The self-designation Hunzib is taken from the name of their largest village, they live in Russia (1,35 th. p.). The other versions of the name -- gunzeb, hunzal, enzeb - are derivations. The Hunzib are also known as nakhadines, a name derived from the place-name Nakhda. The Hunzib language belongs to the Dido subgroup of the northwestern group (Avar-Ando-Dido) of Dagestan languages. There is no consensus on the position of the Hunzib language in the genealogy of Dido languages.
In the everyday life of the Hunzibs the native language has retreated to domestic use only, and in social situations and educational spheres the Avar language is used. The Hunzib have no literary language of their own and in writing they also use the Avar language. During its development Hunzib has been influenced by the Turkish, Arab, Avar, and Georgian languages. In more recent times most of the loan-words have come from Russian, especially those dealing with politics and technical matters.
Administratively the Hunzib inhabit three villages (Hunzib, Gorbutlj and Nakhada) in the Tsunta District of Dagestan. Some Hunzib families live on the plains of Dagestan and in the Kvareli District of Georgia. The closest neighbours of the Hunzibs to the north, east and south are the Avars and in the west the Bezhtas. As regards geography the three Hunzib villages are situated in a mountain area with a harsh climate, on the upper reaches of the River Avar-Koisu.
Anthropologically the Hunzibs are of the Caucasian type of the Balkano-Caucasian race, characterized by light pigmentation and tall stature. Certain features characteristic of the Caspian type are also discernible.
The Hunzib are associated with the Ando-Dido culture which can also be generally regarded as Dagestan culture. The only differentiating ethnic feature of the Hunzib is their language and in all other spheres the differences are only in minor details -- some Georgian and Kakhetian influences exist in Hunzib architecture.
The origin of the Hunzibs is closely connected with the origin of all the Ando-Dido peoples. This is a matter that has caused extensive academic debate and a consensus has yet to be reached. In 1980 M. Aglarov suggested that the ethnic diversity of the mountain areas of Dagestan is due to the local polystructural political system, where the stability of independent political units and social order promoted the formation of a variety of languages.
The Hunzibs are Muslim (Sunnite). Islam was introduced to the area in the 8th century by the Arabs. In the 10th century Christianity started to spread from Georgia and Kakhetia. After the military campaigns of Timur in the 14th century, Islam became predominant in the mountains of Dagestan. The consolidation of Islam within Hunzib society occurred in the 16th--17th centuries. The pagan traditions which existed long before the coming of Islam underwent major transformations but still retained their importance in Hunzib society.
The specific features of the Hunzib economy have been determined by the natural conditions in the mountains. The shortage of arable land and the existence of good pastures created favourable conditions for seasonal animal breeding. Sheep and goats formed the bulk of the livestock but cattle and horses were also kept as draught animals. The shortage of land was compensated to some extent by the use of terraced fields, but still additional grain had to be bought from the plains villages. The main crops of the Hunzibs were wheat and rye and in the second half of the 19th century the potato was added. The Ando-Dido peoples developed a well functioning system of economic integration, where different goods were produced in different areas and exchanged between the various ethnic groups.
Man's costume: trousers, shirt, beshmet, Circassian coat, sheepskin fur coats; knitted, leather, felt footwear. A female costume: a dress - shirt, girded with fabric belt, trousers, cap, scarfs, shawles; the same kinds of footwear. Silver ornaments: earings, rings, bracelets, temporal suspension brackets etc.
Food is flour and meat-and-milk. The basic dishes: bread, a dough - oatmeal, porridges, pies, flour and meat skillies.