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Botsi: wolf mask from Dagestani settlement Shaitli

(World of an Object)

According to calendar widely spread in many Eastern countries winter begins on 22nd of December and lasts until 22nd of March. In some Dagestani villages a day of winter’s middle – 5th of February - is celebrated. This holiday is especially interesting and impressive in Shaitli village, where it is called Igbi. Shaitli is one of auls of smaller nation of Western Dagestan whick is known as Didoyans (self-name is “cezy”, meaning “eagles”).

Main characters of Igbi holiday are “wolves” who are played by youths dressed in special costumes and masks. The demonstrated mask is a part of a wolf costume (botsi). In many Eurasian peoples traditions wolf was not only the symbol of courage and valor but also a guard of spring crop growing. That’s why “wolves” are characters of Igbi. It is considered that their appearance foretokens good harvest in coming year. During the celebration “wolves” “kill” mysterious creature Kvidili which comes down from the mountains on this day. This action is aimed at successful development of nature’s powers, as sources of Kvidili’s image are connected to idea of deity of vegetation.

Igbi holiday also goes back to tradition of men’s unions. This social institute was well known to nations of different continents, was important part of youth’s socialization and also had straight connections to ancient cults. People of Caucasus knew men’s unions too. Igbi holiday, still celebrated by Shaitli dwellers, is one of last echoes of this ancient institute.

Scythians, ancient Germans and some other peoples had a belief that warriors – members of men’s unions could turn into wolves, and for that purpose they put on proper masks and imitated animals’ habits. Members of men’s unions at Caucasus also considered a wolf as their patron and supposed that they could turn into him. That’s where the wolf theme and symbols of Igbi holiday comes from. The situation doesn’t change because of lack of botsi’s resemblance to wolf. The main thing is that both actors and spectators know who is who.