Lamproba in Svaneti
“We are complicated people, the Svans,” – my host Lela warned me before my first trip to Georgia’s mountainous settlement, Svaneti, which is set apart by its distinctive culture and ancient traditions.
Lamproba was ubiquitously practiced in different villages and towns in the mountainous settlements of Georgia, but is now only practiced in Svaneti. Intriguingly, few actually know what the term ‘Lamproba’ means, or why it was initially celebrated. Each family, and elderly person tells a different story, remarking that it is not confirmed.
All of Mestia is covered in snow, approximately one meter in height. As the cemetery of Chartolanis is approached, the snow begins to melt due to springtime and it is hard to move. When we arrived, Shatima was making dough for Kubdari, a traditional Svanetian dish – a pie with a meat. She carefully follows the tradition, explaining that she cannot abandon her 24-year- old daughter, who died years ago and she feels that she has to do everything properly each year until she is alive.
Food is prepared from the very early morning and is kept warm for the tradition. The family of twelve, wraps the food and wine, and drives to the cemetery in the evening at 8 o’clock p.m to visit their three deceased family members’ graves. Conversation turns to politics. Most of the passengers agree that the previous, government of Mikheil Saakashvili, developed Svaneti, which is his merits; most families have benefited from the income brought by tourism. Shatima says she cannot deny that the new government has also had its benefits, specifically in terms of health-care, since her son had clots in his heart and was treated for free.
Some say that the meaning of Lamproba is more symbolic today. Many Svans try to affirm that the tradition lacks any pagan connection, as many ethnographers reference. Some, for instance, say that Lamproba was marked to determine the number of warriors in Svaneti, as family members lit as many torches as they had men in their families who were capable of fighting in war. But others would say it is a lie and Lamproba is marked to meet the spring and to rekindle respect for deceased family members.
The hill of snow in front of the three graves of Shatima’s family was transformed into a feasting table. Lela came with us, while her husband and children went up on the hill to the other cemetery. She helped to organize the table with Kubdari, Khachapuri, wine, cakes, fruits and candles lit on the grave stones and the pies.
“I found the recipe of this cake on the internet,” one of the women remarked, when her cake was praised by everyone, “it was called waves of Dunay, but I called it banks of Inguri,” she said laughing, referring to the river Inguri, which runs in Svaneti and borders with the occupiedterritory of Abkhazia.
The cemetery is full of people, different Chartolani families. Everyone feasts and sets torches -lamprebi - on fire. In Svaneti there is different rule of drinking toasts. Toasts are long and traditional. The first toasts have not changed for many years – they have to first drink a toast for God, a toast for St George, a toast to Mary and then a toast for the deceased.
Garbage is collected and we move back to car, where conversation again concerns politics. But the day wasn’t over, as the head of the family of Lela invited us to feast with him. A supra was organized. We chatted for hours, mostly about the unique traditions in Svaneti, keeping the rule of four toasts in the beginning and ending up in praise of Georgia and its different regions.