks and Georgians.’
Cossack regiments donned Circassian costumes. It was also used in the
Russian army, especially in the black Sea and Line Armies, and later a
variant was used in the Soviet cavalry. Cossacks also followed
Circassian cap styles. The shapes of their papakhas, or tall hats, reflected the fashion of the mountaineers. There appeared types of caps such as the kabardinka, broadening to the top, and the kubanka, with a flat crown.
addition, the Cossacks were influenced by the Circassian dignified
customs and style of life, which in many respects were superior to
their Russian counterparts. According to Paul Henze (1992, p72),
‘Cossacks... intermingled with both Circassians and Nogay Tatars,
adopting to a large extent their customs and style of life, which was
in many respects of a higher quality than the Russians had attained at
It is quite ironic that the costumes
and dances of the Circassians had come to be more readily associated
with the late adopters than with the originators — to the victor, all
the spoils, including fortune and fame. Even the elegant Georgians were
not immune from Circassian influences. The celebrated Georgian State
Dance Company had adopted Circassian dress styles and choreography in
its colourful repertoire.
Circassian costumes of the Adigean State Academic Folk Dance Ensemble ‘Nalmes’
in full blaze and glory. Established in 1936, ‘Nalmes’ sees itself as ‘the collector,
guardian, and interpreter of Adigean folk music and dancing’.
Circassian Female Costume
elegance and beauty of Circassian women were boosted by exquisite
costumes and magnificent ornaments. The outer coat, which could be
either long or short, was made from a variety of fabrics and it was
lined and generally wadded. A non-wadded version was called ‘tsey’ (цей). The bghe’wlh (бгъэIулъ) (or sch’i’w
[щIыIу]) consists of a false shirtfront of velvet or silk with (up to)
12 silver or gilt pairs of plate-like buckles, which when seen from a
distance impart a beautiful lustre, and other ornaments. The dress has
velvet sleeve pendants, embroidered in gold and silver threads. Flaps
adorned with embroidery and fringes were used for effect. A loose light
silk or cotton chemise with long and wide sleeves extended almost to
the floor covering the footwear. This gives the impression that
Circassian women glide along the floor when they dance in full costume.
The upper classes wore coats made from various
kinds of furs and covered with brocade, silver or cotton fabric. It was
trimmed with fur strips about 9cm wide. However, it was considered
unseemly for girls and young women to be seen wearing them, even in
freezing weather. Commoners and the poor had to make do with sheepskin
‘ЩIыIу’ or ‘бгъэIулъ’ (‘sch’i’w’, ‘bghe’wlh’;
‘БгъэкIыIу’ or ‘кIыIу’ in Adigean) is part of a Circassian woman’s
national costume. It consists of a false shirtfront of velvet or silk
with (up to) 12 silver or gilt pairs of plate-like buckles, which when
seen from a distance impart a beautiful lustre, and other ornaments.
and girls wore wide trousers made from striped fabrics, but the chemise
wholly covered them. The underwear was made of silk with folded sleeves
that narrow at the top. The waist was girdled with red-morocco or
leather belts, which were adorned with gold, silver, strings, balls,
and silver plaquettes, the buckles made of gold, silver, or copper,
depending on the social status. The well-off had a large pendant
artistically made of gold, or stone. A breastplate with belt, sch’i’wbgiripx (щIыIубгырыпх), made of gold or silver was used as adornment.
were made of broadcloth, less often of velvet, but never fur. They were
ornamented with a narrow silver and gold galloon round the top and with
a wide one round the bottom, and embroidered in satin-stitch. A flowing
transparent white veil covered the cap. Oftentimes, little exquisite
silver buttons were sewn round and edged with gilding. Some caps had
small tassels dangling from the upper rim. Married women wore their
hair in tresses ina style called ‘schhenschoqw’
(«щхьэнщокъу»), which differed from that of girls. They wore head
covers, usually silk kerchiefs, but kept their faces bare. Older women
covered their hair with white cotton shawls.
footwear consisted of high-heeled, thick-soled, soft leather shoes. The
rich had their shoes elaborately embroidered in gold and silver with
silver galloon trimmings. Young women and girls of noble houses used
high wooden footwear, px’evaqe (пхъэвакъэ), decorated with
various bone adornments, and quite often with silver and guilding.
