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MURDER BY ADAT
BY GEORGE KENNAN
This is the second of two stories about Akhmet Avarski, narrating Mr. Kennan's adventures and talks with Akhmet in Eastern Caucasia. The first appeared in The Outlook for May 24.THE EDITORS.
“ Kill, and thou shalt be killed, and he shall be killed who killeth thee."-Spanish Proverb.
HEN Captain Cherkassof told me
in Khorochoi that the state of
society in Daghestan was that of the tenth century, I took his statement with some grains of allowance. " No doubt," I said to myself, “ the people of the eastern Caucasus are uncivilized ; but they can hardly be nine hundred years behind the age in which they live.” My skepticism was shaken a little by the stories that Akhmet told me of his early life, but I did not become fully convinced that the Daghestan mountaineers were still in the mediæval stage of social development until I encountered the armed man in the burial shroud and had an opportunity to see the spirit of the tenth century in action.
Three or four days after Akhmet and I crossed the divide of the Andiski Khrebet, we stopped for the night in the aoul of Inkheli, the most extraordinary mountain village that I had yet seen. It was situated on a high, steep bluff overlooking the gorge of the Andiski Koisu, and seemed, as we climbed toward it from the bed of the stream, to consist of a mass of broken-stone dwellings which had been built solidly together, and which extended up the sloping mountain-side for a distance of two or three hundred yards. The terraces, made one above another by the successive tiers of Alat roofs, were connected here and there by ladders, as in a New Mexican pueblo ; but there were no streets or passages between the houses, and the only way, it seemed to me, that a man could enter his own dwelling was by climbing ladders, crossing roofs, and descending into his attic through a scuttle. I soon discovered, however, that this great communal beehive might be entered from below as well as from above.
Half-way up the mountain-side, on the edge of the settlement, Akhmet rode into the mouth of a dark, narrow tunnel, and conducted me into a labyrinth of subterranean passages whose sides were the foundation walls of the superimposed buildings. Opening off from these passages, here and there, were black caverns, which were used, Akhmet said, as stables,
and at intervals of ten or fifteen yards we passed ladders, or flights of narrow steps, which gave access to the houses above.
How did people ever come to build a village with underground streets ?" I inquired of Akhmet, as we rode through these filthy and noisome corridors.
". There wasn't much room,” he explained, “ between the precipice behind and the river in front, and they wanted all of it for houses."
“ But why put a village in a place where there wasn't room enough for streets ?"
“Because it was an easy place to defend," he replied. “ Before the Russians came we were all the time fighting among ourselves, one clan against another, and it wasn't safe to build on low, open ground. We had our farms and pastures there, but we brought our horses and cattle into the village every night, and, as you may have noticed, we still stack our hay on the roofs of our houses."
I had noticed it, but did not know the reason for it.
“ This village is built in a solid mass,” he continued, and the streets are underground; but it would be a hard place to storm in a fight. A thousand men couldn't take it in a month.”
About an eighth of a mile from the entrance to these village catacombs, with whose windings Akhmet seemed to be perfectly familiar, we dismounted, turned our horses into a cave-like stable, and climbed a dirty ladder into the house of a mountaineer whom my guide and interpreter knew.
The guest chamber, to which we were at once conducted. was
a fairly spacious room, with floor, walls, and ceiling of beaten clay mixed with chopped straw.
Its windows were small unglazed port-boles,' which overlooked the flat roof of the next house below, and there was a door which opened upon the roof of another dwelling, so that the room might be entered either by climbing a ladder from the underground street or by crossing an
The Daghestan mountaineers, at the time of my visit, had no glass, and used no substitute for glans. In pleasant weather their small square windows were left open, and when it tormed they were closed with tight plank shutters. Their rooms were warmed by open fireplaces in which, owing to the scarcity of wood, they burne'i cakes of dried cow-dung.
acre or more of flat village house-tops. The “Who is this man in a white sheet and why guest chamber contained no furniture except is he wearing it?" a broad, low, rug-covered divan ; but in one “I'll tell you in a minute," he replied. corner there was a rectangular pile of bed- “ This man is after a horse, and he's got on ding over which had been thrown a square of a burial shroud. The other one will come homespun woolen cloth. A silver-mounted back soon, and then you'll see.” flintlock pistol and a nearly straight saber Why a man in search of a horse should hung on a peg driven into one of the wooden wear a burial shroud I could not possibly posts that supported the ceiling, and nailed imagine; but the grave-clothes suggested against the back of the door that communi- murder or sudden death, and the matter was cated with the other part of the house I evidently serious. noticed what seemed to be the bones and dry In five or ten minutes the mountaineer shriveled remains of a man's severed hand who had been standing near us returned, -doubtless the ghastly trophy of some battle bringing in his hand a small bag of Russian or blood feud.
