Dannon: “In Soviet Georgia…”

From 1973 to 1978, the Dannon yogurt company ran a series of successful commercials featuring centenarians from “Soviet Georgia“. Here is a transcript of one of the TV commercials (with captions in brackets):

In Soviet Georgia, there are two curious things about the people [Tarkuk Lasuria, age 96]: a large part of their diet is yogurt [Temur Vanacha, age 105], and a large number of them live past 100. Of course, many things affect longevity [Kasteh Tanya, age 101], and we’re not saying Dannon yogurt will help you live longer. But Dannon is a natural, wholesome food that does supply many nutrients [Shadat Marcholia, age 103]. By the way, 89-year-old Bagrat Tabagua liked Dannon so much, he ate two cups. That pleased his mother very much.

When I first saw this ad, three things stood out to me as strange:

  1. Although I would occasionally get yogurt or kefir at convenience stores in Tbilisi, I don’t think I ever once had yogurt in a Georgian village. Maybe they eat it somewhere, but I don’t associate yogurt with Georgian cuisine. On the other hand, yogurt, in a variety of forms, appears frequently in Turkish cuisine.
  2. The men appear to be wearing some kind of traditional dress, but it’s not the kind of traditional dress I would expect to see in most of Georgia. In particular, several of them are wearing a kind of headwrap that I’ve only ever seen in old photographs and ethnographic depictions of Mingrelians, Adjarans, and Laz. In other words, their dress, if it’s actually authentic, has a distinctly lowland style, rather than the highland, mountaineer style I was expecting to see.
  3. Few of the names sound familiar to me. I’ve never heard of TarkukKasteh, and ShadatTemur is a name of Turkic origin not often used in Georgia; those Georgians who do use it seem to be mostly from extra-Georgian ethnic groups (like Svans). Bagrat was the name of a powerful dynastic family in Georgia and Armenia, though I’ve never actually met someone with that name. The surnames also sound strange to me, not having the typical -shvili or -dze suffixes. The only mention of Marcholia I can find is of a director of a play at the Abkhaz State Drama TheaterTabaghua, as far as I can tell, is a Mingrelian name; at least, it’s the name of a fifteen-year-old X Factor contestant from Zugdidi (will she live to become a centenarian?). In any case, none of these names are names I was expecting to hear.

dannon-georgia-yogurt

These oddities can be explained, I suppose, by the fact that the commercials were actually shot in Abkhazia. I can’t tell the precise ethnic identities of the people featured: probably they are not Karts (i.e. regular Georgians), but they may be Mingrelians, Svans, or Abkhazians. I’m certain that the American executives involved in the production of the commercials had no idea that such distinctions even exist (the obituary of Dannon president Juan Metzger refers to the subject of the ads as “old Russians”).

dannon-georgia-commercial-director

Do they eat yogurt in Georgia? If so, is it limited to a particular region? There’s a Wikipedia article about a yogurt-like food called matsoni, but I’ve never heard of it anywhere else (as is often the case with this kind of thing, there’s an edit war over whether the dish is of Georgian or Armenian origin).

Regardless, the ads were a huge success, and they played a major role in thrusting yogurt into the mainstream of American food.

Further reading:

dannon-in-soviet-georgia

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Dannon: “In Soviet Georgia…”

  1. Hey, glad to see you’re still posting. I always assumed that when people talked about Georgian yogurt they just meant mats’oni, although supposedly there is some distinction between the two things which I’ve never understood–something to do with the process of preparation, or the bacteria, or what? We definitely ate a ton of mats’oni up in Svaneti (where they called it martswen and made it pretty much daily), but I bought the fresh village version at some of the produce shops down in Tbilisi too from time to time. In addition to that corporate stuff they sell in the grocery stores and markets.

    That ad’s a classic, for sure!

  2. When I first saw “In Soviet Georgia…”, I expected some kind of punch line, like “…Yogurt eats YOU!”

    Here in Japan, it seems that the media keep saying even today (in vague expression where they are technically not lying) that some Georgians are known to live very long [not a lie], and they eat yogurt [not a lie]. Companies are trying to sell what is called “Caspian Yogurt” this way. I’m not sure if it’s okay to sell Georgian things as Caspian. Perhaps it’s not even Georgian to begin with. It might be random yogurt only given a fancy name.

    I heard that in the USSR, Mingrelians and Svans were classified as Georgians. So perhaps calling them Georgians was technically not wrong?

  3. The Armenian version also seems to be -TS- (maTSun). The Persian version is māST. The Syriac version is maSTā (originally mSāṮā). These three may or may not be related.

    The other post of yours is, well, spicy. Mingrelians remind me of Hazaras in Afghanistan. The problems of identity are personal/internal/subtle/touchy/difficult. I see you’re writing very good articles, thought-provoking and bold, frank and sincere, based on some serious research/personal experiences.

