Monday, 6 May 2013

The Chokha - In English

I wrote this piece as a result of personal experience - any analysis of the events which unfolded must, I feel be left to others.


“When you love your Chokha, you love your country. When you love your country, you love your traditions! The Chokha emphasises I am Georgian. It is a spiritual costume’ - Leader of the All-Georgia Chokha Society.

The wearing of the Chokha at great occassions such as weddings and feasts is a way for the Georgian to express a belief in the traditions of Georgia, the family values, the heritage of song, wine and traditional dance. It embodies the spirit of nobility, honesty, intergrity, dedication to country, courage and pride.

‘Look at them they are so beautiful.’ David gestured towards the Shavnabada boys who were walking up ahead. It was as if he was conducting them, his long fingers orchestrated each movement they made, each step they took. ‘Look at the way the Chokha fits their shoulders, falls to the waist; it’s the triangle of a man. I am so proud; I love them especially when they wear it.’

The warmth and admiration in his voice came from deep within him. She looked at his profile, his eyes the colour of the rich earth glowed as he glanced at her and they glinted as the late autumn sunshine caught the silver on the belt holding the Kindjal secure at his waist.

Walking through Wakefield, on their way to a Civic Reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, they made an impressive sight, these 12 Georgian men, all dark haired and broad shouldered dressed in black woollen overcoats over grey shirts that fell to just below the knees, held tight at the waist. Soft black leather- knee length boots with paper-thin soles designed for dancing folded and pleated at the ankle.  Sarah noticed how they all stood just that little bit taller, that little bit prouder, that little bit stronger. They were just more Georgian. David deliberately slowed and held her hand rubbing her forefinger gently with his as he stared intently into her eyes. “It is everything to me, this beauty, it is everything to be Georgian and to wear this Chokha, the boys sing better, they are stronger, they are proud of it and I want it too much for them and for all of Georgia that we can wear it with pride.”

Sarah adored him. She was older, battle scared and heart weary and had waited many years for this man to come into her life. She had wished for him and dreamt of him and when he had appeared, so sure of her kind heart and unafraid it seemed of the depth and sorrow in her eyes, she had surrendered to him. His passion for the beauty of his song had turned her head and fed her heart. He worked so hard to bring out the music that was in the soil and the soul of Georgia’s mountains and plains, in her vineyards and her people and Sarah would have done anything, anything for him.

Misha turned and shouted and, as the spell broke she noticed that his Chokha, whilst beautiful was looking battered and a little on the small side. The boys were growing into men, their shapes were changing, they were all changing, growing, and it was exciting to be part of it. She wondered vaguely how she could help them to get the new Chokhas David had spoken so passionately about.

As Shavnabada walked through the Town Hall Chambers, they collected admiring glances, whispered comments and shy smiles from office workers and cleaners clearly impressed. The scent of linsead and polish drifted and mingled, layered itself on dark oak panelling and followed them as they climbed the circular stairwell. The rich deeply patterned carpet imprinted by their solemnity seemed to soak up their songs. When Shavnabada sang the mood changed, became enhanced and enriched and as mood after mood unveiled and unravelled, each one became imbued into the memory of  the  place. It was, the Lord Mayor said, the first time in the history of the Town Hall that songs of such dignity had been sung. Astounded at the beauty of the song, the passion and control, the dignity and the integrity of the men, the Lord Mayor presented them with a painting of the Chantry Chapel, a fine watercolour and a fitting memory for Shavnabada who had sung with such strong heart the songs from their culture, a culture as old as time.


Sarah stilled herself. The setting for their last concert was breathtaking. Wedgwood blue and wedding cake whites adorned the walls of St. Cuthbert’s in Edinburgh. Shavnabada waited for their cue, hands rested on daggers, deep black Chokha’s pristine and filled with pride and expectation. The honey stained door at the rear opened and they strode, magnificent and commanding to the front and formed a semi-circle all the while accompanied by raptuous applause normally reserved for after a performance. A hush fell and Sarah watched them as they grounded, settled, squared hips, straightened spines and broadened shoulders and then, in unison, on cue, with no cue, started to sing. The audience were enraptured, captivated, and entranced. Gurian yodelling, sacred church chants, Zamtari so astoundingly delivered it stretched up into the heavens to connect with its brother that was circling and free-floating across the universe playing endlessly, looping and looping onboard NASA’s Voyager. Jaws dropped, eyes lit up and secret smiles played on the faces of the audience. Connections across time and space awoke within them as they listened and felt the love and passion which drew them in and echoed through and into the spaces inside their souls.

