Customs and ceremonies of Chechens

Nokhchalla is the ability to build his relationships with people without in any way demonstrating his superiority, even being in a privileged position. On the contrary, in such a situation one should be especially polite and friendly in order not to hurt anyone’s ego. Thus, those on horseback should be the first to say hello to the pedestrian. If the pedestrian is older than the rider, the rider must get off the horse.

Nokhchalla is a friendship for life, in days of sorrow and in days of joy. Friendship is a sacred concept for a highlander. Inattention or disrespect to a brother will be forgiven, but never to a friend!

Nokhchalla is a special reverence for a woman. Stressing respect for his relatives, a man gets off his horse right at the entrance to the village where they live. Here is the parable of a highlander who once asked to sleep in a house on the outskirts of the village, not knowing that his mistress was home alone. She could not refuse the guest, fed him, put him to bed. The morning the guest realized that there was no master in the house, and the woman sat all night in the front by the lit flashlight. Washed in a hurry, he accidentally hit the owner’s hand with his little finger. Leaving the house, the guest cut off this finger with a dagger. So only a man brought up in the spirit of the sleepwalk can preserve a woman’s honor.

Nokhchalla is the rejection of all coercion. A Chechen has been brought up as a defender and warrior since his childhood. The oldest form of Chechen salute survives today – “Come free!”. The inner feeling of freedom, the willingness to stand up for it, is a sleepover.

At the same time, the Nokhchalla obliges a Chechen to show respect for anyone. And respect for the more so the further a person goes by kinship, faith or origin. People say that the offence you caused to a Muslim can be forgiven, for it is possible to meet on Judgment Day. The offense caused to a person of a different faith is not forgiven, for such a meeting will never take place.

The Nokhchalla is what a Chechen voluntarily follows. It is a formula for what a real Chechen should be like.

Pre-Islamic folk customs related to the holidays of the agricultural calendar.

Rite of passage for the rain

A peasant always lives by taking care of his harvest. So drought is his enemy. An old Chechen belief believes that a snake is a reliable remedy for drought. It is known that snakes crawl out especially willingly on rainy days, and that is where the belief in their connection with the desired heavenly moisture came from. To make it rain, Chechens used to kill and hang snakes. The crow’s nest had to be destroyed in order to cause rain. Plowing the bed of a dried up river is one of the famous ancient Chechen rites of summoning rain. That rite was performed separately by women and men. Men gathered in the yard of a lucky and well-respected man in the village, plunged into a plough and dragged it along and across the riverbed. At the same time, everyone carefully poured water on each other. The women, coming to the river, two or three times dragged the plough along its bottom, while they themselves fell into the water and poured water on each other, and tried to push the passing men into the river. Then, women who “smelled the river” walked along the village, and they were given money or food. The pagan meaning of the sacrifice was the rite of call to rain, in which a teenager was dressed up as a sheaf of green grass. He was driven through the streets of the village by a crowd of young people in turned inside out tulips. Everybody was having fun, because it was impossible to see who was hidden under the grass. Knotted also saw almost nothing, as his head was covered with elderberry branches hanging to the ground, or hemp sheaves, or a bag with holes for his eyes covered with grass. Throwing pebbles into the river, accompanied by prayer, was also thought to help induce rain. The water that washed the pebbles would flow to the sea and return from there in the rain. In mountainous Chechnya, men usually took part in this rite. Old men led by a mullah prayed, while young people collected naked stones. The stones were laid by literate residents who could read the Koran, who whispered prayers at them and then put them aside. After that, the youth threw the stones into the water. Sometimes these stones would be put in a sack and lowered into the water. At the end of the ceremony, they would cut the sacrificial animals and have a meal together.

