Arriving in Shukhuti for Easter (and lelo)

Mosqia Gocha, mayor of Shukhuti, and Father Saba, priest at St. George's church in Shukhuti, at the village's bus stop on the main road between Tbilisi and Batumi; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Easter service at St. George's Church in Shukhuti; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Nini Chakvetadze, one of our Georgian “daughters,” and I took a marshrutka  (minibus) to Shukhuti, which is a village of about 2,000 people in the western region of Guria in Western Georgia. We traveled 5 hours from Tbilisi in order to create a multimedia story about the ancient game of lelo, which means “goal” or “try” in Georgian, but is also called Lelo Burti, which means “field ball” in Georgian. Lelo only occurs in this particular village in Georgia and is only played on Orthodox Easter.

Upon arrival, we asked the first people we saw about a place to stay for two nights. We were kindly directed to Father Saba, standing nearby, who immediately took charge. He called one of his “soul daughters” and “soul sons,” Pavle Oragvelidze and his wife Lile, who graciously agreed to host us. I understand that a “soul child” is a member of a church with whom a priest has a special relationship; soul daughters and sons only confess to a particular priest. Father Saba accompanied us to Pavle and Lile’s  home, where he asked if we’d like some vodka (no, thank you). Then Pavle and Lile asked if we were hungry and if we’d like some wine (yes, and yes, please). Finally, Father Saba explained that we would be the guests of the village and that no one would accept any payment for our food or accommodation. Then he left us because Father Saba plays a very important role in the community, especially conducting Easter services and preparing for lelo.

In the evening, we attended Father Saba’s church, St. George’s, for Orthodox Easter.


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.

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