  4. They’re most likely Abkhazians.

    – The last name Lasuria is borne by a few Abkhaz on Wikipedia, for example Robert Lasuria, dean of the physics and math faculty of the Abkhaz State University; A. Lasuria, apparently a playwright of at least one play named “Toothache”; and Mushni Lasuria, an Abkhaz poet.

    – The next man, Temur Vanacha, is definitely Abkhaz, although he is referred to as “Temuraz Vanacha” in the Wikipedia article about his son, notable Abkhaz WWII veteran and educator Ivan Vanacha. Apparently old Temur(az) made it another 12 years and lived until 117!

    – Unfortunately I can’t find anything about Mr. Tanya. Since Tanya is such a popular first name, any searches done for Таня inevitably just lead to millions of results where it’s the first, not last, name. I can’t find anything for the first name Kaste either.

    – Marcholia seems to be a rare surname, though I did find a woman on a Russian social media website that bears it. She lives in Abkhazia, so there’s a decent chance she’s ethnically Abkhaz. Of course, names ending in -ia often point to Mingrelian provenance, e.g. Gamsakhurdia, Beria, Tsaguria, etc. However, I read somewhere (a lamenting Russian-language livejournal post by an Abkhaz patriot, if I remember correctly) that a lot of Abkhaz surnames have been Mingrelianized, so to speak, so that they now bear Mingrelian-sounding ending. That means the -ia ending pointing to Mingrelian heritage is far from a slam-dunk. I’d say the jury is out on this one but Marcholia can be pinned down to either Mingrelian or Abkhaz. My gut tells me to lean towards Abkhaz, though, because if it was Mingrelian I feel like there would be a lot more results for მარჩოლია/მარჭოლია than there are, and that the Marcholia I found on social media probably wouldn’t be as well integrated with Abkhaz-surnamed friends as she seems to be (though I could be wrong; I don’t know how tense the inter-ethnic situation is right now in every part of Abkhazia). Seems a safer bet to go with Abkhaz.

    – As for the last guy, Bagrat Tabagua, that sounds pretty Abkhaz to me. Bagrat is a name he shares with the famous Abkhaz writer Bagrat Shinkuba, and the -gua ending sounds like it’s probably a labialized uvular consonant. In fact, a quick visit to the Abkhaz language Wikipedia yields a couple of results for notable Abkhaz people with the surname Tabagua: Табаҕәуа. Once again, though, it’s not really a sure thing because there is famous “Georgian” (I don’t know if they’re Georgian by ethnicity or nationality, though) named Paataa Tabagua (პაატა ტაბაღუა). Since there are a couple of notable Abkhaz Tabaguas, though, and the fact that one of them is a member of the Abkhaz government leads me to believe Bagrat was probably Abkhaz.

    The anthropologist Sula Benet wrote a couple of books after she spent some time doing research in the Caucasus, one of them called The Abkhasians: The Long-living People of the Caucasus which dealt, at least in part, with their longevity. All or most of these centenarians from Abkhazia being ethnically Abkhaz would, then, make a lot of sense.

      • Thanks! Yeah, like you said, I’d imagine it was an issue with documentation.

        Sorry to be off-topic, but I commented somewhere on your blog (the Q&A section maybe) before I made this post about the centenarians, and I was wondering if you saw that one. I’m not registered, just commenting as a guest, so I have no way to check my comment history and see. Since you saw and approved this post, which like I said I made later, but not my previous one makes me wonder if it just didn’t go through.

        I wanted to know what you thought of Hewitt’s Discordant Neighbours. I saw you mentioned it in an entry. It’s being sold at B&N at a significant discount right now ($38, down from a whopping $150), but I don’t want to waste even that much if it’s just Hewitt ranting and raving about the evil Kartvelians. I need to be able to trust the factual information, and I’m not sure I can do that if it reads like a screed.

        Sorry if you saw my earlier post, since this one is little more than a duplicate.

    • I can assure you that the only abkhazian person in the whole video is Mr. Vanacha. The rest are Megrelians from Georgia’s western region.

      Lasuria, is ethnonym version of a last name, and a derivation from root word of Laz. There are many versions of this name among Georgians. Lazishvili, Lazuri, Lazuria, Lazidze,… Another theory is that it comes from first name ლასური/lasuri. There is long history of Lasurias living in Abkhazia. Some even participated in Abkhazian-Russian conflict and ended up getting deported to Turkey. Large number of them actually assimilated into Abkhazian population. This is not uncommon. There are many Abkhazians today with Georgian origins who live in Turkey or even Syria, who fought against Russian empire and lost. I was able to find even my distant relatives among Turkey’s Abkhazian population and I am Rachvel. Simple facebook search will do the trick, if you want to check it out. Vast majority of surnames with laz root come from either Megrelian or Imeretian regions.