Thunderbird Festival Sela

According to an ancient pre-Islamic Chechen folk legend, when the world was created, fire was only in one hearth, and the god Sela was the owner of that hearth. A thief once broke into it to steal the fire. Being angry, Sela threw a head at him, the corners of which fell to the ground. And if it hadn’t been for these coals, the ground would have remained forever cold. Honouring the mighty god, Chechens began to call the lightning bolts Sela’s torch, and the rainbow Sela’s bow. May was his name, and Wednesday was his day of the week. On that day, it was forbidden to give anyone even one corner of their home, and it was also forbidden to throw away ash. Ruins of temples and sanctuaries dedicated to the god Sela have been preserved in Chechnya. The distant ancestors of modern Chechens respectfully called that god Sela “the pious Sela”, “the light, sensitive Sela”, “the god of stars, lightning and fire”. The man who died of lightning was honoured and buried in a hewn stone crypt in full armour and sitting. The place where a man or animal was killed by lightning was considered sacred. Water brought from the shrine of the god Sela was considered healing. The priests allowed the sick to drink it by spoon and treated their eyes with this water. The Chechen folk festival in honour of Thunderer Sela resembled the Christian festival of Elijah the Prophet. The festival took place in one of the media of Sela, from May 22 to June 22. The ceremony of the holiday at the sanctuary included offerings and prayers to the god Sela. Approximately such: “The sky is often made to rattle. Make the sun heal warm. Spill the rain with oil, grow the seed. In autumn, don’t let the wind blow fast.” Another version of the prayer: “Sit down, save people from troubles, harm, save our crops from hail, flood, give us a rich harvest.

Feast of the goddess Toucholi

The cult of the goddess Tusholi was widespread in ancient times. Toucholi is the goddess of spring, fertility and childbirth. The holiday of the goddess took place on the last Sunday of the first month of spring. The main herald of spring, the bird of the hoopoe, arrived on that day. Chechens called it the “Tusholi chicken” and revered it as a sacred bird. It could not be killed except with the permission of a priests for medicinal purposes. It was considered a good example if the hoopoe owls a nest in the attic or somewhere in the yard. Tusholey’s feast was timed to coincide with the choice of brides. The older generation encouraged this month’s marriages in every possible way, believing them to be the happiest. Honoring Toucholi as the patroness of fertility and fertility, the women asked the goddess: “Toucholi, give us your grace. Make sure that the unborn give birth to their children and leave them alive. Send us an abundant harvest, let the rain be buttery, the sun be healing.” In ancient times, the holiday of Tusholi was associated with rites held in sanctuaries, where priests kept the idol of the goddess and a special choir. The tree for the choirboat was cut down only in the protected grove, where it was impossible to go without the priests’ permission and it was not allowed to cut down trees and graze cattle. People brought gifts to the sanctuary in honor of the holiday: deer horns, bullets, wax candles. The offerings were consecrated by a priest dressed in white. The cult of the goddess Tusholi was officially banned during the spread of Islam in Chechnya. However, Tusholi remained a folk holiday of women and children.

Plowman’s Day

The holiday of ploughing was held on the fourth day of the Spring Festival. It was celebrated for two days. The first day was devoted to ritual ploughing of the field and sowing. The traditional order of this day was: pulling oxen, seeing the ploughman off, holding a ritual furrow, sowing, public meal, entertainment. The ploughman chosen for the ritual had to strictly meet the following requirements: to be “bearing abundance”, to be “an honest worker”, to be “a man of light and happy hand”. Not everyone agreed to this honorary work, fearing the accusation of fellow villagers in case of a crop failure. Interestingly, along with these qualities, the ploughman chosen for the ritual had to have a number of other characteristics: for example, be medium full and hairy. The ox for ritual plowing was specially decorated. Their neck and horns were oiled, the wool around the horns was cut, copper plugs were driven into them from the evil eye, red ribbons were hung on the horns and tail. With full buckets of water (having left the house in advance) the wife of the ploughman met the procession going to the field. And the participants of the rite, who were returning home, certainly tried to splash with water. This was done as a wish for good weather and plentiful harvest. On the second day of the holiday there were races and various competitions. It was also accepted that each family made a small sacrifice before the start of the main ploughing and sowing – distribution of various plant products in three houses.

