About Culture – The Memtevri of Ajara

Ajara (Georgian: აჭარა) is a largely mountainous region in south-west Georgia with areas rising to more than 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above sea level. Seasonal farming, connected with cattle breeding, has been practiced in the mountains since Paleolithic times. The mountain farmers call themselves “Memtevri” and their cattle and milk products are an important part of the local economy.

Goderdzi Pass

Goderdzi Pass in mountainous Ajara

The “Memtevri” take their livestock to the mountains for 3-5 months of the year until the onset of winter. This practice is called “iailebi”. The mountains are snow-covered from November to April but the snow thaws earlier in the mid-level zone of the mountains (called “kishla”) and the cattle stay and feed there for one month before moving higher up.

Goderdzi Pass

Ajara’s mountains

Until the middle of the 20th century the “Memtevri” shared their houses with their cattle. Made of logs, the traditional two storey “Memtevri” house comprised an upper floor for living accommodation and a room for processing and keeping of milk products that had holes in the walls for air circulation. The lower floor was used for livestock.

Goderdzi Pass

Traditional villages in Ajara’s mountains

Since the middle of the 20th century plank-houses began to replace the log-built ones and separate cow-sheds constructed for cattle.

Wooden houses in the mountains. Photo courtesy of goderdzi.ge

Wooden houses in the mountains. Photo courtesy of goderdzi.ge

The “Memtevri” make butter, round and plaited cheese, curds, and sour cream from the milk their cows produce. In addition to raising livestock, they also grow vegetables (onion, garlic, leek, potatoes).

Goderdzi Pass

Ajara’s forested mountains

The “Memtevri” celebrate their traditions in an annual festival, “Shuamtoba”, which is connected with cattle breeding and is held in the first week of August.

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