      Tanya is not uncommon name among Megrels, although most would probably spell it as Tania. ტანი (Tani) means body in Georgian and Megralian. However, nowadays there are actually some numbers of Abkhazians with the lastname of Tanya. Most of them have Georgian origins. Similar to Babia, Chania, Mania, Pataraia…

      Marcholia. The root of the lastname is Marcho which in Georgian (and also in Megralian) is associated with curing, or tending to someone. It can also mean someone who is very loyal and obedient (მორჩი/მორჩილი). მარჩენალი/marchenali translates as someone’s keeper. I had a classmate with that very same last name in Tbilisi.

      Tabagua is also Megrelian. A simple google search should do if you want to look up some Georgians with that surname. Tabaguas were actually chased out and ethnically cleansed from Abkhazia specifically for their Georgian origins. There is a large number of Tabaguas among Georgia’s internally displaced population (IDPs) for that reason.

      In general, I would not be surprised to see some Abkhazians with these same lastnames, or at least derivations of them. Historically, there was always a very large presence of Georgian population in current Sanigia/Abkhazian region. Abkhaz and Georgian were even used interchangeably at various points in history and there are multiple examples of Georgian nobles in Sanigeti/Abkhazeti region:Shavliani, Marushiani, and Kobakhia to name a few.

      In general, truly Abkhazian lastnames will be ended by sufix of either Ba or ipa. Like for example, Ardzinba, Shamba, Adleiba, Ketsba, Inalipa, Adleipa… There are vast number of people in Abkhazia whose last names end on ia, a, ava, or ua. However, most of those last names have Georgian origin and, combined with indigenous Abkhazian population, make up the indigenous people of Abkhazia.

      To digress a little bit, a vast number of Georgians actually have their ancestry stemming Abkhazian region. It was a mountainous area which was used (like Svaneti, Racha, and Mtskheta-mtianeti) area to repopulate Georgia after constant incursions in the south. Even my lastname, for example, Kobakhidze originated from Sanigeti/Abkhazian (from the Kobakhia house of nobles).

      As for Matsoni, it is hugely popular in Georgia. Which is specifically the reason why people dont by them in stores. Most of the time it is homemade by people who live in villages and countrysides. Georgians rarely consume wine bought in stores either; however, that does not mean wine is not popular in Georgia. In general, Georgians are quite skeptic of anything bought outside and like to make things at home.

      • Thanks for these remarks! What about the first names? Tarkuk sounds like it could maybe be a Kartvelian name, but what about Katseh and Shadat? Of what original spelling is “Katseh” the transliteration?

        And why did I never have or even hear about matsoni in Georgia? Most of my time was spent around Tbilisi and Kakheti; is matsoni a western dish?

        • Firstly, Samegrelo is notorious in Georgia for having some of the most weird sounding first names in all of Georgia. It even often becomes subject of humor. They are usually very unique, not just in Georgia but all of Caucasus and can not be found anywhere else in the region. So figuring out first names in this ad will be a hard task, unless we can get someone who is Megrelian.

          I would spell it more as Tarquq then Tarkuk (თარქუქ). I dont think it is a very common name in Georgia, or in Megralia. I have not heard of many people, if any, with that name in Megrelia. But, again, there are so many weird names, its hard to keep track. This just might even actually give some credence to theory that the person might just be Abkhazian of Georgian origin. As I stated before, this is not uncommon at all. However, I could not find any Abkhazian on a social media with a name that remotely resembles Tarquq. Who knows…

          As a side note, there was a famous Mameluk (of Circassian origin) named Barquq, who established Burji dynasty in Egypt. It sounds similar to Tarkuk. It could simply be an Arabic name, since almost all Mameluks had their names changed when kidnapped. There are bunch of Middle-eastern names in Georgia and in Caucasus: Bakur, Jemal to name a few.

          Shadat (შადათ) is another name I have hardly ever heard. I cant tell you much about it. I have heard of name სადა/Sada used by Georgians. Not sure if there is a connection.

          Kasteh should stem from Greek Kosta. It is fairly common name in Georgia (and in Samegrelo) with various derivations: Kostia, Kotsia, Kosta, Kotso (კოწია, კოსტია, კოსტა, კოწო). These are all shortened Megrelian versions of name Constantine.

          Bagrat is a very common Georgian name. Number of Georgian nobles bore it. The surname of Georgian royal house is Bagrationi. King Bagrat III of Kartli unified all Georgian noble dynasties in establishing unified Georgian monarchy. He is actually berried in Bedia Monastery, Abkhazia. It is not used as commonly these days, like Giorgi, Lasha, Beqa…. However, it was much more commonly used back in the days. My grandfather was named Bagrati.

          Lastly, Temur (თემური) is another fairly common name in Georgia. It has Mongolian origin – Tamerlane was a turqo-mongol conqueror of 14-15 centuries. However, what is very interesting to me is that even though person has probably Abkhazian last name (Vanacha) his first name is Georgian version of Tamerlane. In North Caucasus, as well as among predominantly Muslim populations, word is Tsimur (წიმურ). Temuri (თემური) is almost exclusively used by Georgians, or those who speak Georgian tongue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s