Laudaev, “The Chechen Tribe” Part IV


The origins of the Chechen tribe and its dispersal

How did this tribe originate? To answer this is impossible because it is not possible to obtain [the requisite] information from either legend or other sources to resolve this question.

The Chechens do not have a common national legend about their origins. They say that some sort of prince of Shams (Shams means Syria), earning the wrath of his sovereign, fled and settled in the Caucasus. He had a few sons; a younger one of these, named Nakhchoi, took himself a piece of land in the mountains and became the progenitor of the Chechens. This legend is confirmed by nothing else and is the simple expression of the vanity of a young people, who desire a prince’s son as a progenitor.  Or might this be a modification of the genealogy of the family of the Shamkhals, who derive from the Syrian Shahbal, founded by Abu-Muslim, who played an important role in starting the Muslim religion in the Caucasus? In their ignorance, the Chechens might have connected this fact with their own national origins. And the name Nakhchoi itself originally meant only the inhabitants of the flatland. In other words, it dates from the end of the seventeenth century. There are other legends, similar to this one, about the origins of the Chechens, but all of them do not merit attention. The origins of the Chechens are difficult to determine as are the origins of all small, historically insignificant peoples, and thus, without going back into the depths of time, it is sufficient to present information which can provide a probable basis for the origins of the people.

There have been many peoples in the Caucasus. The mighty and powerful occupied its northern flatlands. The weak tribes, due to dangers posed them, retired into the depths of the mountains and fortified places. A new influx of peoples, passing from Asia to Europe, drove the earlier inhabitants from the occupied territories. The evicted peoples had to retreat further back towards the North-West.  Because of this migration, they were not able to maintain their former societies intact.  Those who retreated before the later peoples went into the mountains, entrenched themselves, and mixed with the natives. Legends say that the very first clans of the Chechen tribe came down from across the snowy mountains to their northern feet, from where they quickly began to disperse to other places.  It’s possible to assume that at the time of the great migration of the peoples, when all the countries of the East were in a ferment,  this movement was also felt in Georgia, and thus Georgians and mountain tribes neighboring them occupied what is now Chechnya. And, having settled down there, [they] mixed with the natives. This mixture is now obvious on the edges of the lands of the Chechen tribe. For example, the inhabitants of the auls of Maast, Magli and other [auls] have a makeup of something halfway between Chechens and Khevsurs; similarly, a few Chaberloi clans are a mixture of Chechen and Tavlin, and a few Nazranian clans are a mixture of Chechens with mountain tribes- Gladalovians and others. The original inhabitants of these countries occupied the glens between the snowy and bald mountains, i.e. the south of the former Argun okrug, part of the Nazran and Chaberloi [okrugs].[1] The rest of the tribe,  establishing themselves in this territory, settled below [the former] and close to the flatlands. Thus the old inhabitants were called lamoroi by the newcomers, from the word lam, mountain, in other words, the inhabitants of the bald mountains. The latter themselves were called shotoi, i.e. those who live in the black mountains, lower than [the lamoroi]. and near to the flatlands .  Having established themselves in the mountains, every one of these tribes had its own leader or chief, who established himself on lands [he] claimed. Due to the weakness of the tribe, a leader would search for a fortified place as a habitation for his people. His name was given to the lands claimed and to the tribe itself by both neighbors and the people themselves. In this manner he would become the progenitor of a clan (taipana). The Sharo, Chanti, Akki and Khil-dikhero clans are the main ones of the original native clans of the country. The Mikhailo, Pamato, Varando and others are the main clans of the newcomers to the country. It is possible that all of these clans, coming from different countries, each had their own particular language.  Having multiplied, they felt an insufficiency of land and needed to spread out across the whole country. They could not advance to the south, further into the mountains, because a strong people were established there, who had at some stage driven the original inhabitants of Chechnya from there.  Therefore they had to spread out in the three other directions. To the East they mixed with the original inhabitants of Chaberloi and they [now] constitute the new clans in Chaberloi.  The weak, original tribe of Chaberloi lost its language, taking on the new one, Chechen. This is why the Chaberloevians still speak such a coarse and incorrect dialect of Chechen, coarse enough for one to believe it possible that it wasn’t their ancestral tongue.  To the West, the newcomers occupied the mountains of Nazran, where, mixing with the natives, they formed many new clans, such as the Galga, Galeshe, Ingush (Angusht) and others. They stretched up to the north as far as the southern feet of the black mountains. Immigrants from other countries: Georgians, Avars, Khevsurs and others, established themselves amongst them. The outlanders eagerly settled amongst them as free people, not having a government or a sovereign.  In this same way, Persians, serving Nadir Shah,  having been defeated by the Avars, dispersed throughout Dagestan [and] a few of them settled amongst the Chechens and formed their own new clans, such as the Turkoi, Khurkoi, Khoi, Parsenoi and others.[2] The original clans of the Chechen tribe tried to acquire new lands, which was a cause of discord and bloodshed.  For their place of habitation they chose places not so much for profit and beauty as for   security and being [naturally] fortified.   Contemporaneously, restless people from other countries and fugitives of different nationalities added themselves to the number of Chechen clans. The newcomers were smarter and more enterprising than the natives (the Lameroi) and thus they gained the upper hand and constricted them.  The best evidence for this is that the clans of the newcomers owned the best and most profitable lands, leaving for the Lameroi the infertile heights of the bald mountains.  That the newcomers exceeded them in intellectual development can be seen in that even now the simplicity of the Lameroi serves as a source of jibes for the Shatoevans; their simplicity comes close to idiocy.[3] Satisfied with the locations [they] occupied, they fortified them for themselves and soon afterward established auls; Maast and Nashakh were famous ones in the country.