These had a height of about 7cm, affording insulation from the mud and
dirt when the fair lasses had to go about their business in the
courtyard. The size of the feet was arrested at a preset standard by
using special shoes. Mittens kept the tender hands spotless.
At the onset of puberty, girls were required to wear corsets (Kabardian: куэншыбэ, kwenshibe; Adigean: шъохътан, schwex’tan)
in the form of short tight-fitting sleeveless vests made from
red-morocco, leather or cloth and worn under the chemise. The corset
was fastened tight with silk laces and covered the chest right down to
the belt. Besides giving support to the body, it served to limit the
development of the bosom area, as was demanded by the strict norms of
beauty, among which physical symmetry was of paramount importance.
Corsets kept being worn (day and night; when worn out, they were
replaced by others of equal tightness) until the girl’s wedding night.
eventually the newly-weds were left alone in their quarters, the
bridegroom initiated the consummation of the bond by cutting the laces
of the corset with his sharp dagger. This required high skill, and the
infliction of any scratch on the bride’s body, no matter how small,
brought a great shame upon the groom. The operation was complicated by
the fact that it was interdicted for the bridegroom to see his bride in
full glory in her birthday suit.
Young girls did
not wear the more modest costumes of women until after their marriage,
when they also started to cover the head with a white linen cloth, tied
under the chin.
| || || |
|Kabardian female costume, |
late 19th century.
| ||Circassian female costume. |
(Courtesy of adygaunion.com)
Circassian Male Costume
male dress was aesthetically designed no only to accentuate the good
form of the body, namely narrow waist and broad upper body, but also
for convenience and comfort, being well suited for both hot summers and
freezing winters. The traditional male costume was perfectly suited for
mountain guerrilla warfare and hunting.
The main articles of the costume were the shirt, cherkesska, beshmet, trousers, belt, over-coat, kalpak or papakha (cap), baschlhiq
(hood), boots, and underwear. Materials used for male costumes included
locally produced leather, sheepskin, wool, woollen cloth, and thick
felt. The dagger, without which no Circassian man could be seen, was
considered part of the attire. Other armaments were donned, as the
occasion demanded. The shirt, trousers, and beshmet were worn under the cherkesska, the burka (щIакIуэ; sch’ak’we in Circassian) being the over-coat.
a caftan-like garment, had a narrow waist and reached down to 2-4
inches above the knees. It had string buttons and buttonholes from the
waist to the collar, and a stand-up collar and banana sleeves with
buttons of the same type. Beshmets were made of cotton cloth,
woollen cloth, or satin and silk, with the latter used by the richer
folk and some people of lesser means on special occasions. Sometimes
beshmets were lined with wool or cotton wool for added warmth. Colours
included dull grey, bright red, and blue. In more ancient styles, no
undergarment was worn underneath the beshmet.
On festive occasions, a cherkesska (цей; tsey) was worn over the beshmet.
The cherkesska, a long-waisted tight fitting outer garment, had become
the national Caucasian dress by the eighteenth century, and was a
potent folkloric symbol. It was made from tough woven wool, with common
colours of black and grey, but other hues were not unknown, including
dark blue, red, white, ochre, and brown. The collarless vest was open
at the chest with a single button on the waist and reached down to the
mid-thighs, with flared sleeves extending beyond the hands, but which
were usually rolled up. It was distinctively adorned by a row of 14 to
20 capped cartridge cases [«хьэзыр» (‘hezir’)] in Circassian,
«газырь» [plural: «газыри»] in Russian), made of nielloed silver or
wood, with iron, ivory, stag-horn, walrus tusk, or silver caps,
inserted into flaps sewn on each side of the chest. These cases were
initially used as handy stores for gunpowder and lead-shot for personal
light muskets, hence the name (=ready). The advent of the repeat rifle
in the late nineteenth century reduced the function of the ‘hezir’ to mere decoration, with cloth loops replacing the cartridge cases.
