A look at Dagestan’s stunning crafts heritage

Ivan Dementievsky
There was even a developed system of towers, which have survived up to the present time, originally built for the purpose of passeing around a chain of news – "we have guests." And by the time the enemy was approaching a large village, women and children went into the mountains and armed guards and squads were waiting for the enemy. Weapons were always held in high esteem here, and not only as a means of self-defense, defense or attack; a weapon showed a man's status.

Weapons are a necessary part of the national costume, the Caucasian mountain dwellers never part with it, and they appreciate it and always have the means to decorate it.

Weapon’s decoration has always played a special role in the mountain dwellers’ lives, it is highly prestigious, and often takes the first place among the other crafts.

Unfortunately, not many samples of old weapons have survived to the present times. This is due to poor storage conditions and the fact that the weapons were used by more than one generation, and the general shortage of materials. The bulk of the weapons that have reached us are guns and pistols, swords and daggers belonging to the second half of the 18th – 20th century.

The dagger is considered to be the most common cold weapon in the Caucasus. The dagger has always been used as a weapon, as a household item and for various household needs; cutting firewood and slaughtering cattle as well as other jobs around the house or in the field. The dagger was a mandatory element during holidays, weddings and dances. In Dagestan daggers were worn constantly, from adolescence, so in the second half of the 19th century, daggers were produced much more than other types of cold weapons like swords or sabres.

In the old days, Dagestan was called the Caucasian "Blacksmith". Weapons were manufactured in many Dagestan villages. Some people specialized in cold weapons while others made firearms. There were villages where both were produced, depending on the masters. Some villages were so popular for their weapon production, their fame spread far beyond Dagestan. Masters went to find work in other cities across the Caucasus and Transcaucasia.

Today

Those days are long gone, but in Dagestan, skilled artisans still make weapons. And although now it has a more decorative nature, masters have started to pay more attention to decorative ornaments. We cannot say that there is a center in Dagestan, a village where most weapons are produced. Rather, some masters do this, in their homes and workshops. Typically, the masters have apprentices, or it is their sons who are penetrating the secrets, or, much less often, it is people from outside.

If we compare the current state of affairs with the past centuries, then of course things have changed. Gone are battles with sabres, and people’s cultural traditions have changed dramatically. Now weapons are piece goods, often made to order as a single copy and although the steel is still strong, this weapon has purely ornamental purposes. By the way, some artists are fairly well known not only in Dagestan, but also throughout Russia. They participate in various exhibitions and you can get acquainted with them and their products anywhere in Moscow or St. Petersburg, and only then, having agreed in advance, you can visit a specific person. The Dagestanian people are extremely hospitable, and there is no doubt you are going to stay over at their place for longer than a day, and during long hours of tea drinking you will hear many interesting stories from the world of steel blades.

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