He counted out forty rubles, As soon as it became noised about the vil- handed them to the other principal, and took lage that Akhmet Avarski had arrived, with in return the burial shroud and a small silver an unknown traveler from a strange land coin known in the eastern Caucasus as an across a mighty ocean of which nobody had abaz. Then, wrapping himself in the shroud, ever heard, our room rapidly filled with he bowed formally to the man from whom armed men in Caucasian dress, who came to he had received it, and again left the room. press thumbs with Akhmet' and to stare at For heaven's sake," I said to Akhmet, me. They were all Avars, of the north “ tell me what it all means ! Who are these European type, and if they had been divested two men ? Why does one buy a burial shroud of their weapons and clothed in civilized from the other, and what has a horse got to dress they might have been taken in Berlin do with it?" or St. Petersburg for Scandinavians Akhmet's explanation was more or less Great Russians from the province of Nov. fragmentary and disconnected, owing to the gorod. Nothing would have distinguished fact that while talking to me in Russian he them from north Europeans except, perhaps, was exchanging comments on the transaction their fierce, hawklike eyes and the piercing in another language with half a dozen of the intensity of their gaze. They all talked loudly, excited bystanders; but from what he said I and discussed freely with Akhmet my ap- gathered that six months before this time a pearance and my dress; but they did not certain man-neither of the two principals laugh at me nor permit themselves to be in whom we had seen-had lost a horse. He did any way discourteous or offensive.
not know certainly whether it had been stolen Suddenly, while I was watching and ap- or had merely strayed; but some weeks later praising them with an interest at least equal he heard that the animal had been seen in to their own, the loud talking ceased, and all the possession of a mountaineer who lived eyes were turned toward the open door, twenty-five or thirty miles away in another where stood a tall, stern-faced man, wrapped part of the Avar territory. He girded on all from head to foot in a white cotton sheet. He his weapons, wrapped himself in a burial seemed to be looking for some one, and pres- shroud, provided himself with a small silver ently, discovering the man of whom he was in coin to be used in paying a mullah for search, he stepped into the room and began reading prayers over a grave, and went in to talk in a vehement and excited way to a search of his lost property. The shroud and mountaineer who happened to be standing silver coin were significant of his determinanear the divan on which Akhme: and I sat. tion to recover the horse, even at the risk of Everybody crowded toward us, as if the death. If the unlawful possessor made peacematter involved was one of great interest, and able surrender, well and good ; if not, he after three or four minutes of hot debate be- would fight for it; and he showed that he had tween the principals the man who had been considered all possible consequences by comstanding near us went out.
ing in a burial shroud and bringing with him “What has happened ?" I asked Akhmet. money to pay the expenses of a funeral. It
was a horse or a grave for one man or the 1 The Eastern Caucasian mountaineers never shake hands. When two men grest each other, they merely claip other. hands, with upstanding thumbs pressed closely together. There is no up-and-down motion of hands and arms.
In this particular case it appeared that the
479 possessor of the horse had neither found it to sleep. The strangeness of my environnor stolen it, but had innocently bought it, in ment, the wailing cry of the village muezzin good faith, from another man. He there- calling the faithful to late evening prayers, the fore gave it up peaceably to the owner, and, consciousness of the severed human hand taking in return the white sheet and the nailed against the back of my door, and the prayer-money, he girded on his weapons, remembrance of the man in the burial shroud, wrapped himself in the shroud, and went in whose dramatic entrance had suggested a search of the mountaineer who had sold the mediæval - vision of sudden death,' all united animal to him. He wanted a return of the to give me a realizing sense of tenth-century purchase money, and he, too, was prepared conditions and a vague feeling of personal to fight, die, and be buried if such should be insecurity. It was even a sort of comfort, his fate. In this way the shroud and the in the lonely hours of the night, to recall the silver coin had passed through the hands of assurance of the homicide who slept beside two or three different men before we saw me that “ in our Daghestan you can't kill a them, and were still on their way back to man in a house." the man who had originally found the horse In the eastern Caucasus at that time muror stolen it. He would have to refund the der for the sake of robbery was not common, money that he had received for the animal and was little to be feared ; but in the wilder when he sold it, and then, if he had not been parts of the country the danger of provoking guilty of theft, the whole matter would be assault by giving offense inadvertently was dropped, the shroud and the silver coin re- one to which the inexperienced traveler was maining in the hands of the last man.
always more or less exposed. Individual con" What an extraordinary custom !" I said duct and social intercourse were regulated to Akhmet when all the mountaineers had only by adat-a very ancient and variable gone and we were left alone. “ When did it code of customary law; and the mountaineers, begin and who started it?"