Shirt & belt
Under the cherkesska, a collared shirt (джанэ; jane) made of embroidered (white) linen with a buttoned vertical cut at the front. The narrow leather belt (бгырыпх; bgiripx)
was adorned with silver platelets and dangling bands, previously used
for strapping small cases. The silver-plated belt was worn round the
cherkesska and drawn so tight that not even a finger could wriggle
through. Dagger and sword sheathes, a pistol case, and a long fusil
were attached to the belt. Leather straps on the waist belt carried
carved boxes with flints, wads, and gun oil. A sleeveless upper garment
(тэджэлей; tejeley) was also in use.
Trousers (гъуэншэдж; ghwenshej),
usually made of coarse woollen material, were worn tight and were
tucked under knee-high stockings of woollen cloth, usually with leather
garters under the knee. The underwear was made of silk.
A sleeveless felt cloak, sch’ak’we (щIакIуэ), or burka
in Turkic, which hanged from the shoulders and covered the whole body,
was an indispensable part of the Circassian costume. It was made to fit
the shoulders by the insertion of a gore, was tied with strings at the
neck, and was often lined with silk or calico. The opening for the neck
and the seams over the chest were trimmed with braid. Black and
black-brown were the common colours, with white come across not
infrequently. Sometimes the wool was not removed on the outside. It
afforded warmth in winter by keeping the rain out and insulating the
body from the chill. It also protected the wearer from the burning sun.
It doubled as a blanket or a personal tent. A small group of men on the
road could find shelter by hanging their great coats on three stakes
dug into the ground, constructing a rather cozy tepee. In clement
weather the coat was rolled up and fastened by long leather rheims
behind the saddle.
| Traditional Circassian male costume.|
The basic head-dress consisted of a large round or conical caracul cap called «адыгэ пыIэ» (‘Adige pi’e’), better known as ‘kalpak’ or ‘papakha’, mostly black or grey in colour. A wide-brimmed felt hat was also common. In cold weather, the head was muffled with a baschlhiq
(бащлъыкъ;), a hood whose ends could be used as a shawl, slung around
the neck, or twirled round the head in the shape of a turban. Baschlhiqs
were mostly made of wool, but cloth was also used, in which case they
were either edged with tasselled Caucasian gold or silver braid, or
decorated with ornamental gold piping. Specimens with ornamental
designs embroidered in silver or gold thread were also worn for show.
In the olden days, Circassian men shaved their heads, leaving only a tuft of hair on the crown of the head called ‘alhtinich’e’ («алътыныкIэ»).
The usual footwear consisted of soft leather boots, which allowed a ‘cat-like’ gait, perfect for military manoeuvres.
aristocracy donned terrifying masks on their hunting expeditions,
apparently to confound the prey, and together with the esoteric cant
(щакIуэбзэ, schak’webze=language of the chase), render the
objects of the hunt unaware of the true purpose of the chevy. According
to E. N. Studenetskaya (1980), Kabardian princes, up until the first
part of the 19th century, held secretive assemblies after the harvest
that lasted for six weeks. In such assemblies, masks were used to hide
identity so that the binding article in the code of chivalry on
blood-revenge would not disrupt the smooth running of the martial
| ‘A Circassian chief preparing his stallion’ |
by the Scotsman Sir William Allan (1782-1850).
