Introduction / History
The Rutul live in the Caucasus region of what is now southern Russia and northern Azerbaijan. They inhabit primarily the valleys of the Samur River and its tributaries in the southern part of Dagestan and mountains in the North of Azerbaijan around Sheki. The traditional territory where the Rutul live is between mountain ranges that are hard to cross, and it is marked by deep gorges of torrential rivers. The winters are cold, and the summers are hot and dry with occasional rains and fog higher up in the mountains. The mountain slopes are covered with grassy vegetation and are good summer pasture for livestock. Snow covers much of the mountains year round.
The Rutul’s name for themselves is Myḥabišdy čel or in Cyrillic Мыха́Ӏбишды чӀал. They do not call themselves Rutul. The name came from outside, though its origins are not very clear. Their language belongs to the Dagestanian group of the Northeast Caucasian language family. Knowledge of Russian is widespread among the Rutul in Dagestan, and some of the older people also speak Azerbaijani. In Azerbaijan, on the contrary, some of the older people speak Russian while a younger generation speaks Azerbaijani fluently. The Arabic script was used for Rutul until the 1930s. However, throughout the Soviet period Rutul has not been a written language. Nowadays Rutul has both Cyrillic and Latin-based alphabets that are used in Dagestan and Azerbaijan respectively. But the majority of the Rutul use Azerbaijani (In Azerbaijan) and Russian (in Russia) for written communication. However, with the rise in social media, texting, and chatting on mobile phones more and more young people use their mother tongue for communication.
What are their lives like?
Traditional Rutul settlements consisted of several quarters, each belonging to one tukhum, or clan. Each tukhum was composed of families who had descended from a common male ancestor. In the past, the center of the settlement was a mosque and a neighboring teahouse or clubhouse, where the men of one tukhum would gather. In the Soviet period, new settlements were built. Sometimes whole settlements were relocated to agricultural areas or to the Caspian plain. Today, a club or "house of culture" is located in the center of the settlement.
Until the early 1900s, most Rutul lived in two-room, one- or two-storied stone houses. Instead of windows, the houses had light holes. Most modern buildings now have windows and are decorated with thick wool or felt carpets.
Sheep and cattle production is the main occupation of the Rutul. Techniques for raising sheep have improved over the years, with better care administered during the long winter months. The herdsmen also grow spring and winter wheat, rye, barley, millet, and spelt (a hardy wheat). Traditional crafts include making pottery, leather footwear, and wool-based items such as cloth, felt, carpets, and ornamented socks. Their beautiful wool carpets and ornamented socks are produced commercially. But with globalization and urbanization processes growing, more and more people have chosen to relocate to the cities and live a less traditional and more comfortable life. Young people go to universities, get jobs, and travel the world.
The Rutul traditionally eat meat, dairy products, and flour-based dishes. Meat is eaten fresh, dried, and as sausages. Milk is often preserved as butter and cottage cheese. Their diet is enriched with fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Formerly, marriages were arranged by the parents, primarily the fathers. A matchmaker often mediated between the families. Choice of a groom was determined by the wealth of his family, the social status of his tukhum (clan), his diligence, and his health. Today, nuclear families are the norm, though some tukhums still existed in the early 1900s. Families are patriarchal (male dominated); women are fully subordinate to men. All family members submit to the authority of the male head of the household.
What are their beliefs?
Islam became widespread among the Rutul during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Each settlement had a mosque and Muslim religious leaders. However, mingled with their Islamic practices were various ancient beliefs: a nature cult, hunting and fertility cults, animal worship, and occult rituals connected to family life and labor activities. Magic rites were performed to summon sunshine or rain, and worshippers flocked to sacred groves, mountains, springs, tombs, and other sites connected with Muslim saints. Magical remedies were popular, including talismans (objects believed to confer supernatural powers or protection), "holy" water, earth from saints' tombs, and all kinds of invocations to false gods. Today, the Rutul are virtually all Shafi'ite Muslim.
What are their needs?
Most of the Rutul have not heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. Christian broadcasts, the Jesus film, and church planting efforts are important for the presentation of Light of the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Russia and share Christ with the Rutul.
* Pray that the doors of Russia will remain open to the preaching of the Gospel.
* Ask God to use the small number of Rutul Christians to share the message of salvation with their friends and families.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Rutul.