who all carried deadly weapons, had not only He shrugged his shoulders and merely a keen sense of personal dignity, but a sort said, “ It's a very old adat."
of fierce, sensitive pride, which impelled “ But would the two men that we saw to- them to resent instantly anything that had night actually have fought if the money had even the appearance of an insult. Careful not been refunded ?”
as I was to avoid words or behavior that “Of course !” he replied, as if surprised might be misconstrued or taken amiss, I got that I should ask so foolish a question. into difficulties twice , once with a moun* One of them would have killed the other. taineer in whose house we spent a night soon They would not have fought in the house- after we entered Daghestan, and again with in our Daghestan you can't kill a man in a Akhmet. house-but the man in the shroud would The misunderstanding with our host, in have waited outside.”
the first case, was the result of my offering "Then what would have happened to the him money. He had given Akhmet and me survivor ?" I asked. * Would anything have shelter overnight and had taken care of our been done to him ?”
three horses, and it seemed to me that it “Who can tell what would have hap- would be rather shabby to go on our way pened ?” replied Akhmet. “ The man left without paying for our food and lodging. alive would become the blood enemy of the Just before we started, therefore, in the other one's eldest brother and would have to morning, I offered him two rubles. He barely go into kanle. Then he might be killed or glanced at the money, and then, putting his might not. Who knows?"
hand quickly to the hilt of his long, double" Is one man allowed to kill another in that edged kinjal, he gave me the most searchway without any punishment ?" I asked. “ In ing, penetrating, and at the same time menmy country the killer would be hanged up by acing look that I had ever encountered. He the neck until he was dead."
evidently thought that I meant to insult him. Akhmet laughed, as if the hanging of a I saw instantly that I had blundered, and I man by the neck merely because he had have no doubt that my face looked like that killed another seemed to him funny. “In of a reprimanded school-boy as I hastily put our Daghestan," he said, “ to kill a man is the two-ruble note in my pocket. Just at that all the same as to kill a chicken."
moment, to my great relief, Akhmet came It was long that night before I could get up, and the mountaineer, turning to him, said
with stern dignity, in which there was still an possibility. Why he behaved like a man undertone of menace: “ Tell your foreign mortally insulted I don't know. Possibly traveler that we mountaineers don't sell our in his stormy past there had been some intihospitality.” Akhmet, with quick wit, ex- mate connection between dangerous cliff plained that I had no thought of offering roads and homicide. money to him-still less of insulting him. For several days after this misunderstandMy intention was to have the two rubles ing I did not venture to ask Akhmet any given to the servant who had cooked the questions about his fights and feuds ; but in food. The mountaineer was appeased, but a high, lonely aoul near the precipice of there was still a Alush of anger in his face as Gimry, where we happened one day to be he withdrew his hand from his kinjal.
storm-bound and where we had little to do * It isn't safe to do that,” said Akhmet to but talk, he voluntarily brought the subject me as we rode away from the village. up himself by asking whether, in my country, our Daghestan you can't offer money to a a man who had killed another could make man in whose house you have been a guest. peace with his blood-seekers. I replied that It is a deadly insult.”'
in most cases a man who killed another in The misunderstanding with Akhmet grew my country was hanged or imprisoned for out of what seemed to me to be a perfectly life by order of society ; but that in some of innocent and natural remark, and I am still our mountains where blood feuds were carunable to explain the irritation that it caused. ried on I thought they were fought out to a From the top of a high mountain ridge he finish. was pointing out to me one afternoon the “In our Daghestan," he said, “ you can bridle-path that we were to follow the next almost alwavs make peace after a while by day. From the depths of a valley at our paying an indemnity.
But sometimes you feet it ran in a long series of zigzags up the can't. Once, in an aoul south of Gunib, side of a tremendous spur
the main range,
where I was hard pressed by my blood enewhich, from our point of view, was so de- mies, I had to take refuge in the house of a ceptively foreshortened that it seemed to be man whom I hardly knew, and I lived there absolutely perpendicular. Finally, at a height night and day for three months.” of six or seven thousand feet, the whitish, “ Do you mean without going out ?” snake-like path disappeared in the clouds.
Four men with rifles watched that " That looks to me like a very dangerous house constantly. How could I go out? I road," I said.
tried to make peace with them, and even Akhmet turned on me instantly, grasping offered them four horses, a dozen sheep, and the hilt of his kinjal, and his henna-red beard six rolls of woolen cloth; but they wouldn't seemed to bristle and his eyes to flash blue listen." lightning as he demanded:
6 What do you
“ Was the owner of the house willing to mean by saying that I am planning to take keep you all that time?" you over a dangerous road?”