At that time, the population of Chechniya still didn’t have a common designation. Formed from different nationalities, this population was united by a common language. Every clan was known by the name of their progenitor, who had established it in Chechniya, took pride in this name and looked out for clan interests against injuries from other clans. It was, in its own way, [a country of] many small republics, united by a common language.  Legends say that before the migration to Ichkeria, all the clans of the Chechen tribe numbered 59, or, as the Chechens put it, three times twenty minus one. Now they are more than 100.

The clans, which formed the Chechen tribe, deriving from different elements, had hostile relations with each other, robbing from each other reciprocally. The Akka family suffered more than the others [from this].  Due to this, half of the clan went to Aukh, submitting to the Avar khan and received the name of Aukhovian. This clan, for themselves, preserved the ancestral name of the clan, Akkiy, i.e. immigrants from Akki. The Chechens also called them by this name. At some point, the Aukhovians accepted Islam, but the original Akki clan remained Pagan. In order to religiously distinguish this clan, the Chechens called the original Akki clan Kerestan-Akkiy, i.e. Christian Akki, in contrast to the Aukhovians, who had accepted Islam.[4]

Ichkeria had still not been populated by this tribe; it was ruled by the Avar khans. With its green hills and fertile meadows, it strongly attracted the semi-nomadic Chechens.  The  legends fail to mention the causes that induced half the clans of the Chechen tribe (of that time) to settle in Ichkeria. Many causes could have induced them to do this. 1) A lack of land for the numerous clans and population. 2) Disagreements and strife over plots of land. 3) They could have gone because of political reasons. Georgia gained power over the people and laid heavy demands on the country. Those who did not want to comply with them could not stay in the country and had to resettle [elsewhere].  Pledging to pay yasak (tax) to the Avar khan, they began their migration. As the khan had a material interest in having more people settle and pay taxes, he contributed to a substantial migration [to his lands] with various concessions. Mostly, the fertility of the land in Ichkeria and the might of the Avar khans attracted half of the clans of the Chechen tribe (of that time). The endless fights and discord, originating in the cis-Argun lands, strengthened the [impetus for] the migration even further.  The weak, taking hope in the might of the khan, fled [to the area] under his protection so quickly that soon the area felt crowded. Afterward, in consequence there were fights and killings for [the land], which were unavoidable amongst a half-wild people. The Khan was forced to divide the land into plots, assigning each clan their own piece. This action somehow managed to pacify the krai.[5] This division of land into plots has been preserved down to the present. Currently, these plots are populated by the same clans to which they were assigned in the beginning. And they carry their names. For example, Chermoi-mokhk, Chermoi-lam mean [respectively] the land of the Chermoi clan and the mountain of the Chermoevians; Dishiniy-mokhk [means] the Dishinievian land; Kharachoi-lam [means] the Kharachoevian mountain, and so forth.  Yasak, or tax, was paid by the inhabitants according to the terms of the khan. These terms changed, i.e. the taxes went up or down, according to the disposition of the inhabitants; in other words, the strengthening or weakening of the khan’s influence over the country. Generally, they were taxed based on the number of horned cattle, sheep, horses and other [livestock].  There are anecdotes of when a 3% [value tax]  was to be paid for the sheep, and 1% for the cattle, but it happened that only 1% was taken for the sheep and nothing for the cattle. Taxes were taken from the weak clans according to the terms of the khan. At the same time, [however], the powerful clans did not submit to these terms and gave nothing. In cases of demands, they opposed them with the force of their weapons.  