Photography The Doukhobors are in danger of disappearing
Photographyreportage

The Doukhobors are in danger of disappearing

Photographer Natela Grigalashvili documents the life of a rural, Protestant community in Georgia, now heading for extinction
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Collater.al Contributors

What Natela Grigalashvili explores with her photographs are places and communities little known to many. Specifically, she focuses on rural areas and those populations that live far from the technology and comforts of progress. One of her most interesting series of reportages is entitled The Doukhobors’ Land, an Orthodox Protestant community living in Georgia, Natela’s own homeland. The shots offer a close look at the everyday life of these people while recounting customs, traditions and a fascinating centuries-old history.

Who are the Doukhobors?

The history of the Doukhobors goes back three centuries, located in the Tambov province of Russia. Exiled by the Russian Tsar and moved to Georgia, the Doukhobors founded eight villages in the Javakheti region, with Gorelovka as the largest. They consider Javakheti their holy land, calling it ‘The Land of the Doukhobors,’ and regard Gorelovka as the spiritual centre for Doukhobors from all over the world. Despite the harsh climate, the community prospered, establishing a commune that included an orphanage, a school and a collective economy. Their industrious nature made them one of the richest communities in the Caucasus, with the Gorelovka collective farm becoming the second richest in the entire Soviet Union during that era.

The rejection of material symbols and the cult of the feminine

The faith of the Doukhobors, characterised by the rejection of material symbols such as crosses, icons, priests and church rituals, emphasises simplicity in birth, marriage and death rituals. They believe in the omnipresence of God, particularly in the human soul, considering it a temple. Their community is led by spiritual leaders, with a significant number of these leaders being women, maintaining a gender balance and a cult of femininity.

Doukhobors

Towards the end of a people?

The last two decades have been particularly difficult for the Doukhobors. A significant number have returned to Russia, driven by factors such as betrayal, fear, persecution and false promises. Today, only about 150 Doukhobor families remain, mostly in Gorelovka. The youth of the community, facing limited opportunities in education and employment, are leaving the villages and the country. Grigalashvili’s photographs capture the essence of this resilient community, documenting their struggles and the changes they face. The images tell stories of tradition, faith and the slow erosion of a once thriving culture. New owners of Doukhobor homes, alienated from their customs, are altering the cultural landscape, further challenging the community’s conservation efforts.

Through Natela Grigalashvili’s lens, we gain a deeper understanding of the rich cultural heritage of the Doukhobors and the contemporary challenges they face, reminding us of the importance of preserving these stories for future generations.

Doukhobors
Doukhobors
Doukhobors
Doukhobors

Courtesy Natela Grigalashvili

Photographyreportage
Written by Collater.al Contributors
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