Holiday of Spring

Since ancient times, Chechens have dated the beginning of the agricultural year to the day of the vernal equinox – March 22. That day was an important spring festival. The farm was especially clean during preparations for it. Women thoroughly cleaned, washed and whitewashed the inside and outside of the house, and cleaned the yards. All bronze and copper dishes were rubbed to shine and exposed in the yard, believing that the red color of copper calls the sun. On the festive day itself, everyone, including infants, would rise until dawn and go out into the courtyard to meet the rising sun. This holiday implied an abundance of food for everyone. Not only domestic children were to be fed, but also orphans and lonely old people. On that day, the cattle were particularly well fed, grain for birds was scattered in the street, crumbs were thrown in the attic and in all dark corners of the house. It was also believed that if you update your clothes for the holiday, it will help to walk all year in a new one. Festive entertainment in the evening was held at bonfires, symbolizing the sun. The fires could be family or for the whole street and even for the whole village. They were set by young people, trying to make the fire bigger and bigger. Young men and adults jumped over the fires, showing courage and at the same time “purifying” themselves with fire.

New Year

The history of traditions of the New Year holiday goes back to ancient times. At that time an important New Year’s ritual was to renew the fire in the hearth. It was on the new fire that everything necessary for the holiday had to be cooked and baked. Another ritual was to put a long, uncut log in the hearth. The length of the log determined the duration of the holiday. In the house where the log was reduced to such a size that the door could be closed behind it, a party began with plenty of food, drink, dance, clowns or artists’ performances. As the logs were sooner or later shortened in all the hearths, the party came to every house. New Year’s Eve logs were prepared in advance: wood, mostly oak, was dried on the root. The use of fruit trees was considered a great sin. Chechens’ distant ancestors believed that impure power would be activated on New Year’s Eve, so they laid iron objects in stables and dwellings as amulets, defending themselves against it. A rich New Year’s table, according to popular belief, was a guarantee of family well-being in the coming year. For this purpose, all living things, up to mice, were meticulously fed on New Year’s night. For the holiday, bread was baked from wheat flour. The most important – large ritual bread – had the form of a disk with ray lines coming from the center. Besides, pies with different stuffing were baked: for the elder in the family – quadrangle shape, for guests – round. They used to put coins, bread grains, a piece of wool into the mild breads, which they used to wonder who would be rich in what in the new year. On New Year’s Eve, other fortune-tellers were also accepted. For one of them, a specially selected person went to the sanctuary. There he lay on his stomach all night, with his ear to the ground. The next morning, this man was interpreting what he had heard. It’s interesting that the Russians have a similar prediction. On the night of Christmas a Russian peasant goes to the crossroads, draws a circle and falls with his ear to the ground. If he “hears” the noise of loaded sleds, it’s by the harvest year, if not – by the harvest failure. A unique ancient Chechen fortune-teller on a lamb’s spatula. When fortune-telling, one would look at the light through the scapula and predict the harvest, weather and even family events (weddings, births and funerals) from the bones. Similar fortune-telling is known in Chinese culture. New Year’s Eve was considered a particularly auspicious night for divination of marriage. For one of them, a girl baked three very salty little breads; two of them were placed under a pillow and one was eaten. By the way, the future husband is the one who gives the girl water in her sleep. On the eve of New Year’s Eve, young men and teenagers wearing fur coats inside out, felt masks with horns, or faces covered with soot went to Chechen villages. The custom of roaring and caroling, by the way, is international – it has survived to this day in many European and American countries. But horse racing on the third day of the New Year’s Eve was purely Chechen custom. The first three winners were entitled to prizes – a riding horse, saddle, bridle and whip, or something of clothing. The New Year’s feast is not connected with the folk agricultural calendar for modern Chechens. Neither is it part of Islamic tradition. On New Year’s Eve, people simply gather at a table to say goodbye to their past year and meet a new one, with whom they pin their dreams and hopes for the best.

