Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Turkoman Ancestor Commemoration in Gilded Silver Ornaments

The motive or tribal consciousness of the Turkoman is expressed in the ornamentation of their homes, their animals and themselves.  To this day in Turkmenistan, their outdoor bread ovens made of clay bear the ancestral commemorative symbol: the ram's horn.   You will almost certainly see the symbols in the carpets, on the walls of their tents or homes, in the embroidered panels of their chapans (men's cloaks) and the yokes of the women's dresses and the edging of their head covering.  Perhaps the most important place for the symbol is the grave marker.

The wood amulet was worn when they were mountain dwellers.  And the dagdan, an amulet made from the wood of the dagdan tree is still highly prized.  It not only commemorates the spiritual practices of their ancestors, but the trees are still there in the mountains, the origin of the Turkoman.  The dagdan carries the power of the ancestor and of the mountain.

But the ancestor symbol is most striking when we see it mounted atop a gilded silver amulet (prayer box) with the prayers and blessings sealed inside.  Such a piece of jewelry is usually worn by women, just as the wood dagdan is worn by women and children.  Here is an example of a gilded silver amulet (acar bag) made by the Western Yomud tribe in the first third of the 1900s:

The central motif at the top of this amulet has an abstraction of a ram's head, the carnelian serving as the head and the outward curving gilded silver forms are the horns.  That is a very noticeable ram's head when the piece is worn.  More abstract are the embossed forms of the horns surrounding and dividing the carnelians on the front of the amulet.  

You also note that the ram's horn is so decorative that it has a floral quality.  This reveals the Turkoman's instinct to abstract the essence of floral and arboreal forms as well as their beautiful water symbols in pieces such as this: 

The flowing, almost rippling shapes that are purposely not gilded, but remain silver in order  more powerfully to suggest water in movement.  See more about this piece at

Still, the mountain and the ancestor motifs are two of the three most important and most universal symbols among the Turkoman.  In my next blog post, I will discuss their symbols for the family.  

Reference: Dieter and Reinhold Schlechter, Old Silver Jewellery of the Turkoman, 1983.

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