The (77 x 64.5 cm) oil on canvas painting was done in 1843.
had had a great bearing on the martial societies of the North Caucasus
as far back as the early Bronze Age. They also made up a substantive
portion of the export trade, being much sought after by neighbouring
peoples and even in far away lands as Persia. The quality of
craftsmanship was commensurate with purchasing power, and thus personal
arms served as markers of social status. Some instruments of war were
only associated with particular classes. For example, exquisite
coats-of-mail could only be afforded by the upper classes.
weaponry of Circassian men traditionally consisted of defensive armour
– shirt of mail, a helmet and armlets, and offensive weapons – a bow
and arrows, a spear, dart, sabre and dagger. When the fire-arms became
widespread in the 18th century, the bow and arrows, the gun and the
defensive armour coexisted for some time. As time went on, fire-arms
replaced the bow and arrows while the defensive armour, which afforded
no protection against bullets, was discarded. Beginning from the second
half of the 18th century the armament of a Circassian consisted of a
gun, pistol, sabre or cavalry sword, and a dagger.
| Full weapon set of Kabardian warrior |
(sword with sword-belt, dagger, pistol, cartridge cases).
The set was presented to Tzarevich Nikolai Alexandrovich
(future emperor Nicholas II) in 1888 by a North Caucasian deputation.
[The Russian Museum of Ethnography <http://eng.ethnomuseum.ru/>]
of arms was intimately connected with the structure of the military
system of the Circassians. All North Caucasians held their personal
arms in the highest esteem and always maintained them in tip-top shape.
A mountaineer never went out of his house without his dagger. Every
male person, even young boys, had one. Fine specimens were handed down
from father to son. Some households still keep old daggers and other
arms as priceless heirlooms.
A warrior who lost his weapons
in battle was held in contempt forever after. According to custom, a
man was buried with the full complements of his arms. Gunsmiths and
armourers took their craft to uncharted heights. In each village there
were two or three artisans specializing in producing arms. Nowadays,
daggers are mostly made as souvenirs.
weapons uncovered among the treasure-troves in the mounds of Maikop
culture included stone maces and battle-axes. Of particular importance
were Eneolithic and Bronze Ages weapons in the Burial Mound 31 in the
village of Novosvobodnaya, consisting of blades and flint triangular
arrow-heads, possibly used in harpoon-like missiles.
| Flint arrow-heads. The dagger blade is leaf-shaped|
being sharp along the edges. Grooves on both sides
of the butt allow the blade to be attached securely
to the handle. Maikop culture, middle of 3rd
millennium BC. The Hermitage.
is a large collection of late medieval Circassian swords and daggers
found at excavation sites near Maikop displayed in the Historical
Museum of Moscow. Some of the exhibits had inscriptions and were dated
to the 16th and 17th centuries AD. There has also been a large haul of
weapons unearthed in Kabardian sepulchral mounds that go back to the
15th to 16th centuries AD. These finds represent the Eastern Circassian
version of the Belorechenskaya Culture (Belorechenskaya is situated to
the northwest of Maikop) in Adigea.
| Dagger and belt. The qame (къамэ) is synonymous with the mountaineers’ warrior|
tradition. Nevertheless, very few old daggers have been handed down, since
they were never regarded as treasured heirlooms. Unlike sabres and cavalry
swords, these were simply personal effects reforged when worn-out.
coat of mail was made by connecting polished steel rings each to four
adjoining ones to form a metal fabric. Between 20-30 thousand annuli
were used, depending on the size. It afforded protection to the torso
down to the knees. The Kabardian version was so well made that the Shah
of Persia ordered that it be used in his army. A few hauberks that go
back to the 16th and 17th centuries are kept in the Kremlin Armoury.
helmet was a hybrid of conical and pyramidal shapes and was made of
steel with an attached net of ringlets hanging down to the shoulders
for protection. Usually date of manufacture and name of artisan were
etched on outstanding pieces. A specimen decorated with silver pieces
and dated to 1780 was found. Steel plates decorated with traditional
Circassian motifs covered the arms from the elbow to the wrist.
Articulation was effected by leather bands or metal rings. Gloves made
of opulent red or black leather afforded some protection to the hands.