Modern customs and traditions

Men’s etiquette

The basic norms of Chechen men’s behaviour reflect the concept of Nakhchallah – see Section 1. But there are also centuries-old traditions and customs for certain everyday situations. They are reflected in Chechen proverbs and sayings about how a master, husband, father should behave…

A few words – “I don’t know, no – one word; I know, I saw – a thousand words”.

“The fast river didn’t reach the sea.”

Caution in statements and in people’s assessments – “The wound from the checker will heal, the wound from the tongue – no”.

Stamina – “Incontinence – stupidity, patience – politeness”.

Resistance is the main characteristic of a Chechen man in practically everything that concerns his domestic affairs. The custom is that a man will not even smile at his wife in front of strangers, nor will he take his child in front of strangers. He speaks very sparingly of the merits of his wife and children. At the same time, must strictly ensure that the wife does not fall on any man’s business and duties – “The chicken, who began to sing the rooster, burst. As a particularly serious insult, a Chechen reacts to foul language, especially if the curse includes a woman. This is due to the fact that the greatest shame is if a woman from a family has allowed herself to have any relations with an outsider man. Although it is rare in the republic, there have been cases of lynching women for free behavior. The concept of male beauty in Chechens includes high height, wide shoulders and breasts, a thin waist, skinny and fast walking. “You’ll know what he’s like when you walk,” they say. A special, symbolic load is carried by a mustache – “If you do not behave like a man, do not wear a mustache!” For those who wear a mustache, this strict formula is accompanied by three prohibitions: do not cry with grief, do not laugh with joy, do not run away under any threat. That is how a mustache regulates the behaviour of a Chechen man! And one more thing. It is said that Shamil, the leader of the rebellious mountaineers, who is going to surrender, was called several times by his loyal companion. But Shamil did not turn back. When asked why he hadn’t turned around, he said he would have been shot. “Chechens do not shoot in the back,” Shamil explained.

The special numbers are 7 and 8.

One Chechen fairy tale speaks of a young man, Sultan, who took care of a girl of exactly 8 years old. According to Chechen customs, a mirror may not be shown to a young child until he is eight months old. In the Vainakh version of the myth of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman diverged to find a pair; Eve said she crossed eight mountain ranges on her way. Chechen tradition presupposes that a woman knows her ancestors from her mother’s and father’s lineage in eight generations. A man must know seven ancestors. Those examples show that Chechens associate eight with a woman, and seven with a man. The seven essentially consist of units. The figure eight, or pairs, reflects motherhood and the principle of giving birth to its own kind. Thus, digital symbolism shows a special, prevailing place of a woman in society in comparison with a man, which came from ancient times. The well-known Chechen proverb says the same: “A man spoils his family, a woman spoils the nation, and the whole nation spoils. Chechens attach particular importance to heredity along the female line. For example, the expression “mother’s language” is used when a person’s worthy behaviour is noted, and the expression “mother’s milk” is used when a person is condemned for a disgraceful act. To this day Chechens have the right to take a wife of any nationality, but marriage to a foreign tribesman is not encouraged.

Mutual aid, mutual help.

When we meet, every Chechen will first ask: “How are you doing at home? Is everyone alive and well?” When you break up, it’s a rule of good faith to ask, “Do you need my help?” The custom of working together is deeply rooted in old times. In those days, harsh living conditions forced the mountaineers to unite for agricultural work. Peasants tied up with one rope to mow the grass on a steep slope of the mountain; the whole village conquered areas for sowing. In any disaster, especially if a family lost its breadwinner, the village took care of the victims. Men did not sit down at the table until some food was taken to a house where there was no male breadwinner. The greeting of a young man to an older man necessarily included an offer of help. It is customary in Chechen villages if an older man starts some kind of household chores, to take part in it as a neighbor. And it is often voluntary helpers who pump up the started work. The tradition of mutual support has developed in the people a sensitivity to someone else’s misfortune. If there is grief in the house, then all the neighbors open the gate, showing that the grief of a neighbor – his grief. If someone dies in a village, all villagers will come to this house to express their condolences, to provide moral support, and if necessary – and material assistance. The funeral troubles of Chechens are entirely taken over by their relatives and fellow villagers. A person who has been absent from the village for some time, upon arrival, receives full information about events that took place without him, including misfortunes. And the first thing he does when he arrives is to express his condolences. “It’s better to have a neighbor nearby than relatives in the distance,” “It’s better to die than to live without human love,” and “The unity of the people is an indestructible fortress,” says Chechen wisdom.


