Distribution of the Svan language in relation to other Kartvelian (South Caucasian) languages.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Predominantly † Eastern Orthodox Christianity
(Georgian Orthodox Church)
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|Ancient Kartvelian people|
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The Svans (Georgian: სვანი, Svani) are an ethnic subgroup of the Georgians (Kartvelians) living mostly in Svaneti, a region in northwest Georgia. They speak the Svan language and are mostly bilingual also in Georgian. Both these languages belong to the Kartvelian (South Caucasian) language family. In the pre-1930 Soviet census, the Svans were afforded their own "ethnic group" (natsional'nost) category. The self-designation of the Svan is Mushüan, which is probably reflected in the ethnonym Misimian of the Classical authors.
In the Russian Empire and early Soviet Union Mingrelians and Svans had their own census grouping, but were classified under the broader category of Georgian thereafter in the 1930s. They are Georgian Orthodox Christians, and were Christianized in the 4th–6th centuries. However, some remnants of pre-Christian beliefs have been maintained. Saint George (known as Jgëræg to the locals), a patron saint of Georgia, is the most respected saint. The Svans have retained many of their old traditions, including blood revenge (although this tradition has been declining over time, as law enforcement takes hold). Their families are small, and the husband is the head of his family. The Svan strongly respect the older women in families.
Svan culture survives most wonderfully in its songs and round dances. Svaneti boasts archaic three part polyphony, known as chordal unit polyphony, with strong dissonant harmonies. Traditional Svan poetry is still not separated from song and has no rhymed poetry. Svans are skillful artists and as Svaneti was widely regarded as the most inaccessible region of Georgia, many items of medieval Georgian state treasury (including the rare manuscripts of the bible) are still stored in Svaneti.
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