Lak people (Dagestan)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Lak language, Russian|
The great Russian philology scholar of the 19th century Uslar P. K. identified ethnic name "Lak" with the name of tribe "Legi", who lived approximately in the mountains of present-day Dagestan, as mentioned by Strabon.
The first polity on the Lak territory was the principality of Gumuk. The early history of the Lak people is unclear; they have lived in Dagestan since at least the Bronze Age. Although Christianity had been introduced by Armenians and Georgians starting in the sixth century, in 777, according to legend, the Laks were conquered by the Arabs under the leadership of Muslim or Abu-Muslim.[clarification needed]
Laks belong to the Shafi school of Sunni Islam. Sunni Islam encouraged group solidarity and provided protection from the government apparatus; their members help each other find work and housing, arrange marriages, pay the kalïm, maintain burial societies, resolve disputes, and so forth. Rural Laks still observe many pre-Islamic planting, harvest, animal-breeding cycle, shearing, and rituals.
Because the traditional Lak lands are mountainous and very dry, agriculture was of secondary importance in the traditional economy. In the mountainous regions, the economy was dominated by the raising of sheep and goats, and also some horses, cattle, and mules. Meat and milk products were major components of the Lak diet, although they also grew barley, peas, wheat and some potatoes. Most animal husbandry was the responsibility of males, whereas agriculture was mostly that of women. The Lak territory had no forests, and there was a chronic shortage of wood for building and fuel. Wheat and fruits and vegetables were grown in the lower areas, especially in the new Lak areas in northern Daghestan.
The practice of transhumant sheepherding required that for several months each year, males migrate to the lowlands to pasture their animals. Here they came into contact with different Daghestani peoples. Other Daghestani mountaineers grazed their sheep along with those of the Laks in the lands of the Kumyks. This is the reason most Lak males were multilingual. Many villages specialized in artisanry and crafts. Kumukh was famed for its jewelers and coppersmiths; Kaya was known for its merchants and markets; Unchukatl for saddle and harness makers; Ubra for masons and tinsmiths; Kuma for candy makers; Shovkra for shoe- and bootmakers; Tsovkra for acrobats; and Balkar for ceramics and jug makers. Lak women also engaged in cottage industries such as rug weaving, spinning, textile making, and ceramics, whereas the men engaged in leather working and tool making.
Many of these traditions survived during the Soviet period because it was difficult to develop the Lak territories, which are isolated and have few resources. Textiles and clothing, leather working and shoe making, and the production of meat, cheese, and butter are still the dominant industries in this region. Many Laks continue to migrate (both permanently and seasonally) to other areas of Daghestan (and in particular to the cities) and to other surrounding areas to find employment. Whereas in the traditional pattern of transhumant animal husbandry Lak males and their animals walked over the treacherous mountain passes and forded rivers, the herds are now taken by truck to their winter pastures in the lowlands and similarly brought back in the spring. Traditionally, extended families held the limited amount of agricultural land, the pastures, and the herds in common and did not have a strong sense of individual ownership. The Laks nevertheless resisted Soviet collectivization policies.
Traditional Laks, like most Daghestani highlanders, lived in patriarchal clan units (tukhums) consisting of a large extended family having a common ancestor, either recently deceased or still living. All members had the same patronymic and all property was owned mutually by the clan; decision making was the responsibility of either the elder patriarch or the elder males. Clan members were expected to provide mutual assistance in work and in family affairs, and to assume collective responsibility in vendettas, as prescribed by adat (traditional Daghestani customary law that predates Islam). The term for close family members within the tukhum is kk'ul, and they refer to each other as usursu (sibling). The importance of tukhums is today being eroded by modernization and continuing out-migration.
Marriages were traditionally arranged by the families of the couple, with the oldest women taking the most prominent role in the decision making. The bride and groom were most likely to be from the same clan. The custom of paying kalïm (bride-price) persists to a limited degree but the transaction is more symbolic than financial.
The Laks are reported to have been the first Dagestani people to establish a feudal system. Their feudal society consisted of the khans; the bagtal (beks), who were the khan's family and the nobility; the chankri (children of marriages between beks and women of lower social orders); the uzdental (uzden), who were free peasants (numerically the largest of all classes); the rayat (serfs); and the laghart (slaves). This feudal system coexisted with a system of free societies, which were composed of the more democratic tukhums. These free societies were military and economic arrangements that were fluid in structure and worked on a democratic and voluntary basis. The laws governing the relations of groups within these free societies were codified in adat.
The native language of all Laks is the Lak language. Lak is a member of the highly diverse Northeast Caucasian language family. Within the family, its position is highly debated, but it is generally thought to be an isolate, which either developed separately from an early point or, alternatively, a language of whose close relatives all have gone extinct.
- History of the Lak people
- Laks of Dagestan
- History of Dagestan
- Northeastern Caucasian languages
- Lak language
- Lak song, in Lak language. By Arslan Shahmardanov
- Different songs of the people of Dagestan
- About Laks of Dagestan
- Russian Census 2010: Population by ethnicity (Russian)
- State statistics committee of Ukraine - National composition of population, 2001 census (Ukrainian)
- Страбон 5, 1 ВДИ. 1947. С 4. с. 19.
- П. К. Услар. Этнография Кавказа. — Тифлис, 1889.
- А. Р. Шихсаидов. Ислам в средневековом Дагестане (VII—XV вв.). Махачкала, 1969 г., с. 97—98.