Legend has it that the forefather of Chechens Nohchuo was born with a piece of iron – a symbol of military valour – in one hand and a piece of cheese – a symbol of hospitality in the other. “Wherever a guest does not come, grace does not come,” and “the guest in the house is joy”… Many sayings, legends and parables are dedicated to the sacred duty of hospitality. Hospitality is especially pronounced in rural life. Every house has a “guest room” to receive guests, and it is always ready – clean, with fresh beds. Nobody uses it, even children are not allowed to play or study in this room. The host must always be ready to feed the guest, so at any time the Chechen family would put aside food for that occasion. For the first three days the guest should not be asked anything. The guest lives in the house as an honorary member of the family. In the olden days, the host’s daughter or daughter-in-law helped the guest to take off his shoes and outerwear as a sign of special respect. Card-heartedly generous reception provided by the owners of the guest at the table. One of the basic rules of Chechen hospitality is the protection of the guest’s life, honour and property, even if it entails a risk to life. The guest should not offer a fee for the reception, but he can make gifts for children. It was always the custom of Chechens to offer hospitality. And they showed it to any good man, regardless of his nationality.

In the family circle.

Attitude to the elders.

The unwavering rule of every Chechen family is respect and care for the elder generation, especially parents. Parents live together with one of their sons. In the morning, half the old men start a good household chores. Only after that she starts other business. The sons, returning home in the evening, first of all go to the parents to talk to them, to share their joys and concerns. Not only the son, the daughter, but all the family members take care of the old people. Grandfather is called “big father”, and grandmother is most often called “mother”. Children may not comply with a father or mother’s request – they will be forgiven for that. But it is unacceptable to disobey grandparents, other older relatives or neighbors. Not to get up when old people appear, or to sit down without their insistent invitation, is to demonstrate bad upbringing. Tradition does not allow alcoholic beverages to be consumed in the presence of any older relatives. It is not allowed to talk to the elders in a heightened tone or behave in an uninhibited manner. If parents do not live with one of their sons, the children are particularly attentive to them: For example, the best products are constantly brought to the parents’ house. In rural areas, as a rule, there is a separate house in the yard for the elderly. This is an old custom. There, the elders in the family are provided with the most comfortable living conditions to suit their needs and age.

Kinship responsibilities.

Chechen families have many children. Several brothers often live with their families in the same yard or village. The rules of kinship relationships have developed over the centuries. That’s what they are like in general. In a family, any conflicts of situations are resolved by the elder man or woman in the yard. The mother of children, if they have been hurt, should never complain to her husband. In an extreme case, she can turn to her husband’s relative. As a rule, children’s grievances and quarrels are not taken into account. Chechen children know that their uncle will readily respond to any request and help. He can refuse his child, but without very serious reasons he will never leave unanswered the request of the children of his brothers and sisters. The older generation is responsible for strengthening family ties. Parents must maintain an atmosphere of harmony in the families of their sons. Special correctness is required in relation to the daughter-in-law. The father-in-law is obliged to be sensitive to the wives of his sons: in their presence, they must not drink alcohol, curse, or violate the clothing accepted in the Chechen family.

The honour of the family.

Chechens commonly attribute the merits and faults of a person to the entire family. A dishonourable act will make many relatives “blacken their faces” and “lower their heads”. Decent behaviour is usually spoken of: “One could not expect anything else from the people of this family. Chechens instill in their children the quality of “yakh”, which is important for healthy competition – in the sense of “being the best of all”.

