You can hear the most interesting (kidnapping) stories at a homestay

Janiko cooks breakfast for us at her homestay in Ipari; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

One of my film assistants, Mari Papidze, and I stayed in the home of Janiko, who is a relative of Giorgi, who is an acquaintance of my other film assistant, Nana Mgebrishvili. During breakfast, Mari and I talked with Janiko, who cares for her elderly, bedridden mother.

One interesting story concerns kidnapping. Janiko had two sisters who were kidnapped by Svan men. This is not the elopement-type of “kidnapping;” this is the “I’ve got you and now you’re mine” type of kidnapping. Janiko told us that if a man kidnaps a woman, her family assumes she was either raped or she had consensual sexual relations. The family feels disgraced, and the young woman may not even be invited back into the family. The family, however, is compensated. Village elders normally determine how much money should be paid to a family whose daughter was kidnapped for marriage. Kidnapping without the girl’s consent used to cost twice the rate for kidnapping a girl with her consent. Both of Janiko’s sisters remain married to their kidnappers and have families.

But this wasn’t the only kidnapping story we heard on this trip. We met an Adishi man who kidnapped a woman from Tbilisi when she was 39 years old. We actually stayed in their home on our previous trip to Adishi. The husband would not let us interview his wife on video because he said that she doesn’t like living in Adishi in the winter, when conditions are harsh. I say “harsh” because there are no stores, no restaurants, no opportunities for entertainment other than TV, no school, no priest, no passable roads when the snow is deep, which is often, veritably no heat inside except from a wood-burning stove in the kitchen, no hot water from a tap, twice-a-day chores milking the cows, responsibility for cooking whatever is leftover from the harvest, and so on. I don’t think she likes living in Svaneti during any season, but there she was, cooking a meal for us, while we interviewed her husband a few feet away. We heard more kidnapping stories and fears, but enough for now.

Janiko also told us that her brother was killed over a woman, and she believes this tragedy led directly to her mother’s ill health. Her brother fell in love and married the woman—in the usual way. A Svan man, however, also fell in love with the same woman and began spreading terrible rumors about the newlyweds. The husband, of course, confronted the troublemaker. During the fight, the troublemaker’s father died. The troublemaker’s mother got so mad, she grabbed a hoe and repeatedly struck Janiko’s brother in his head until he also died.

Finally, I found it interesting that as far as Janiko knows, ALL of her relatives came from Svaneti. Janiko lives in Ipari, and both her grandmothers came from Adishi, the next village.

When I add all of these stories together, I get this larger narrative. Svan men prefer to marry Svan women because it takes a very, VERY tough woman to survive in this region in the harsh winters or any season. Svan men are not permitted to marry women from their own village, and the pool of available women from other villages is small. A Svan man can’t promise riches to his future wife because chances for improving his economic situation are slim. A Svan man obviously has difficulty wooing prospective brides; therefore, he resorts to kidnapping. And village elders, neighbors, and police quietly look the other way.


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

One Response to You can hear the most interesting (kidnapping) stories at a homestay

  1. Jon Wilson says:

    This is just fascinating. I’ve visited Tbilisi but never heard of such tales. Nice work Kieth!

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