The gauntlets were decorated with gold or silver thread, with hooked
horns embroidered in the middle being a trademark of Circassian
| Princely war costume.|
were composed of two layers, the inner one made of animal horns and the
outer one of wood. Strings were made from animal tendons boiled in
fish glue. The arrows were made by men, the quiver by household women
using luxury black leather decorated with gold and silver threads. The
bow and quiver were tied round the waist. Pallas described a lance-like
weapon in shape of a strong staff, about 1.5m long, on top of which was
fixed a large iron head, the lower end having a sharp iron pike, about
Of special interest are bayonet-like rapiers
designed to penetrate coats of mail. In the 17th century, the
Circassians innovated a cavalry weapon in form of a two-edged long
dagger without a cross-guard. It was about 75cm long, as compared to
100-114cm for the conventional sword. The circular hilt was made of
either silver or ivory and its head was slightly hooked. Making
scabbards was a feminine craft. Two moulded pieces of wood were covered
first with leather, then with velvet, and fixed with gold thread and
metal sheets. In their campaigns in Central Asia, Terek and Greben
Cossacks used a tactic to overcome long spears with sabres, which they
called ‘to drive in the Kabardian way.’
Hafts of sabres
and daggers, pistols and rifles were ornamented with gold and silver
inlay, encrustation, wood, bone and niello. In more elaborate designs
semi-precious stones were used. Firearms were first introduced in the
North Caucasus in the 16th century, but they only became wide-spread in
the 18th. Some Circassian pistols made in 1840-50 are on show in
museums in Moscow and St Petersburg. Women made leather holsters.
produced gunpowder for their muskets. The main stock of powder was
stored in a flask made of horn, ivory or wood, and kept dry and safe by
wrapping it with morocco decorated with gold, silver and ivory. The
covers were made of decorated silver. The powder flask was hung at the
belt. Handy quantities of powder were kept in the hezirs,
14-20 cartridge cases made of nielloed silver, or wood, inserted into
flaps, on the breast of the cherkesska. Mild powder for bolts of rifles
and pistols was kept in a small special powder flask from which the
powder was spilled. It was also hung at the belt.
In accordance with the saying «ЩIакIуэр губгъуэ унэщ» (‘Sch’ak’wer
gwbghwe winesch’), the over-coat was considered as a field house.
 «АлътыныкIэ» (‘alhtinich’e’) is a compound word formed of the Turkic ‘алътын’ (‘gold’, ‘golden’) and the Circassian ‘кIэ’ (here: ‘topknot’).
Alim Ch’ischoqwe’s (КIыщокъуэ Алим; Алим Кешоков) poem ‘THE CHERKESSKA’, from Starlit Hours, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981, p45.
Where whispering winds above the cherry-trees float,
Where morning’s pallid coat-flaps curl,
A bold Caucasian wore his cherkesska coat,
Sewn by some darksome Circassian girl.
While galloping at full stretch he’d take sure aim,
He tried to be the ace in every race,
And in his heart he kept his loved one’s name,
And powder in each cartridge case.
And every ploughman underneath the blue,
And every mower above the gold,
Bore on his breast those sixteen cartridges too,
Which tight the black gunpowder hold.
Where waters beat down upon the stony cheek
Of the ravine, uprearing tall,
The cherkesska sat well on a waggoner’s back,
And on the general at the ball.
By generations in high honour kept,
This custom not for nought we note:
The face of him who on the battlefield slept
Was covered by his cherkesska coat.
It might be white, like a field in hoary frost,
Or black as a furrow in the dale,
But the name “Cherkesska” never will be lost.
To change it tongues will ever fail.
Translated by Walter May
Proverbs and sayings associated with costumes and clothe items
[The entries are in Kabardian, unless otherwise stated]
АнэкIэ къуащIэм къуэсу мэпсэу (Anech’e qwasch’em qwesu mepsew): He lives under (behind) his mother’s skirt.
Анэм и гъуапэр пхъум и джанэщ: The mother’s sleeve is the daughter’s shirt.
Бгырыпх пцIанэ: Girdled without a dagger (literally: ‘naked waist-belt).