Growing stronger in Ichkeria, they became unconcerned with paying the yasak. [And] at that time, they generally stopped paying it, possessing the land as if it were their own property. As has already been said, Ichkeria is a Kumyk word. Ichi-eri means a place amongst the mountains. In Chechen it is called Nakhchoi-mokhk, i.e. the country of the Chechens. Having settled in the flatland, the Chechens often called it de-mokhk, i.e. the land of the forefathers, although, more correctly, this name should be given exclusively to the cis-Argun country. Considering Ichkeria to be an ancestral land, they explained it in this way. They came out into the flatland from this country, in which they held their clan plots of land. The Ichkerians built auls, as did the Shatoevans, on their plots of land, and gave the auls the names of the clans. For example, Chermi, Khachi, Tsontari and others, from the Chermo, Kharacho, Tsontari and other clans. And still [even] at that time, the tribe didn’t have a common national designation and was composed of a number of small clans, speaking one language. The official name of this country, amongst the neighbors, was Ichkeria, taken from the Kumyks.

Up to this time, the Chechens had still not advanced on the flatland beyond the black mountains,  because it was ruled by a powerful people, threatening the Chechens with death and slavery.  Thus they looked on it with fear and curiosity from the Basska, Khulkhulai, Argun and other gorges.  When the Russians, having quit Chechniya, crossed over the Terek, the Chechens then quickly occupied the flatland, established themselves on it and there received the national designation Nakhchoi, applying it to all the communities of the Chechen tribe and consequently transferred [the name] to the other communities of Chechniya.[6]

[1]  [Laudaev Extended Comment 8] The aborigines of this country were called Chaberloi. When the Chechen race was formed in the territory of Sharo-Chanti-Argun, they multiplied and then pushed out to neighboring areas. It occupied Chaberloi and, mixing with its aborigines, formed new clans. The natives of Chaberloi lost their ethnicity and ancestral tongue, which is why they still express themselves incorrectly in Chechen. The country, however, kept its old name of Chaberloi.

[2] [Laudaev Extended Comment 9] Amongst the Chechens there is an insignificant clan, Parsenoi, deriving from the remnants of a broken Persian host. The correspondence of Parsenoi with pers is remarkable, but the Chechens call the Persians kizilbash or gazharai.

[3]   [Laudaev Extended Comment 10] amongst the Chechens, they tell many anecdotes about each other. Considering itself more refined, the population of Chechnya usually laughs at and makes fun of the others. For example, they tell tales about the Aukhovians Three Aukhovtians [once] went to the Kumyks to learn [their] language. They spent three years  [there] and all three learned to say three phrases, each [learning only] one.  The first knew one word, biz, i.e. “we”; the second [knew] khalva uchun, i.e. “for khalva” (khalva is sweet dough), and the third knew the words zhan chyksyn auzna, i.e. “let the soul pour out of the mouth.” Returning home, they incessantly repeated these words in order that they wouldn’t forget them. On the road they saw a murdered man and they began to inspect him. On the alert, three relatives of the murdered man came to them and asked them did they know who was the murderer?  The first Aukhovians quietly said biz, i.e. “we.” The Kumyks were surprised that they confessed so easily to the murder, and asked what did he do to you that [caused] you to kill him?  The second said khalva uchun, i.e. “for khalva.” The Kumyks were even more surprised and reproached them, saying, “Is it really possible to kill a Muslim for khalva?” In order that he wouldn’t be [seen as] behind his comrades in knowing the Kumyk language, the third said zhan chyksyn auzna, i.e. “let his soul pour out of the mouth.” Angered by these responses, the Kumyks killed them.

