Supra Checklist: Etseri, Svaneti


Yet another supra (Georgian feast: why specifically Georgian? Surely every country and culture in the world has feasts? Yes, but not like these ones.). An ormotsi (40 days after death), the death being that of a girl just finishing high school in our village, seemingly from a heart ailment, although nasty rumors had swirled around as well. I rarely go to such events, and don’t want one after my own death, or the ts’listavi either, the year after death feast: enough is enough! While waiting for the invitation to move to the banquet hall, I made a set of notes comprising variables one may encounter at a supra, some of which have 2 or 3 possibilities, others more of a “slider with infinite increments.” So:

Occasion: happy or sad? Happy might be a birthday, wedding or just friends gathering. Sad is usually the funeral, ormotsi or ts’listavi.

Indoors or outside? If indoors, private (a home, closed-in restaurant booth or fully booked banquet hall) or public (spot in an open restaurant)? If outside, good weather or bad; marquee or not? (Memories of a January funeral feast outdoors in Svaneti about 15 years ago, no marquee to keep the bucketing snowfall from covering us and the plates-on-plates, mercifully cutting things short.)

Size: from 3 to 300 or many more people?

Self- or outside-catered? If the former, how many are cooking, from a few to an army?

Is the menu an Orthodox fasting one, or not? The former eliminates meat, fish, eggs/dairy and olive oil and all products from or containing them, and supposedly alcohol; but that last one’s simply NOT going to be enforced in Georgia. Ever.

Live music/microphone or not? Usually reserved for the happy-occasion feasts, but may be used at a funeral too, depending on local custom and size of the crowd, requiring amplification for the tamada (toastmaster) at least. Is the tamada audible everywhere or not? Able to hold everyone’s attention sufficiently or not? (The background hum can become a roar, regardless of the tradition of giving the tamada the floor once every few minutes.)

Cutlery or not? Oh yes, I’ve been to “not” feasts, where slices of bread became eating irons. Tricky and messy if you’re not used to it, but when in Rome &c.

Enough places or not? Not is rare indeed; I’ve encountered it only once in 20 years living in Georgia, at a funeral feast in Svaneti. We ate in two shifts, hurriedly.

Good mood or not? The whole general atmosphere, generated by feelings of all present. When alcohol is involved, as it unfailingly is in Georgia, both good and bad will can be enlarged considerably. The tamada’s all-important role is revealed here, as is the set of guests and their whole history of relationships with one another. Did you come away with appreciation or regret?

Daytime or evening/nighttime? Wedding feasts in Svaneti tend to begin after dark, as late as 10 pm, the civil ceremony usually having happened in Zugdidi, 50-200 km away. My wife and I are just not night people and may stick around only for the couple to make their entrance, and then flee for home and bed.

Wine, araqi (moonshine) or both as the alcohol? If only araqi, it can be rough; I hate the stuff, and will hardly touch it. But wine is usually present as well, even in the highlands where it isn’t made much at all but brought up from lower down.

Smoking or not? For a whole supra of even the smallest size to be entirely non-smoking is rare, unless one is in a restaurant which has decided to GO with the law instead of ignoring it for the sake of culture and tradition.

Free or not? The wedding or three funeral feasts usually expect all guests to contribute financially so as not to ruin the hosts. A small table with an accountant duly recording all monies can be found for the asking. Smaller feasts, particularly happy ones, might be paid for only by the host, and all offers to chip in refused.

Dancing or not? Only at happy feasts, of course, especially weddings. It can be costumed or not, with live music or not, but will always be a sight to behold.

Priest present or absent? He is a rare personage at these events, but in my experience is more frequently found at christening feasts.

Long wait for the food or not? It can be hours after you arrive at the larger feasts, during which you socialize and try to stay warm/cool/dry as weather and shelter allow. Did you arrive early, on time or late?

Takeaway food or not? Once it’s over, depending on your relationship to the hosts and the amount of leftovers from the obligatory vastly more than necessary offering, you may be offered a little or a lot. Accept.

Are you driving, a passenger in a car, or walking? If the first, avoid the alcohol! If the second, make sure your group can find you, or that if you make alternate arrangements to depart, they know about it! If the third, stay coherent enough to get home!

Has there been pre-supra drinking or not? More common at larger feasts of any occasion where the guests have to wait on the spot for a long time, it can lead to drunkenness going in, and often complications further down the line.

Minefield or not, as you peruse this list and the mega-dimensional graphs it could generate as “spaces of possibilities”? Well, the supra can be heaven or hell, depending on how many of the items above are positive or negative, to which degrees and in which combinations, which are effectively infinite. I wish you, dear readers, the opportunity to attend some really great ones, which will stay in your memories for always and bless your experience in this magnificent little country.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

28 March 2019 17:50