We got there quite accidentally. While walking from Sogratl to the village of Datuna, we saw a sign with the name of a village and green flags hanging everywhere around. People we met on the way told us that there’s a big celebration of the opening of a new mosque. We couldn’t miss such an occasion and immediately decided to change the route.
We were right. We were welcome warmly, as usual in Dagestan, although...
In the beginning, everyone was dumbstruck when they saw two freaks with cameras and backpacks getting out of a Lada car belonging to two guys who took us to the village. Nobody remembered any foreigners ever having come to their village before. We felt like monkeys in the zoo. Everyone gaped at us as if they completely forgot about their celebration. Suddenly we became the main attraction.
We were lucky to arrive just in time for a meal. The school playground was covered with carpets and food. But our arrival made everyone feel a bit uneasy. It is customary in Dagestan that during such celebrations men eat separately from women. To be more precise, men eat first and women afterwards. They were wondering if they should let a girl eat with men. But this didn’t seem right, especially that she was wearing only a symbolic headscarf with plaits showing from beneath it. To sit a man with women seemed even worse. They discussed about it for a long time and finally came up with a solution: they let us sit together but separately from all the others.
Very soon, people started approaching us, took photos and talked with us. They were very open, friendly and in a sense modern people that we had not met very often in Dagestan. Many of them were interested in our website and wanted to know if we were going to write about their village. They did not try to force their help upon us as it often happens in the Caucasus, nor did they insist that we visit their homes, they just let us walk freely around and take photos.
A local teacher invited us to spend the night in his house. We were also invited for a generous dinner and talked till late at night. The host, his wife and sons told us a lot about their village.
The inhabitants of Maali, which lies in the Gergebil district, are Avars, but first of all “Maalis”. Their identification with the jamaat (local community) is very strong. They speak their own dialect which can be understood by other Avars only in 30 per cent. They marry only people from their village. They have their own unique traditions and rites which distinguish them from the inhabitants of neighbouring villages, e.g. weddings are never attended by men from the bride’s family. The Maalis also have their own music and dance that they perform during weddings.
Maali is a very religious village. The newly built mosque has a capacity of 200-300 people. The majority pray five times a day, many have also performed Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mekka). Women dress in a very traditional way, all of them wear headscarves. People don’t drink too much. There are also many members of Sufi brotherhoods in the village. The most influential Dagestani sheik Said-efendi Chirkeisky is very much respected. People are deeply religious and treat their faith very seriously, but they could hardly be called fundamentalists or radicals.
The inhabitants of Maali are very optimistic as compared to other Dagestanis,. They do not complain about the difficult economic situation, low wages, unemployment or corruption. They work hard instead either in their village, mainly in agriculture, in Makhachkala or somewhere else in Russia (mainly in the Stavropol Krai). Many of them, like the teacher we stayed with, spend part of the year in Makhachkala and the remaining months at home. The village itself very well reflects industriousness of its inhabitants, it looks very neat, one could even say prosperous. People take good care of their houses.
Many young men from Maali work in the OMON units (special militia). This is very useful when it comes to skirmishes with neighbouring villages or when a local girl gets abducted and her parents do not consent to her marriage with the abductor.
Maali is one of the most dynamic, optimistic and open Dagestani villages that we have visited. People are not afraid of modernity, but at the same try to preserve their traditional lifestyle. They have so far managed to combine one with the other.
It is a pity that we could only stay there for two days. One day we will return for sure...
Here are the pictures that we’ve taken:
We were intrigued by the sign with the name of the village and green flags hanging around.
The panorama of Maali
The minaret and dome of the new mosque
As infidels we were unfortunately not let in.
Minbar or the Muslim pulpit
The green branch has little in common with Islam. It is supposed to protect the new mosque from a bad spell.
Here men perform their ablutions before the namaz (prayer)
Preparations for the meal on the school playground
They were interesting for us, but we were also watched carefully and photographed.
Women were very friendly.
Members of the local administration
Godekan – the central place in every Dagestani village.
It is regularly attended by the elderly inhabitants...
... and the most respected men in the village.
Of course, they could not miss this special occasion.
Older women came too.
The Dagestani women are often very beautiful, even the older ones.
The women of Maali dress in a very traditional way...
...especially during feasts, when the Imam watches.
Young girls are less conservative. In Makhachkala some of them will probably take off their headscarves.
Zarema took great interest in our album. Зарема, огромный тебе привет!
Men are more serious.
The Dagestani boys
“Hey buddy, where are you from?”
“What’s the name of your website? Kaukaz.net? OK, let’s take a look...”
A few pictures of the kids
Our host with his spouse.
And one of their grandsons.
The teacher’s wife liked Iwona very much. Such a nice girl:)
Grandma with her grandchildren.
Text and photos: Iwona Kaliszewska, Maciej Falkowski
Translation: Andrea Falkowska