Part III: Handicrafts and everyday objects: Rickmer-Rickmers explanations about things of daily use
Many tools, especially those with sharp blades, are imported from Russia. Above the fire hangs an iron frame that carries the large slate. The hooks for the cooking utensils hang down from the roof on long chains. The slaughtering takes place on mighty granite blocks, which look as if they have been polished smooth through many generations of use. Above the slaughtering block, four-armed hooks for hanging the animal are mounted in the outer wall of the building.
Long, low benches, small armchairs and often even armchairs can be seen; in the house of the Prince there are square throne-like armchairs decorated withing; tree trunks and stones serve as seats in front of the gate or on the village square.
The Svan almost always sleep on some low bed-like frame. Often there is a large platform that can accommodate many people. At such beds you can find all possible sizes, they are built differently according to purpose and means. Sometimes they consist of a frame with distanced transverse boards or two large boards lying lengthwise next to each other. In this way, beds of 4 to 5 metres in length are often created. Usually, only one end is used by two people for sleeping, but four men can also lie on it, with their heads facing inwards. One sleeps on and under quilts made of Russian calico, which are filled with rags, wool or tow, the same applies to the pillows.
There are almost no trained craftsmen; orders are given to skilled people instead. In the house of the Prince almost everything was made by workers from Svaneti, often very clean and intelligently made. Good silver workers (women’s jewellery) you find in Pari, Chubikhevi and Zchomari. Industry from outside the country was represented since 1900 by three Armenian tinkers from Artwin, who also made new copper kettles and jugs. One of the Armenians worked in the village, the others wandered and collected orders. They returned home after five years in Svanetia. They told us that they had done good business and had accumulated considerable savings.
There are many old copper objects of considerable size (chimney, boiler coffin, etc.), which suggests that once upon a time, a lot of copper was mined or cheaply imported. Traditionally, silver and copper ores were mined in Svaneti. People know many places where there are supposed to have been galleries in the mountain. I saw a 10 m long passage with traces of charcoal. They use charcoal for blacksmith’s work.
The doors of the houses usually consist of two wings, and each side is made of one board. The gate to the courtyard has an iron lock. Troughs and watering places for livestock people made of hollow trunks, conduit gutters of thin trunks cut lengthwise. Cupboards are rarely found, [the manly use chests and boxes for storage]. Araki brandy is stored in clay jugs underground. In the granary, there are huge crates with carvings that remind us of the barrels of our wineries. Here, four strong corner pillars are connected by 4 cm thick oak boards; the whole thing tapers a little towards the top. In Prince Dadeschkeliani’s case, I could see boxes of 2,70 m height, which measured 3,80 m by 3,80 m at the bottom. Others measured 2.40 m by 3.10 m on the ground and 1.60 m by 2.00 m. Most of them were one meter high and measured 1.30 m by 1.30 m on the ground.
The Svans are adept at exploiting natural forms of wood, e.g. making hay forks from grown branches and meat and clothes hooks from roofstocks. You can also see ladders from trees that have formed two parallel trunks close to the root. The rungs of the ladder are inserted with dovetails.
One of the few amenities that the princes had in advance of the simple inhabitants of Svaneti is the chimney. It ensures that the smoke from the open fire does not spread throughout the hall before it finds its way through the roof. It is riveted from thin copper plates. Its circumference is 4.50 m at the bottom, 0.40 m at the top, and it is 2.50 m high. Household items also included funnel-like wooden wickerwork for draining the cheese and flour sieves made of wooden wickerwork.
Making a loden hat
The wool is felted and then loosened up with a bow by holding the tendon in a heap and „flitting“ with it. The loose, fluffy mass is evenly layered hand-high in disc form on the linen. They place a wooden roll on one end. The linen cloth and felt are then rolled up and rolled back and forth until the mass is compressed to about the thickness of a finger. You must permanently check whether there are any leaks or nodules. The edge of the felt must then be trimmed a little, and the whole thing is put in hot water. It is soaped in it and rolled again. Now the felt almost shows its final thickness. It is folded and kneaded and tumbled with the hands until the lather is pressed out thoroughly. Finally, they put the whole thing on a wooden form, and you take off any unnecessary hair. They also singe off the wool to obtain a black cap.
The Svan „mill wheel“ is a turbine made of wood.
Translation: © Stefan Applis (2020)
Photography: © Stefan Applis (2019)
Text: German geographical sheets. Bremen 1903, XXVI volume. 12