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Brosse Street Journal » Health:

Exorcist From Gali

By Nana Abshilava
Brosse Street Journal
Wednesday, December 7 2005
Print article  |  Mail article   

"Otche nash, eje isi na nebesi, da svyatitsa imya tvoio, da budet
carstvo tvoioÖ. Amin, Amin, Amin."

Itís the 23rd Psalm in Russian, offered up as a prayer by Iliko Rostobaya - on a mobile phone.

"I donít have right to give you an interview," he says. "I am a savior of people and I do what the God and angels tell me. They are my journalists, and it is enough."

Rostobaya is about 60 years old. He lives in Perigali (first village of Gali), in an area that the disputed Georgia once controlled before losing it to the unrecognized government of Abkhazia after a bloody civil war 14 years ago. He serves his God and cures people afflicted by batonebi (demons). Some local people call him Ilia III. (Ilia II is the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church.)

Before the war, Rostobaya was the director of the house of culture in nearby Achigvara for over 30 years. He has a wife, two sons and one daughter. He suffered from obesity for many years and at one time weighed about 150 kg (330 pounds).

He traveled to several countries looking for help, without success. In Germany they tried forcing him to drink so much cold water he couldnít eat. He also tried acupuncture. But he says he cured himself. He suffered bad dreams that tortured him until he says "batonebi" came to him. He then lost 80 kg (about 175 pounds).

There are said to be 12 types of batonebi, and each causes a different illness. The word "batonebi" in the Georgian language can be used either as the plural form for gentleman, or it can be translated as "Lord." But in Abkhazia and the neighboring Georgian province of Mingrelia, "batonebi" can sometimes mean "demon."

"I always had dreams where two men pushed me to commit suicide, and nobody could help me," Rostobaya said. "And when I awoke I wanted to kill myself. It continued for many years. Then I began to feel that I was a savior and I could cure people from batonebi."

"Before I began Godís service, I was like other people. I loved women. I worked.

"Batonebi can curve a personís body. When it happens, the person doesnít understand what he does. He can kill anybody, even his child, because the devil lives in his body. But I can help them, because I am a savior. I am Godís messenger. Batonebi appears because of sins which people do."

Another batonebi is blamed for the red body rash also known as German measles. According to Rostobaya, when you have the disease, you can forecast the future or predict when others will catch the disease.

He says that if people get a big batonebi, they canít bathe for 40 days, canít go into mourning, canít drink alcohol, and canít wash and iron clothes. He says their body will curve and they may even try to crawl under a sofa.

He says such ill people need comfort, music, song and dance - and their own savior. The savior plays a panduri (Georgian folk music instrument) and sings, prays and lights candles. Patients who come from afar live in his house.

Nobody knows where the batonebi legend began, and why it is known only in Abkhazia and Mingrelia. Medical workers are skeptical.

"When children are small, parents must bring them to doctors and inoculate them against redness and pockmarks", said Maya Abakelia, a pediatrist. "I think (batonebi believers) are neurotics; I think they go mad."

The Georgian Orthodox Church doesnít recognize batonebi and its Saviors.

"I donít believe Iliko. Demons can be cured and only by the church. I also had such patients, and we followed rules. I was starving for them for 40 days and praying, no song and dance like they do. I donít give them permission to come to church with a panduri . This is a temple and not a concert hall", said Father Sergei, priest of the Ilori temple in nearby Ochamchira.

"I cure a lot of diseases," Rostobaya said. "For example, I cured a couple from Gali with AIDS. I cured a lot of people from every country. I am famous. Everybody knows me. I cure over the phone. My words cure them even over the mobile. Even my saliva helps them.

"I had a guest from Russia two months ago. She will have an accident tomorrow," said Iliko as she shows a photo of a young girl. "She is a reporter like you, but if I donít help her, sheíll die."

Helped by a dream, he found an old church that was buried under 10 meters of earth. Helped by his son and some neighbors, he dug it up and found old bones, axes and other weapons.

Some people believe it is the burial spot of Queen Tamar Bagrationi. They built a big cross that lights up every night to mark the spot.

"When archaeologists from Tbilisi heard about the church, they came and wanted to make an examination to see in what century it was built," Rostobaya said. "But I didnít allow them, because (the batonebi) donít give me the right."

He dreams about rebuilding the church. But for now, after each recovery from a batonebi, he and his patients perform an animal sacrifice at the church he found.

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