Adat in modern Chechnya

Adat (from Arabic “custom”) – ordinary (unwritten) laws of Muslims. The norms of adat were formed in the times of tribal relations. Adat regulated the life of the community, matrimonial and family relations. Said-Magomed Khasiev in an article published in the Daimekhkan Az (“Voice of the Fatherland”), a newspaper for the Chechen diaspora. S-M. Khasiyev writes: “There are adats that elevate human dignity and help him to become better. They are opposed by the Adats, which Chechens call Gorky-pagan (Lakkerst). The majority of society does not adhere to them. Here is an example connected with a folk legend. Once Abrek Zelimkhan met a woman on a mountain road with grief. He asked what had happened. “My baby was taken away from me,” replied the woman. Zelimkhan went on the wanted list and soon saw two men carrying a child. Abrek asked for the child to be returned to his mother for a long time, spelled by God, his ancestors, but to no avail. When he moved on to threats, the men slaughtered the baby with daggers. Zelimhan killed them for that. According to Chechen adats, you cannot raise your hand not only on a baby, but also on a minor teenager, a woman, an old man. They are not part of the circle of revenge. However, those who follow the Gorsko-pagan adats may even kill a woman in the name of revenge.

Attitudes towards women

Chechen women have a special social status as mothers. A man is only the master of the house, and she has been the mistress of the fire since ancient times, and the worst Chechen curse is “to put out the flame in your hearth”. Only a woman can stop a man’s fight on the grounds of blood vengeance. If a woman appears where the blood is poured, the deadly battle may stop. A woman can stop a feud by removing her handkerchief from her head and throwing it between the fighters. As soon as a blood enemy touches the hem of any woman, as a weapon pointed at him, it is removed into the scabbard: it is now under her protection. By touching a woman’s chest with his lips, anyone automatically becomes her son. To stop the quarrel, the woman would let her children take out the mirror to the choppers – it acted as a ban on fighting. Traditionally, the man, protecting the woman, always goes ahead of her. This custom has ancient roots: in ancient times on a narrow mountain path there could be very dangerous meetings – with a robber, a wild beast… A man walked ahead of his woman, and was ready to protect her at any moment. Chechens greet women only standing up. If an old woman passes by, it is the duty of any man to stand up and say hello first. It is a disgrace to disrespect your mother and her relatives. For a son-in-law, honoring his wife’s relatives is considered a virtue for which God can send her to paradise without trial.

Wedding ritual

Chechen wedding rituals are a succession of performances that include singing, dancing and music. When villagers, relatives and friends go and bring their bride to the groom’s house, music is played. At this stage of the wedding there are other performances. For example, the bride’s relatives delay the wedding train, blocking the way with a burka or a rope stretched across the street – you have to pay the ransom to pass. Other pantomimes take place at the groom’s house. There is a felt carpet and broom on the doorstep of the house in advance. At the entrance, the bride can step over them or get them out of the way. If she does, she’s smart; if she does, she’s out of luck with the guy. But the bride is put in the corner of honor at the window under a special wedding curtain, she is given a child – someone’s firstborn son. It’s a wish for her to have sons. The bride caresses the child and gives him something as a gift. Guests come to the wedding with gifts. Women give cuts of matter, rugs, sweets. Men – money or rams. Men are sure to give gifts themselves. Then a lavish feast begins… After the meal – the performance again. The guests are taken to the bride, from whom they ask for water. Everyone says something, jokes, discusses the appearance of the girl, her task – not to talk back, because the verbosity – a sign of immodesty. The bride can only offer her guests a drink of water and wish everyone good health. On the third day, another performance is organized. The bride with music and dances is led to the water. Escorts throw cakes into the water, then shoot them, after that the bride, having typed up water, comes back home. This is an ancient ritual that should protect the young woman from water. After all, she will walk on water every day, and the water baited already treat and “killed”. On this evening, the marriage is registered. It involves a trusted father of the bride and the groom. Mullah, on behalf of the father, agrees to his daughter’s marriage, and the next day the bride becomes a young mistress of the house. According to Chechen custom, the groom should not appear at his own wedding. He does not participate in wedding games, but has fun in the company of friends at that time.


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