On the short flight from Edinburgh to London the following morning Sarah asked David about his ideas for Shavnabada’s new Chokha. He spoke about the colour of the Chokha he wanted.  Not quite brown, or ochre  but the colour of Georgian soil, a rich, deep colour that would connect them to the noble traditions of their past. She could feel the yearning within him and decided that she would raise the money needed.


Left alone once again in a void and a vacuum of loss that was becoming uncomfortably familiar, the bed cold and empty once again as David returned to Georgia, Sarah set out to involve as many people as possible to raise the £1000 needed for the cloth for this new Chokha. She ran a small business and decided to incorporate a raffle into the classes she gave hoping she could ignite the interest of her clients enough to raise the amount by the time she went to Georgia in February.  Everyone became  caught up in her enthusiasm and soon gold coins built into golden stacks, then stacks became notes, and finally, after bake sales, and raffles, craft fairs and music workshops there was more than enough.  Swelling with pride and delighted that so many people in the UK had supported her Sarah carried the money in an envelope, in her passport, in her handbag, to Georgia.  David was overwhelmed and spoke excitedly and passionately about the texture and weight of the material, of the importance of the cut, of how he imagined he would feel when he wore it.  Their eyes shone and as they walked the streets of Tbilisi visiting tourist destinations, eating Khinkali and enjoying one another. Sarah’s heart opened a little more, just a little bit more and she began to dream her own dreams.

On the second to last day of her visit, Gaga got married. A key member of Shavnabada with his haunting melodic voice and his ability to capture sounds inside raindrops that trickled down clear glass, he was kind and sincere. When Sarah had asked him about his wife to be, Nino, his voice melted when he said, ‘I adore her’.

Gaga’s Chokha was deep cream. Heavy butter colour for his wedding day, soft for his intention, pure for his pride, sweet and strong for his love and gentle for his beauty. His dark hair and baby face shone and his hands fluttered nervously. The black Chokhas worn by Shavnabada surrounded Gaga and contrasted against the snow that lay on the ground. Light and dark, light and dark under snow laden trees along light and dark avenues inside dark alleyways and blinded by bright light low winter sun the men blended and moved as one, with this dove central to them, his day, his declaration, his commitment to love, not only for Nino but for Georgia, her traditions, and to God.

The journey from Gaga’s parents’ home to Nino’s had been chaotic and Sarah had clung to the seats in David’s car as he had swerved and woven, raced, parried and thrust forward and back, as was the tradition  through the streets and avenues of Tbilisi to sing at the bride’s door. There a toast given to her and then both families travelled together, to the church.  Nino, in white, so young and beautiful wore a white fur coat to protect her from the cold but the sun shone and halo’d the two of them as if they were messengers of peace. Gaga, his heart strong in his chest, proud and noble looked up to the heavens and murmured a prayer of thanks.  As he stood with Nino beside him, they embodied all the hopes and dreams of Georgia’s past and future.  They were beautiful.

In Sameba Cathedral the Holy Trinity Church high above Old Tbilisi town, Gaga and Nino were married.  Both wore the traditional crowns of love, gold filigree adorned with pearls and jewels, both crowned with a golden crest. Both walked the circle of love thrice anti-clockwise each time encircled by the strong ties of love and brother-hood of Shavnabada as they sang holy marriage songs that echoed and filled the vast space.  David kept Sarah close and made sure she was part of everything, could see everything, could feel everything. His eyes smiled into hers  and as Gaga and Nino moved towards the sacred steps that women can only climb on their wedding day he turned to her and said, ‘Please God let that soon be you’.

A tiny cinder glow of love trapped deep in Sarah’s heart dared to flare. With glowing eyes, she hugged the knowledge that he wanted to marry her tight into herself, breathed it and felt it thaw and touch her soul. She felt as if she was flying. Later, in the snow when his feet, in their thin soled boots, and cold despite the heavy woollen Chokha, slipped and they fell towards each other laughing he breathed in her ear, smiled with his eyes and his mouth and his hands and said, ‘Let us be married late summer-time’

Leaving Georgia was hard, her life in the UK, her son, her home, all of it waited for her, opened its arms and beckoned her, welcomed her, loved her, offered her security, sanctuary and stability. Her heart yearned for David but her heart also yearned for her son and home. Glowing, flying, shining, ecstatic and hopeful, the flight back to the UK was punctuated with tears.