[Some] Aukhovians were sitting in a circle, their legs stretching out in the center. All were in yellow high boots, just purchased in the bazaar. A passing horseman said to them, “what are you doing and why don’t you go home? It’s already evening.” The Aukhovians answered “we can’t sort out our feet, they are all yellow.” They asked him to help them. Gladly, said the horseman, and began to beat them with a nagaika. The jumped to their feet from fear and thanked the horseman for the service [he] provided.

[Some] Aukhovians were passing through a field [and] saw a den. Assuming that a fox was sitting in it, one of them climbed into the den. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fox in the den, but a bear. When the Aukhovian stuck his head in there, the bear knocked off his head from the neck. The Aukhovian quivered, and they pulled him from the den, and, not seeing a head on him, they asked each other, whether it was on him [to begin with]. Nobody could give an answer in the affirmative. They brought his wife from the aul and asked her if there had been a head on him. “I must confess I don’t know if there was a head on him,” she said. “But I know that every year I sewed him a papakh .”

[Some] Aukhovians were going along a steep and precipitous river bank and a saw a bag [down] in the gorge. The discussed how to reach it. Clasping each other by the hand, they formed a chain, the first link of which grabbed on an oak with his hand. Unfortunately the first [link] scratched his head. He asked the second to let go of his hand for a second, so he could scratch. “Ok, be quick!” said the second and let go of the hand. [And] the rest all died.

A Shatoevian was passing through Chechniya and found a melon. “What green gourds the Chechens have,” thought he and took it home. [His] wife cooked it and served it to her husband. Finding it tasteless, the Shatoevian said “What a fool I am, that I didn’t guess that it isn’t ripe. [But] it was worth the cost of the labor carrying it from Chechniya to the mountains.

[Some] Chechens went to the Nazranovians to convert them from Paganism to Islam. One Galga, accepting the new faith,  received the instruction that [he had] to pray to God five times a day until [his] death and fast for one month a year. Coming home from the missionaries, he met with his  friend, taking him also to the missionaries. The convert gave him the following instruction. “See that you don’t blunder; I made a mistake. Commit to fasting one month a year, but don’t commit to praying because you are expected to perform this rite until death. Wouldn’t it be easier to fast one month rather than beating [your] head on the ground like a stinky beetle until the end of your life?”

[4][Laudaev Footnote 4] “Chechens call all kinds of nonbelievers- including Pagans- Christians.

[5] [Laudaev Extended Comment 11] say the following about the division of Ichkeria into clan plots. The land was divided at a meeting of the entire people. When a clan received their plot, in order to prevent misunderstandings per boundaries at some time in the future,  witnesses were selected from all those present for the marking of the boundaries. Bulls and rams were slaughtered and the meat boiled in huge cauldrons for these [witnesses], at [one] end of the boundaries, and the witnesses were entertained as a token of the approval of the boundaries.  To mark this celebration, at the conclusion of the entertaining, the cauldrons were rolled from the mountain to the boundaries at the other end, which expressed their assumption of land ownership. If often happened that the feast was repeated at the boundaries on the other end [of the property].

[6] [Laudaev Extended Comment 12] The people of Shato and the people of Nazran unwillingly call themselves Nakhchoi, which comes from their previous, antagonistic relationship with the Chechens. But with heart-felt outpourings at meetings, as guests, on the road, etc., they are always willing to recognize their shared ethnicity, saying “we are common brothers (vai tsa vezherei detsy)” or “we are all Nakhchoi (vai tsa nakhchoi du)”.


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