THERE WAS A TIME WHEN TREES SPOKE...
It is evident that tree veneration has accompanied the Circassians since ancient times, and holds one of the most important roles in the animistic view amongst the Circassians. The cult of trees has persisted up until the late 19th century and remained well into the beginning of the 20th century, especially amongst the Shapsigh tribe. Despite the fact that many rituals became transformed under the influence of Christianity, Islam and later on Marxism, but the static core is evident in various rites and rituals that are still practiced to this very day. Conversely, in recent years there has been witnessing to the rise and spread of Islamic dogma and some fundamentalism amongst the Circassians in the homeland, and preceded by the diaspora communities. Such a phenomena seems to be activating a fracture between this wave, and groups who advocate the native belief system who have become known today as Xabzists, a neo-pagan movement which denounces Islam, and supports the sustainability and revival of the ancient dogma (Kochesokova, M. 2012). Such rupture is a plausible natural outcome to a nation, which endured severe conditions, which hindered their natural progression process. Mass killings, expulsions, wars, and controversial political agendas as well as punitive administrations, have mutilated much of their disposition and moreover, their historic and cultural identity.
The Circassian people that were once a self-governed and self-sufficient nation have forsaken much of their original temperament in order to survive, whether in the homeland or in the diaspora. The question of identity has become a focal point issue causing a knot and much controversy between two different directions: Xabze and religion, and these two are totally different world views that cannot meet. How can they meet or even be equal if neither system needs the other? It is truly a predicament that only time can reveal its outcome. Tree veneration is a matter that lies at the core of the Circassian psyche and culture, and much of the Circassian identity, whether we agree or not, is found within the depth of this tradition. Recognizing ones identity as a Circassian, one must assent that the qualities of Circassianism are a byproduct of the animistic native belief system and the ways of the ancients. Tree veneration which was once a common practice at one point in time, not only reveals sacredness towards nature, but it points to a highly sophisticated psyche entwined with wisdom and ethos. The native’s way of life shows a civil society where integrity and respect towards earth and life, was the foundation of their conduct.
When we first decided to write about tree veneration amongst the Circassians, we had a vague idea on the subject matter, yet we were intrigued by oral anecdotes, and bits and pieces of information we had randomly met. The motive was exploring an age old philosophy that touches the origin of the Circassian man, and sheds light on how the ancients viewed the world and their position in it. The journey in researching tree veneration amongst the Circassians is still in its foundation phase, and could not have progressed if it was not for two main features:
To them we are indebted.
During our search, we came across numerus eye opening thoughts and opinions, which we think are worth exploring and presenting in this appendix. Some are related to the tree topic, and others revolve around the bigger picture on the subject of trees. Accordingly, we have taken the liberty to improvise and put forth our thoughts and analyses into a few questions open for dialogue.
As with most indigenous tribes and ancient belief creeds, the rise and spread of monotheistic ideologies (mainly Christianity and Islam) abolished much of the nature of the native human thought process, and adjusted the human form and thought to serve the demands of religious (political) agendas. Throughout history, the bearers of Christianity and Islam demonstrated a punitive conduct towards followers of age-old principles and belief system, who refused the rightful 'divine' message.
Hence, once humanity has become under the invocation of such outlook, nature has inevitably taken an insignificant place where the human is considered the master of the earth rather than a partner and a part of it. Accordingly the subject-subject relationship was demolished, and an object-subject correlation took over.
Initially, it is worthy to express that it may be an error to define 'civilization' through extravagant buildings and stone structures, the term ‘civil’ denotes to humanness and the ability to convey a courteous code of conduct towards other fellow beings and the environment. To the Circassians, their civilization was focused on nurturing their humanness and fixated on nurturing their inner sphere prior to the outer. And this is highly visible in their culture, language and their social code of conducted known as Xabze.
