Space and Time in North Caucasian Popular Culture

Author: Dmitriev, V.


By the end of the twentieth century it became clear that national distinctions are never eradicated or transformed, but continue in perpetuity. Each nation has acquired and claimed its own place in the world, and in doing so has defined its own original ways of measuring the terrestrial space and time - time spent on working, living, and waging wars. Vladimir Dmitriev’s models for research have been the peoples of the North Caucasus, including Georgians, Chechens, Ossetians, Ingush, Kabardians, and Adygei; and the history of this region has seen numerous upheavals, wars, and migrations of peoples. The result of 25 years of work in this field is the present book entitled Space and time in North Caucasian Popular Culture (Prostranstvo I vremia v traditsionnoi kul’ture narodov Severnogo Kavkaza) . It divides logically into two parts, the first devoted to temporal coordinates, and the second to systems of measurement of everyday culture, and space.
Time, according to the author, is an independent and changing factor, and the functions of human social activity consist in attempts at “taming time” and incorporating it in culture. Thus, calendar cycles (days, months and years) have an objective existence, but are filled with socially significant events and create their own intrinsic temporal structure. Moreover, “if the duration of calendar time cannot be changed by man, living time is simpler to regulate”. Hence, Dmitriev claims, such things as cultural principles are defined, as also are human personality traits expected at certain times and ages, and human activities expected various times of life, from birth to death. Dmitriev explains the deep-seated traditions of various nationalities, linguistic parallels are adduced in evidence, and both diagrams and bibliographic sources are provided. Some highly interesting pages describe the formation of etiquette and mentality in various nationalities, the growth of religions, beliefs, and rituals as attempts to control time and to define their own place within it. Valuable space is also devoted to the situation of girls and women, refuting accepted views about their subordinate place in the home and community. In addition there are descriptions of romantic, emotionally charged and peculiar marriage ceremonies, symbolizing the containment of the bride in a particular closed temporal segment of life and her subsequent transfer to a different family and a temporally conditioned space.
The metrology of popular culture is a science still insufficiently described and studied. The information collected by Dmitriev in part two of his book is thus of exceptional interest. His study covers such little-studied aspects as the metrology of architectural monuments and buildings, of traditional dwellings and cultivated fields, also the metrology of space in various types of burial structures, accompanied by their modern metrical equivalents. Also quite unique is his information on anthropometry, in which he discusses measurements denoted by parts of the body (finger, span of the hand, arm, foot, et cetera.).
Dmitriev’s books is a serious study of man’s interest in space, in which ancient national traditions and cultures were formed not from the viewpoint of “inhabitants of the universe”, but of wise, careful and benign local populations. In addition to the text, the book also provides tables, an extensive bibliography, and indices of objects, proper names and ethnic terms.
About the author: Vladimir Dmitriev is a leading scholar at the Russian Ethnographic Museum in St.Petersburg. He is a specialist in museum studies and the ethnography of peoples of the Northern Caucasus. He has been involved in Caucasian studies for over 25 years, working in the fields of archeology, traditional and contemporary ethnography. He has authored over fifty research publications, specially important among which are his works on the metrology of Northern Caucasian peoples.