Last Saturday, as I sat around in my fluffy robe, contemplating what to do with my afternoon, my phone rang. It was Sophie, the administrative assistant from my old school.
“Raughley, are you coming?” she asked.
“To what?” I knew Sophie was attending some Martial Arts Exhibition, but didn’t realize I had been invited.
“Come quickly! I am at the Parliament on Rustaveli!” Fifteen minutes and one rushed shower later, I met Sophie on Freedom Square in the midst of a scrum of mostly-authentically-dressed Georgian warriors!
Everyone was marching past my house and then over the Baratashvili Bridge towards Riqe Park where a stage had been erected in Europe Square. Even the kids got involved!
As we carried on, walking, talking, and getting ushered out of the formation by a squad leader, we marveled at the craftsmanship of the real-looking weaponry.
We even got to see the executioner himself!
Sophie had been invited to this “Martial Arts Event” by another Kobakhidze. They’re not related, they just have the same last name. She asked me what the word for this is in English. I don’t know that we have one, honestly. Shared last names isn’t nearly as common in the States as it is here, though, admittedly, it’s not unheard of. I’ve known lots of Smiths and Johnsons and Browns, just not so many Nuzzis.
Lasha Kobakhidze explained to us that the whole afternoon was going to be filled with singing, dancing, and weapon demonstrations. This got us both pretty excited and we crowded toward the stage to get the best view.
The ceremony opened with a rifle twirling demonstration on par with any I’ve seen elsewhere. It would’ve been nice if someone had launched a rifle really high before catching it, but all told it was quite a well orchestrated performance!
After a brief introduction from the organizers, we were told that the events would begin in 5-7 minutes. I asked Sophie if she thought he meant 5-7 real minutes or 5-7 Georgian minutes. She hoped the former. So, to kill 5-7 real minutes, we wandered over to the hunting falcons!
Several fellows had leather mitts with hooded and unhooded falcons perched along their wrists.
Now, Sophie loves birds. She’s got lots of shirts and jewelry with owls on it and she really wanted to touch one of the falcons. She asked a handler in Georgian, “May I pet it?” and by way of response he held out his ungloved hand, revealing about a dozen scratches and tears in various states of freshness. Undeterred, Sophie reached out to pet the bird.
We continued to wander the crowds, passing the 5-7 Georgian minutes seeing what the festival had to offer. There were a couple of dudes hefting a giant log, there were people dressed in all manner of medieval military garb, and there was a loud popping sound coming from the center of a crowd. Further inspection revealed a whip demonstration!
After a spell, there was another announcement and the music started up. The first performance was a troupe of Georgian singers in black Chokhas. They did a few folk songs and then cleared the stage to make way for just the cutest little married children you ever did see!
As the sun disappeared behind some ominous potential storm clouds, the next musical act took the stage.
I had a lot of questions throughout the day. Mostly “What’s the word for that?” as I pointed at various military and cultural accouterments. I learned lots of great words like shubi, khmali, nabadi, and papakhi. That last one you might recognize if you saw it. It’s a big poofy wool hat that comes in black or white and is a Khevsuretian accessory. Sophie couldn’t remember the name, though, and had to ask someone. She was quite embarrassed!
After a few more musical acts, the main event began. There’s a type of traditional dance called “pharikaoba” which would translate to “shield dancing” or simply “shielding”. It’s like a cross between stage combat and shadow boxing. The members of an Adjaran pharikaoba team demonstrated a wide range of weapons on stage, from spears, swords and shields, double bladed axes, dual-wielded hand axes, and judo with knives. They moved so fast and we were too far away, so I only managed to get one awesome shot. Trust me, though, when I say that each demonstration was epic.
After the pharikaoba, there was another brief interlude. Sophie and I took advantage of it to snap a few more photos–this time with some of the performers!
At this point we had managed to sneak around/behind the stage and we were chilling with the performers who were on deck. (That’s a baseball metaphor that means “up next” for all you non-baseball aficionados out there!) This also gave us a new angle on the performances themselves!
The next group of kids had much more colorful uniforms and skewed a lot younger. I have to admit, I was seriously impressed by these little ones. Some of them must’ve been no older than 5 or 6!
The kids danced their dances and then made way for a very acrobatic and intense series of dances by a few troupes of adults.
The audience was comprised of lots of casual ordinary people, but also other performers who had already gone or who were waiting for their moment. This led to a lot of great candid photo ops!
At this point, a cry went up and the crowd surged towards the base of the cliff. The MC had just announced that the archery range was open for business! A large target had been erected beneath the cliff and there were archers at hand to help everyone fire a few arrows. After some macho dudes hogged all the bows for a spell, a new rule took effect: Women and Children only. Sophie’s non-relative Lasha cried out, “I have an American guest!” in Georgian, and so an exception was granted in my case. Sophie and I strode up like two confident Robin Hoods and loosed a volley of hellfire upon that target.
We were using modern sporting bows, not traditional ones, but that was alright with us! Our first few arrows were on target, with Sophie scoring one just off center and me nailing the red and blue portions of the target. (Notice how I didn’t include any photos of the target? I’ll just let you assume that the red and blue sections took the most skill to hit!)
As the sun started to go down, I checked the time and realized I was super late for my planned visit to my host family. My random cultural experience that I scrambled and stumbled into had eaten up the whole day without me even realizing it! Sophie and I parted ways just as the Karate demonstrations were getting started. Bad luck for me, but all told, one of my more successful recent random afternoons.