“ He had to-that's the adat.
In our I don't mean anything,” I replied in dis- Daghestan you can't turn a man out of a may. “ Of course you wouldn't go over it house when his blood-seekers are there if it weren't safe. I merely thought that it watching for him. But when winter came looks very steep.” He continued to stare at on they went back to their homes. They me with a menacing look for at least half a lived more than sixty miles away, and they minute. Then, turning away, he said: "I couldn't lie in wait for me forever. never take a man over a dangerous road. I * It was there that I got married,” concould ride down that one blindfolded and in tinued Akhmet, after a moment's reflection. the night."
· Living in the house night and day, I fell in This was the only misunderstanding with love with a daughter of the man who gave me Akhmet that I ever had, and why he resented refuge.” so fiercely my innocent remark I don't know. Then it wasn't such a bad thing for you, I had thought more than once that it would after all,” I suggested. be safe and easy to push a man off one of “In one way, no," he replied. 6. But in those high cornice paths and then rob his another way it was. There was another man dead body ; but Akhmet could hardly have who wanted the girl, and the night that I was been a mind-reader, and at that particular married he tried to spoil me." time I was not even thinking of such a " How spoil you ?"
MURDER BY ADAT
He hid under one of the windows of the que, and during the ceremony he tied Es in a cord and tried to work evil ic on me. I heard of it, and the next I saw him we fought. That's where I his scar," pointing to his forehead. "He ly split my head open with his kinjal; I had a pistol in my left hand, and I shot and stabbed him before he could strike
1. Then I had to go into kanle, and as a bad business. He belonged to a g family, and his brothers hunted me a wolf. I didn't see my wife again for Hy a year, and it was two years before ild make peace."
What do you do when you want to make e?" I asked. "Is there an adat for
Yes; but the adat is not the same in arts of the country. There are different
Tell me, then, just what you did when made peace with the men who hunted ike a wolf."
Well, first I let my hair grow.1 That a year and a half after I killed the man tried to spoil me, or perhaps more.
some of my friends went to my blooders and said: Akhmet is letting his grow it is more than two inches long dy.'"
But what had your hair got to do with I asked in amazement.
When you let your hair grow long," he d, "it means that you are sorry and to end the feud. According to the adat, nust do that first. Then your relatives riends open negotiations. Well, my is talked and argued and bargained for g time-two or three weeks. My enemies willing to make peace, but the terms too hard. There were four of them, he father and eldest brother of the man ed would not forgive me unless I would to pay a large indemnity and to join family."
Sut I don't understand," I interrupted. w could the father whose son you had want you to join his family?" don't mean that they wanted me to live them," explained Akhmet. "They only ed me to take on my shoulders their
feuds. I was known to be a good r, and they wanted me to help them kill heir enemies. But I didn't like to do
that because their enemies were not mine, and they had a lot of them."
"Tell me one thing more," I interrupted again. "Are your blood feuds between whole families or between individuals? If a member of your family were killed, who would take up the feud? And would the avenger have a right to kill any member of the other family?"
e Daghestan mountaineers either shave their heads their hair closely clipped.
"According to our Avar adat," said Akhmet," the oldest brother is the first avenger; but there may be more than one. In my case there were four, because in the fight that started it I began the attack. But my four blood-seekers wouldn't have had a right to kill any one but me. In some of the clans families fight families, but our adat doesn't allow the killing of a blood enemy's relatives. That would be as bad as killing a man in a house."
"Now I understand.
"All right," I said. Go ahead."
"Well, the hasty pudding that stood overnight didn't learn to talk. I was willing to pay an indemnity, but not to join the other family and take up its feuds. My friends did all they could for me, but my bloodseekers may eagles drink their eyes!-gave me no peace; and after I had been shot at two or three times from ambush my wife persuaded me to yield."
Again a gloomy and savage expression darkened Akhmet's face as he recalled his humiliation, and for two or three minutes he stared silently into the embers of the cowdung fire.
"Well," I finally said, "what then? Did you make peace ?"
"Yes," he said, with bitterness; "after an accursed ceremony of blood adoption, I made peace."
Again he relapsed into silence. He seemed disinclined to tell me any more, but by means of cautious and sympathetic questions I finally drew from him the following story:
After the arbitrators had settled the terms of peace, Akhmet had to return to the Lesghian village of Mukar, where his blood. enemies as well as his wife's family lived, and there go through the ceremony of blood adoption. He was taken first to the house of the father whose son he had killed, and was there called upon to press his lips to the bared breast of his victim's old mother. This,
1 A Caucasian proverb meaning that the broken-off and renewed negotiations did not come to anything.