Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Mongolia, 100 Years Old Today

The Khans from Mongolia ruled a great part of the earth from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century.  But the same peoples had come out of the mountain home at least 400 years before the Empire was established in its farthest boundaries.  They settled much of the area where their rule became law in the fourteenth century.  Mongolia then had its turn as the ruled rather than the ruler until a hundred years ago when it gained its independence from China on December 29, 1911.

The Mongol tribes came out of the Altai mountains, which form a partition for China, Russia and Kazakhstan.  The descendants of these horseback riders from the mountains   are still spread far and wide throughout the Middle East and Central and South Asia.  From Central Europe and Turkey in the West to China in the East, from Russia and Kazakhstan in the North to the Northern part of India in the South.  The descendants of these people are still the major population in many of these countries.  They still add to the artisanal output of those nations from wonderful foods such as lamb and healthy dairy products to highly prized collectible carpets and jewelry.  Here is a photograph showing just one example

  The textile is home spun, hand dyed and hand loomed silk.  Then it is laboriously decorated almost over its complete surface with colorful silk threads in the old tribal patterns.  The asyk pendant is the symbol of the family, the two large heart shapes representing the father and mother and the small shape between them represent the child.  It is essentially a life symbol.  The ram's horn shapes on top of the asyk represent the tribal ancestors.  

The Turkic language separates into many different dialects; and they are written in different alphabets, in Chinese characters, in the Russian Cyrillic letters. It was at one time written in the Sanskrit-derived alphabet in India, which included parts of Pakistan and most of Afghanistan. By this time in Iran, they were writing Persian in the Arabic script;  in fact, in many parts of the Empire, the languages were written in Arabic script.  Finally the Turks of Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet in the 1920s, and Turkish became the first Ural-Altaic language to be written in the Latin letters that I am using to type this blog.  

Again I say Happy Birthday, Mongolia!  

You can see more Turkoman antique silver jewelry at

Monday, December 19, 2011

Turkoman Cloak and its Clasp, or Turkmen, Chapan and Capraz

The Turkoman or Turkmen, names of the same people in English, make lined, handwoven silk cloaks for the males, females and children.   There is a certain ceremonial flair in the traditional male dress up clothing, and the women's robes are long and loose and profusely decorated. The embroidery that they add to the handwoven silk or cotton, or even store-bought cotton cloth, makes the feminine clothing very attractive.  The feminine headcoverings are sometimes spectacular, usually including a large piece of intricately wrought gilded silver.  We will discuss the headdresses in a later post; today we will show the use of the capraz on the male's dress-up cloak or chapan,  and for the ladies we discuss the canne as on the chapan in the photo below, and the flower collar or guljaka in the second photo below.

First, you might want to see what a chapan, the Turkmen or Turkoman female's dressy cloak, looks like.

Another variation of the embroidered silk clothing for the Turkoman female is a traditional  garment called the chyrpy.  This piece of clothing looks like the chapan, but there is one big difference. The  sleeves are not meant to wear on the arms but to hang from the shoulder seams and be drawn to the back of the cloak and banded together at about what appears to be a waistline when looking at the pattern for the garment.   The long, narrow sleeves with no opening for the hands are bound together with a fancily embroidered strip of silk or a braided, tasseled cord.  The garment is then worn over the head, not around the shoulders or the body.  

The chapan for the male is just as beautifully put together from narrow hand loomed strips of silk.  This garment is worn in the conventional manner, wrapped around the body and held together in front with a sash, a belt or by a silver fastener such as the one in the photo above.  
The fastener so illustrated in the photo above is the canne, a linking together of beautiful silver panels, often gilded and with pendants hanging from the bottom of the panels.  

But if the chapan wearer has the option of being very ostentatious in his symbolic jewelry, he will choose to fasten his embroidered silk chapan with a pair of magnificent capraz, such as these:

The outside point would be sewn to the fabric of the cloak, while a braided cord would secure the inside edge of the two pieces at the front opening of the chapan.  Click here to see more information on this complete capraz. 

Now as to the ladies' dresses, we know that they will be long and loose, but did I tell you that they will also be long-sleeved and high necked?  You probably already knew that.  Let's see what a flower collar or guljaka is.  
  The Turkoman woman wears this impressive piece of gilded silver as a brooch clasped or laced to the top opening of her cloak or tunic, just at collar level.  For that reason the Turkic name of this piece translates into English as flower collar.   In this photo it is shown on a woman's shawl of handwoven silk with rich, fine silk embroidery in the ancestor symbol pattern.  The shawl is made from the same kind of silk as the male and female garments of the finest quality. 

We will continue the discussion of traditional Turkoman adornment for future posts.  

Contact me for further information on the availability of similar items, or browse through the online shop at Crafts of the Past at Artfire.  The shop includes Turkoman, Kazakh, Afghan and Uzbeki items and Yemen silver pieces.  Most of the Turkoman and the Yemen pieces are from around 1900 or before, while some of the Afghan, Kazakh and Uzbeki may date from the first half of the 1900s.