Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Rules of the Supra

In previous posts, I've talked about about the traditional Georgian supra, but I don't think that I've detailed most of the rules and customs that are involved in the ritual. I attended an Easter supra last night with Biliki's staff. I'll use this occasion to explain what exactly goes on at the supra table.

The supra table is set.

The first thing you have to realize is that there are various levels of formality in a supra. The most formal supras usually mark weddings, baptisms or funerals. Usually these are men-only, the women serve and cook and may have their own supra in another room.* The level of formality also depends on the location (usually a village supra tends to be more formal) and the age of the participants (older = more formal). The Easter supra I attended was semi-formal; men and women were at the table together and there was a wide range in ages.

The guests take their places.

When the guests arrive, most of the food is already set out. Supra food varies by region, but almost always include chicken and ham, rice dishes, and assorted greens such as parsley or watercress. As the supra goes on, more food is brought out--lamb stew, khachapuri (cheese bread), and khinkali. At the end of the meal, the host brings out sweets for desert. The food keeps coming, but the plates are not removed; so, by the end of the meal, the plates of food are literally stack on top of each other.

The wine is as important as the food. Georgians claim that they invented toasting (as well as wine itself), so it is taken very, very seriously. At the beginning
of the supra, the tamada (toastmaster; stress is on the first "a") is named. Usually, this is the most respected, most eloquent person at the table. The tamada is part ringmaster, part comedian, part storyteller, and part referee. He is expected to give beautiful toasts and keep the supra-goers entertained at all times. Most importantly, the tamada must always drink the most at the table but can never act drunk.

The tamada makes a toast.

There is a specific order toasting; again, this varies by region. However, all supras have at least one toast to the family, to women, to God, and to the dead. On the really important toasts (such as the ones to the dead), all men are expected to stand and balumde--drink "to the end." On the really, really important toasts or when the party gets really raucous, the tamada will bring out the horns. When supra-goers lock arms, drink from the horn, and kiss three times on the cheek, this is called vakhtanguri (the Peace Corps Volunteers have nicknamed it "VTG").

There are other important roles for the supra. The tamada can name a "vice-tamada." When there are women at the table, there is usually a female tamada who reinterates the toasts. The vice-tamada is responsible for keeping order at the table and making sure that everyone is paying attention during the toast. A tamada may call on an alaverdi, or someone designated to extend the toast. He or she must continue along the same lines of the toast before calling an end or passing it to another alaverdi. I suppose its a supra-equivalent of a filabuster. Finally, several people are named the merekipe, and are responsible for keeping the glasses filled with wine. Under no circumstances can you make a toast with a half-empty glass.

The aftermath...stacks of food and plates.

Supras usually last for hours and often dancing follows the food. In our case, we left after about three hours. I managed to make it through this supra without making too many mistakes. The supra table is one place in Georgia where the rules actually apply, but Georgian hospitality trumps tradition and they're forgiving when the foreign guest looks a little clueless.
__________

* It seems that one exception to the men-only rule is at a wedding supra, which is usually held at the family's house. The bride and groom sit at the main table with the wedding party beside them. Again, this varies depending on the family, but since weddings are less solemn occasions, the rules appear to be a little more flexible.

8 Comments:

  • At 7:01 AM, Blogger Michael said…

    as long as we ensure that no development takes place in country, we aren't going anywhere friend

     
  • At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Aiet Kolkhi said…

    The supra table is one place in Georgia where the rules actually apply, but Georgian hospitality trumps tradition and they're forgiving when the foreign guest looks a little clueless

    I liked that one ;)

     
  • At 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    My dad is from georgia.
    whenever we hang out with his side of the family, we have a great time and have really good food! Esp. khinkali, chebureki, and hachapuri.
    idk how to spell them though.
    =)

     
  • At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I really like your notes on the Supra. I'm married to a Georgian so I know it well and it makes me miss the buzz of people around the table and smell of the delicious food offered there. Angela, UK

     
  • At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Georgian Supra is most entertaining, fun, vivid,communicate,human-bonded and smart 'party'( as call West)in whole world, because this Supra unites people with ther memories of happiness and sadness and not only their ones, but also not forgetting mention of thier parents, grandparents, ancestors,dead beloved,God, peace, beloved nice women, and on. In Western countries people sit down or preffer to be at separate tables or standing-dancing and all attention(for example, bithday case) is based only on one celebtiry man/woman. But on Georgian Supra you are involved with all guests and Tamada(toast maker) dont forget toast any of them. You are like member of human-bonded table which joys your heart. I dont care if someone doesn like it, because I preffer to be vivd and not alone around the Supra table. Here doesnt exist ''ego''.

     
  • At 11:29 PM, Blogger Brandy said…

    I am from Colorado, and the Georgian Supra changed the way I celebrate forever. I have been to many and one thing I am always corrected on is to toast with the drink in my right hand. One of my faveorite things the tamada does is peer pressure everyone to drink more than you usually would; (in Georgian) "if you dont want the type of love I have described, than you wont drink this entire glass!!" How can one resist? Gaumargos!

     
  • At 12:28 AM, Blogger Dan Z. said…

    Victory!!!

     
  • At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hi all! i am georgian and i am glad, you guys like our traditions. hospitality is the prior in georgia. tkven gagimarjot! love you all!

     

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