The Circassians excelled in music, instrument making, dance, fashion and folk procession and festivities. They possess a wealth of musical compositions, poetry and songs in addition to rich mythology. Songs were dedicated to the procession of hunt, to the ill, harvest, and rain supplication songs to name a few. Dance can be regarded as the essence of the people, and the Circassians formed dances that not only served as entertainment, rather as a dialogue and communication with the other, nature and self. For example, Theschxwe Wdzh (The communal Circassian round dance, where men and women hold hands and perform a spherical motion to a specific rhythm). Dance to the Circassians is as important as air, and through it, they expressed the height of their knowledge through intricate moves conveying grace and unity with life. It was a form of self-actualization and expression of how they viewed themselves, and articulated it through dance. Costumes were given much attention and detail, and the ornaments on the costumes were symbols of their psyche inspired from nature and the environment.
Architecture and home construction amongst the Circassians, was efficient and practical. It is based on quality over quantity and expediency over extravagance. Circassians did not appreciate nor comprehend the necessity in constructing a residence beyond the needs of its inhabitants. Despite the simplicity of their residence, they employed practical innovative techniques, such as heating and isolation systems.
The Circassian language is an ancient language, and can be recognized as a holy scripture. The terminology and expressions that compose the Circassian language point to a highly sophisticated psyche, where their view of the world is an attempt to elevate and mold their instinctual nature. We can primarily point to the word: Psalhe meaning word or to talk, which literary translates to: the receptacle of the soul. Additionally, there are no terms which refer to taboo or forbidden, rather, there are other concepts which replace them, known as Emiqu and Mixun (literally improper), and those serve to maintain an important and larger aspect for the individual, known as Napa literally to ‘have face’ or ‘Honor'. This term defined and regulated how the individual acted and dealt with the environment, based on manners and self-reflection rather than fear. From these expressions we are able to explore the gist of Circassian language. The Circassians conceived a language that is closer to a philosophy of life, and the phenomena of it, that it is still practiced until this day. Many expressions may have lost their deep meaning, however the root and core is still animate.
Xabze is a code of conduct that projects the essence of the people’s psyche, a system which nurtures the human with sufficient understanding to become an apt and productive part of society, and more importantly a part of nature. It is a structure where regulations are conducted willingly by the individuals, fear and punishment was never part of Xabze structure, rather the essence of Xabze is to nurture a human who is healthy in mind, spirit and body. So, the focus once again in which the Circassian civilization prevails in, is the ability to shape a system which continuously inspires to improve the inner state of the individual in order to sustain a healthy community and environment. Therefore, in its plain simplicity the Circassian civilization can be considered a model of success in terms that they were able to co-exist devoid of folly and capital punishment, imprisonment and penalties.
We believe that the world has reached a crossroad where it drifted so far from nature, that it is vital for us humans to now realize that the survival of our species is destined in returning to nature and reviving the ways of the ancients. The human species has become so fragile and crippled that it cannot function without technology for intelligence, and will starve if food suppliers close for a day. What is happening now is an expected result considering the course of history which brought the human to this current state. However, considering this state, it can be regarded as a wakeup call to rise and find alternative ways to complete this journey on earth. The native Circassian way of life can be taken as an archetype to be inspired from, and simultaneously combine it with the achievements of contemporary science and technology.
I wish to dedicate this humble work to my dear mentor the late Dr. Amjad Jaimoukha, who has been a constant support, and a source of inspiration and wisdom. This work amongst many others would not have seen light if it were not for his generous guidance, and dedication and genuine love to his Circassian nation.
Zaina El-Said & Beabars Appesh, Trees (2020) >>
Zaina’s collage art focuses on assembling many worlds into one, usually led by a protagonist; she focuses on mixing world cultures, architecture, motifs, archaeology, arts and nature into a single portrait.
Tree veneration is the essence of the Circassian way of life and Circassiansm, and it was the turning point which transformed the primitive human, into one with understanding and appreciation towards nature and his relation to it.
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