Вакъэжьылъэ шынэркъым: An old boot doesn't fear the mud.
Гуэбэнэч и щIагъ лIы къыщIокI:
(A he-man emerges from a herdsman’s clothes) 1. A little body often
harbours a great soul; 2. Little bodies may have great souls.
Гъуапэкъым, пщампIэкъым: (Neither a sleeve nor a collar) Neither one thing nor the other.
Гъунэгъурэ гъуэншэджрэ (A neighbour is like a pair of trousers): Better a close neighbour than a distant relative.
Джанэ нэхърэ гъуэншэдж нэхъ благъэщ: The trousers are nearer than the shirt.
ЖьантIэм узэрыдашэр щыгъынырщ (Zchant’em wizeridasher schighinirsch): Fine feathers make fine birds.
ЗекIуэ и вакъэ лажьэркъым (Жэрдэм зыщIэм, лажьэм зыгуэр къелэжь, жыхуиIэщ): (The campaigner’s shoes do not wear out) He who displays initiative shall earn something for his troubles.
Зи вакъэ зэврэ зи гъавэ мащIэрэ: Tight shoes and a little yield.
КъэзышагъащIэм щIакIуэщIэрэ кIуэкIэщIэрэ къещтэ: A newly-married man gets a new (felt) cloak and assumes a new gait.
Къуийм и пыIэ щыгъупщэркъым: He who has the mange forgets not his cap.
Къуийм и пыIэр щхьэрыхумэ, укIытэжыркъым: If the cap of the mangy person falls off, he is not ashamed any more.
Лъакъуэ къуаншэ вакъэ хуэщщ (Вакъэ куэдрэ къещэху, жыхуиIэщ. Many shoes are bought for it): A crooked foot is lucky with shoes.
Мастэнэм къызэрыфIэчауэ: Spick and span, brand-new; just out of a bandbox (of clothes).
ПыIэ зыщхьэрыгъ: (Person wearing a cap) 1. Man, male; 2. Real man, he-man.
ПыIэ зыщхьэрыгъ псори лIыкъым: Not all those who put hats on are men.
ПыIэ Iей нэIу Iейщ: Bad hat, bad face.
(ПыIэзэфIэхь=Circassian game in which horsemen snatch a cap away from
one another, the object of the game being to carry away the cap; it
requires both skill and strength. Iуэху щIэным и гуащIэгъуэщ, жыхуиIэщ.
Said of a day of hard toil).
Уэшх блэкIам щIакIуэ кIэлъумыщтэ(ж)
(Weshx blech’am sch’ak’we ch’elhumischte[zh]): (After the storm, don't
put on the felt cloak) 1. After death the doctor; 2. After dinner,
Узэчэнджэщын умыгъуэтмэ, уи пыIэ гъэтIыси ечэнджэщыж: If you can't find somebody to talk things over with, take off your hat and consult it.
Узэчэнджэщын умыгъуэтым, уи пыIэр гъэтIылъи ечэнджэщ
(Wizechenjeschin wimighwetim, wiy pi’er ghet’ilhiy yechenjesch): If you
can’t find somebody to talk things over with, take off your hat and
УзытекIуэм пэкIум уахегъэн (Фащэм,
щыгъыным щысхьын хуейщ, иужькIи цIыхум уарихыхьэн щхьэкIэ, жыхуиIэщ):
You must spare your clothes so that you could get into the company of
Уи гъунэгъур уи гъуапэщ: Your neighbour is your sleeve.
Уи пыIэ угъурлы ухъу!: Bless your cap! [Said to a newly-married man]
Хьазыриир пыим пай, ябгъуанэрэр шыум пай:
The eight cartridge cases are for the enemy, the ninth for the
horseman. [Adigean. The cherkesska (tsey), the distinctive
long-waisted, tight-fitting circassian tunic, was – and still is – a
potent folkloric symbol donned by almost all peoples of the Caucasus.
