Every year, the festival begins on the hundredth day after Easter and lasts for two weeks. It is a nontouristic event bound up with Tusheti's ancient animist religion. It involves ram sacrifices at the ancient shrines known as Khatebi, the drinking of sacred rye beer, separate-sex feasting and more different activities.
The origin of the festival name
There are two theories of what and why people celebrate this festival. It is possible that it is derived from the meaning of the eternity of the community - from the two Greek words - Anatos - immortal and Geno-a community, which is evidenced by the importance and ritual of the shrine. At the same time, it was believed that the feast was associated with the deity Athar-Antar or Anator. Scientist Iv. Javakhishvili considered Anator to be the epitome of the Greek deity Apaturia, whose famous chapel was located on the north-eastern shore of the Black Sea.
The second and most common theory associated with the Bishop of Irakliopolis, the Greek priest Athogen. The church commemorates him on July 16/29. Saint Athogen in the 4th century, around 311 AD during the persecution of Christians, he and his ten disciples were tortured in the city of Sebastia. The pathogen was well known for his miracles and ability to cast out devils. One day he was captured and taken to the city of Sebastia.St. Athogen was burned at the stake for his devotion to the Christian faith, but people celebrate this festival not for St.Athogen name, but for an icon of this name.
Vardoba and Spartangelozoba
In different Georgian historical sources, festival Atengenoba was mentioned in two different names- Vardoba and Spartangelozoba.
According to the Khevsur ethnographic material, Athena in the Cross-language was meant Rose Day. "Vardi:- means Rose in the Georgian language. In the pre-Christian tradition, the red rose was considered as a symbol of the martyrs, burned at the stake for Christ. After the adoption of Christianity in Georgia, some old names changed, and this could be the reason why the name Vardoba replaced Atnegenoba in order to be closer to the religious holiday.
Spartangelozoba's name has a special legend that says a story about a girl from the Georgian Mountain region who was stolen and taken to Persia, where she gave birth to a child. One evening an angel appeared to her and said: "Get up and come with me." Angel stopped in the village Sno and women stayed and prayed there. Spart- means Persian and Angelozi means Angel in the Georgian language.
In conclusion, we could say that this name change includes different historical moments and changes in people's lives, but today Tush people celebrate Atengenoba and it is one of the most authentic festivals.
At each summer village festival (Atnegenoba) there is a host. The “Shulta”, an exceptionally important person who is elected by the village for a year. In short, the Shulta is the fixer, party maker and catalyst to make it happen.At an indeterminate time before the great day, a posse of men will take to the beer hut, a small house in the village built to brew beer and prepare food. If the Shulta is a man he will take control and manage the proceedings. If it’s a woman, well that can’t happen since the beer hut is a men-only affair. On festival days men and women eat separately. Any visitor who enters the village during the festival will be invited to eat.
A person called a “Khelosani” is responsible for ensuring that all the ceremonies are carried out properly. He makes an offering of sacred beer to the deity/saint of the khati shrine and brings out a sacred banner/flag, blesses it with a cry of ‘aludi’, and rings bells to announce the beginning of the festival. In some villages, the banner is taken to the khati shrine where it spends the night. If the person carrying the banner reaches the shrine without stopping, his village will have good luck for the following year. The banner is taken back to the village the next morning and the festival begins.
At the end of the fest, the ritual horse races are held. Smartly ride the horsemen in the mountains of Tusheti. This is an unbelievable breathtaking sight! The fest represents a great festival of the folk arts. Local and foreign children take part in such a festival with special pleasure. The smallest armed with the brushes and paints create vanguard works of art on the stone flats. Tush women are skilled in knitting and felt cloak making. The most popular among the folk art lovers are Tusheti carpets, brightly colored and decorated in unique local geometrical ornament and natural colors, bright socks, knitted shoes “chitebi”, woolen cloaks and “kechebi”.
The Tushetian road
The road of Tusheti is regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the world and has been listed on the BBC agenda. The Pshaveli-Abano-Omalo road, which is 72 kilometers long and takes 4 hours to cross, is one of the most difficult sections of transport in Georgia, in many places two cars cannot pass together. Active landslide processes have been developed since 2017. The rock mass descends every year, flooding the river and completely covering the road. On the way from the mountain periodically boulders and stones fall. Tusheti road is open from June to mid-October, a maximum of 5 months. For the rest of the year, the road is closed due to heavy snow and avalanche danger. Traffic accidents happen every year on the road to Tusheti, and most of them end in casualties. Most of the accidents on the roads of Tusheti take place during the Atengenoba festival. The causes of accidents are mainly drunk driving, violation of the rules for maneuvering, and speeding.
If you decide to visit this unbelievable place be careful and safe!