France may be known for its berets, and Spain for its mantillas, but few national costumes are linked to as strong a sense of national pride as Georgia’s chokhas.
Dating from the Middle Ages, the chokha is a calf-length, wool coat for men inherent to the Caucasus, distinguishable by the bandoliers sewn across the breast and its tapered waist cut. Accessories typically include a hood, tall leather boots and a belt holding a long, embossed dagger, called a khanjali.
But this is no party costume. Nearly every Georgian household has photos of ancestors adorned in chokhas. Once a symbol of resistance to Bolshevik Russia’s 1921 takeover of an independent Georgia, the chokha has now come to represent a Georgia reborn, a country that revels in its cultural individuality.
Increasingly worn by Georgian men at weddings and official functions, the eye-catching coat is finally experiencing a comeback.
“When you love your chokha, you love your country. When you love your country, you love your traditions,” elaborated 60-year-old Rezo Sulava, a leader of the All-Georgia Chokha Society.
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.