It was adorned by a row of (usually white) capped cartridge cases
(hezir) made of nielloed silver, or wood, inserted into flaps sewn on
each side of the breast. These cartridge cases were usually used to
store gunpowder and leadshot for personal light muskets. However, one
of the cases was filled with flour, to be used in extreme situations to
satisfy one’s hunger]
ЩауэщIэм и щIакIуэри и кIуэкIэри дахэщ: The (felt) cloak and gait of a new bridegroom are beautiful.
Щхьэр псэумэ, пыIэ щыщIэркъым: If the head is alive, it will not lack a cap.
Щыгъынибгъу нэхърэ теубгъуэн (Щыгъын куэд уиIэ нэхърэ тепIэнщIэлъын, жыхуиIэщ): To have your bedding is better than nine complements of clothes.
ЩIакIуэ нэхърэ уэшх нэхъ благъэщ: 1. Rain is nearer than the great coat (over-coat); 2. Always be prepared.
ЩIакIуэ ныкъуэщIыр щыгъынкъым (щыгъын=clothes; garments): A half-finished (felt) cloak cannot be worn.
ЩIакIуэ щIагъым лIы къыщIокI
(еплъ аргуэру «Гуэбэнэч и щIагъ лIы къыщIокI»): 1. A little body often
harbours a great soul; 2. Little bodies may have great souls.
ЩIакIуэр губгъуэ унэщ (Sch’ak’wer gwbghwe winesch): The great coat (over-coat) is a field house.
ЩIакIуитI щыгъын (Sch’ak’wiyt’ schighin): (To put on two cloaks) To be on both sides of the fence.
Bibliography & References
Astvatsaturyan, È. G., Oruzhie narodov Kavkaza [Weapons of the Peoples of the Caucasus], St Petersburg: Atlant, 2004. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.nartalbum.com/picture/upload/file/CaucasiaWeapon.pdf>
(accessed 12 May 2009). [This is a valuable work that lists Caucasian
weapon artisans, including Circassian masters. It also has an account
on historical Circassia and beautiful illustrations]
Dode, Z. V., ‘Middle Costume of the Caucasian People in the Context of the Nart Epic’, in Nauchnaya misl Kavkaza
[Scientific Thought of the Caucasus], vol. 1, 1997. [In Russian.
‘Ethnic costumes may be used as sources of research to understand the
history of a region, particularly in the absence of writing evidences,
left by prehistoric peoples in the Middle Ages. Costumes have an
important role in revealing the matter of Middle Age costumes – its
symbolism, manner of wearing, connected with the ideological
representations found in oral folk legends formed on the Caucasus, for
example, the Nart Epic. Legends and tales of the people of Caucasus
represent particular value in the quality of sources, because clothes,
head-dress and shoes were made and worn by the people who wrote the
Epic, and in this the authors also revealed something of the Epic’s
meaning. Archaeologists have found evidence that the form of costumes
of the Caucasus in the Middle Ages came in the general course of
development of the material culture. To explain, an interpretation of
the Epic shows Caucasian peoples as having separate cultural
identities, but the clothes were used in similar ways. This means the
mode of culturisation is similar in all regions. Others have reviewed
different parts of Caucasian medieval costume. Costume is a form of
historical resource. We must open what it means for material culture
and ideology of mountain peoples. They had internal interaction through
etiquette, and with other peoples in the discourse of trade. Review of
costumes may show signs of social and economic traits. In conclusion,
this archaeological material can be used for interpreting the society
of the medieval period. This material rests in the course of the Nart
Epic, and with it historical events and occurrences which happened in
Caucasus in the Middle Ages confirm community. Moreover, the formation
of the material culture of the peoples of the Caucasus contained in the
Epic are like an artistic representation, reflecting historical
— Srednevekoviy kostyum narodov Severnogo Kavkaza:
Ocherki istorii [Mediæval Costume of the Nations of the North Caucasus:
Essays on History], The Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow: ‘Oriental
Literature’ Printing House, 2001.