The next few months were frantic and filled with exciting conversations about their marriage plans and where the material for the Chokhas would come from, how much material would be needed and how David felt about how they were being made. It was wonderful to hear about how he wanted wear it at their own wedding and how important it was to him. Unafraid of judgement and assured in her love for him Sarah began to dream of wearing a Chokha too. She felt completely connected with what it symbolised and started to look at old photographs of Georgian weddings hoping to find one that she could wear.

Shavnabada arrived in October accompanied by their new Chokhas.  The heavy wool, mountain soil colour, rich and nourishing, seemed to mold into each form. Sarah knew their shapes well, she had sketched them, painted each member as part of a piece she had given David as a gift the previous year and she could see how they had all grown, had became so much more than the half they were before.  This time they were whole and these Chokha made them complete. They hung from door-frames, ceiling lamps, were draped over bed-ends and ward-robe doors. .  Like dark spirits, they swung when brushed against leaving a sense of the ancient and strong echoes from times past lingered and seemed to call upon the wearers.  Daggers dangled precisely and the dull mute of the boots were mirrored in the black of the belts, which secured them in place. Each wooden bullet nestled in its own pocket and was made of rare Georgian cedar to connect with the ancient warrior’s bow, each one stood to attention in a row across each chest. 

Shavanbada had grown up.  These men wore their national costume with pride and a sense of responsibility. Sarah could see it in the way they walked and held themselves. Each concert had a maturity to it that had been lacking before. Everywhere they went they commanded respect and it was clear that this had been earned. There was clarity in their performance, a deep knowledge of themselves and a connection to an ancient land that was undeniable. David, when he wore his Chokha seemed wiser somehow.

It was funny, Sarah thought, reflecting on the day before when they had been shopping, how David had asked her for her opinion about different clothes. What did she think about this style of trouser, did she like this grey waistcoat? This jumper? This jacket? These shoes? This shirt with a double collar? Not particularly one for shopping Sarah had said supportive things but without really knowing why as David looked stylish in anything he wore. He just had that way about him. The last minute purchase of a long cane umbrella with wooden question mark handle made her smile. David would look like an English gentleman in his new clothes.

Sarah saw that shirt again late the following summer. David wore it, as well as the waistcoat, the grey trousers, the shoes and even though, on the photographs it did not look like rain, he carried the umbrella. He looked like an English Gentleman.

The photographs were sharp and professionally done. She saw him through the camera lens, the photographer’s eye captured the turn of his head, the slight smile of satisfaction that played around his lips. Friend’s fearful of her emotional state had tried to find out what had happened and had sent her them via face-book.

She called him every day. He did not answer.

Then 18 weeks after their own relationship had cracked but un- aware that it had completely broken Sarah asked him why he had not worn his Chokha on his wedding day, the most important day of his life.

‘My wife asked me not to’

Sarah, already sick with grief and reeling from his lies and deceptions replied, ‘I think you have married the wrong woman’


Received from David Friday 28th September, via e-mail 27 days after his marriage and immediately after Shavnabada performed at the 2012 Symposium in Tbilisi:

'hahaha fuck u u are delated from mirandas facebook and a lll from uk sad how ill u are and how it is too much waht u are doing and how funy u are like this. go on go on and people ll be more happy whith u. u must know allso that i m not getting your sms u r bloked just i m getting ring that thomeon sand me sms but i cant read it u r blocked.:) so i do not know wat u ar writting to be but i know that all kike shavnabda was perfect in concert all wos perfekt and all like my wishe and all wos happy so go on pls and lied your salf. by by. sham on u pelple meet me whth big congretulatins and thome of tham present to Natias on and stop now shame on you.'

October 20th 2012

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this Sarah and for sharing your story.

    This was my favourite part...

    "Unafraid of judgement and assured in her love for him Sarah began to dream of wearing a Chokha too. She felt completely connected with what it symbolised and started to look at old photographs of Georgian weddings hoping to find one that she could wear."

    That was great!