— Kostyum naseleniya Severnogo Kavkaza VII-XVII vekov
(rekonstruktsiya ètnosotsiyal’noy istorii) [Costume of the Population
of the North Caucasus in the 7th-17th Centuries AD (Reconstruction of
Ethno-Social History)], abstract of thesis for a doctor’s degree in
historical sciences, archæology, Moscow: The Institute of Archaeology,
The Russian Academy of Sciences, 2007. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.scholar.ru/catalog.php?page=4&topic_id=192>
(accessed 23 June 2009). [60 pages. Contains many relevant references.
Предмет изучения – социальная, экономическая, политическая, этническая
история и идеологические системы средневековых обществ Северного
Кавказа. Объектом исследования является средневековый костюм народов
Северного Кавказа как культурная форма, содержащая совокупность
характерных признаков, отражающих его утилитарные и символические
функции. Костюм не только непременный атрибут культуры, связанный с
этническими и социальными категориями функционирования человеческого
общества, но и полноценный исторический источник, несущий важную
информацию о различных областях деятельности человека. Этот источник
обретает особое значение в тех случаях, когда изучается бесписьменный
период истории северокавказских народов.]
Henze, P. B., ‘Circassian Resistance to Russia’, in M. Bennigsen-Broxup (ed.), The North Caucasus Barrier: The Russian Advance towards the Muslim World, London: C. Hurst & Co (Publishers) LTD, 1992, pp 62-111.
B. G. and Khiba, Z. K., ‘Male Dress in the Caucasus (with special
reference to Abkhazia and Georgia)’, in N. Lindisfarne-Tapper and B.
Ingham (eds), Languages of Dress in the Middle East, London: Curzon Press, 1997.
Jaimoukha, A. M., ‘North Caucasian Weapons’. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.geocities.com/jaimoukha/circweapons.html> (accessed 23 June 2009).
Kaminsky, V. N., ‘Early Medieval Weapons in the North Caucasus: A Preliminary Review’, in Oxford Journal of Archæology, vol. 15, no. 1, 1996, pp 95 ff.
Longworth, J. A., A Year among the Circassians, London: Henry Colburn, 1840; reprinted: Adamant Media Corporation, 2001; reprinted: Kessinger Publishing, 2007 (2 vols).
Mirsky, D. S., Russia: A Social History, London, 1931; reprinted: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1984.
Moscow State Historical Museum, Caucasian Weapons. [In Russian and English]
Spencer, E., Travels
in Circassia, Krim Tartary, &c. Including a Steam Voyage down the
Danube, from Vienna to Constantinople and round the Black Sea, in
1836, London: Henry Colburn, 1837; reprinted: Gregg, 1971; reprinted:
Adamant Media Corporation, 2001 (2 vols). Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.circassianworld.com/Edmund_Spencer.html> (accessed 23 June 2009). [Also available on Google Books. Downloadable]
Studenetskaya, E. N., ‘K voprosu o natsionalnoi kabardinskoi odezhde [On the Question of the Kabardian National Costumes]’, in Scientific Transactions of the Kabardian Science and Research Institute [Uchenie zapiski Kabardinskogo NII], Nalchik, vol. 4, 1948.
‘Ukrashenie odezhdi kabardintsev XIX-XX vv. [Ornamentation of the
Costumes of the Kabardians in the 19th and 20th Centuries]’, in Scientific Transactions of the Kabardian Science and Research Institute [Uchenie zapiski Kabardinskogo NII], Nalchik, vol. 5, 1949.
— Odezhda narodov
Severnogo Kavkaza XVIII-XX vv [Costumes of the Peoples of the North
Caucasus in the 18th–20th Centuries], Moscow, 1968; reprinted: Moscow;
— ‘Odezhda [Costumes]’, in Gardanov, V. K. (ed.), 1968, pp 151-84.
— (compiler), Maski narodov Severnogo Kavkaza [Masks of the Peoples of the North Caucasus], Leningrad: State Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR, 1980.