Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: The Hermes Scarf and the Appaloosa Horse

Luxury goods group Hermes recently introduced its new collection of silk scarves and shawls. A collection item called Appaloosa des Steppes has Kyrgyz national patterns together with an image of an Appaloosa horse.

This was actively covered by Kyrgyz media, but an exciting story, which this item, intentionally or not, symbolizes, was left almost unnoticed.

The story has rewritten the history of the Appaloosa horse. Still it is unknown whether the luxury goods maker was aware of and inspired by it — Hermes did not respond to a request to comment.

The story begins back in 2012, when Scott Engstrom, then a 68-year-old lady, who breeds Appaloosa horses in New Zealand, saw Conor Woodman, a director and a television presenter, in his Around the World in 80 Trades.

In that show Conor traded different things in foreign lands — from coffee in Africa and chili sauce in India to surfboards in China and horses in Kyrgyz Republic. Scott saw Conor selling a horse to a farmer and it looked like one of her Appaloosas. "And then I stood up in my lounge and screamed my head off..." recalled Scott.

As Conor said, after Around The World in 80 Trades, in which he bartered his way round the world, a lot of people got in touch with all sorts of crazy business ideas they wanted him to help them with. So, as he remembers, he discounted Scott’s email as the ramblings of a crazy old lady and got on with his life.

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Hermes' Appaloosa des Steppes scarf - there are a dozen colour combinations
But Scott didn't stop and was bombarding Conor with emails — for years she had a theory that the Appaloosa actually came from Asia. She had to find Martin, the horse Conor sold.  DNA evidence would prove her theory.

As believed by most breeders, Appaloosas arrived in Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors. Scott believed they moved into America across the Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska, long before the Spanish Conquistadors brought them to the continent.

This is how the film Secret Horse: Quest for the True Appaloosa was made. In 2012, Scott and Conor flew to Kyrgyz Republic to search for the evidence. The film tells Scott’s story — how her passion about the Appaloosa ended up changing the history of the North American horse.

The journey was not easy — Martin , the horse, had been sold multiple times and the trail led to a dead end. After attending a game of kok boru or a goat polo, they learned about a place where there were horses that sounded like Appaloosas. Scott and Conor spent three days until they reached a remote valley, which finally rewarded them with a herd of Appaloosas.

In Kyrgyz Republic the horses are known as chaar, which translates as 'spotted'. The owners of the horses let them be DNA tested. Scott's preterm confidence was finally confirmed when DNA results from Texas University were received.

The Hermes scarf reminds us about this truly unique combination — a combination of Appaloosa horses and their origins.

Here is the trailer for this remarkable film. [2 minutes. If the film does not display on your device, go directly here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT50CsElLYc]

This article originally appeared in GO KYG - Your Unofficial Guide to Kyrgyz Republic and is republished with permission.

Related posts:
Kyrgyz-style Polo: Ulak Tartysh or Buzkash
The Silk Road Inspires Piaget's Secrets and Lights Collection
Ikat Porcelain Tableware
Valentino Haute Couture Meets Suzani
Kyrgyz Blues


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ikat Designs - the Bibu Hanum Label, Tashkent

Muhayo Alliyeva, centre, and some of the Bibi Hanum team
Dana Davies, Uzbek Journeys client and owner of Caravanthology, an online textile gallery and boutique, has contributed this interesting article about the Tashkent ikat studio Bibi Hanum.

Muhayo Alliyeva, founder of the Uzbek fashion house Bibi Hanum, is one of three sisters raised in Tashkent by the father in a family that did not conform to the stereotype of the traditional Central Asian patriarchy.

He was, in fact, enlightened and progressive in seeking independence for his daughters. "My father was himself well educated with diplomas from two universities and always wanted all of us to get good education".

An older sister, indecisive and indifferent about education, went to seamstress school to learn tailoring skills. It was Muhayo, however, who became fascinated with her sister’s assigned projects and provided regular assistance with her homework, learning the craft at the same time.  As the two worked together, neighbors took note and began ordering clothes for themselves. 

In the period of economic instability following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Muhayo’s father believed that learning English would be a tremendous advantage for Muhayo and did not oppose her, then 17, spending a year studying in the United States as an exchange student.

At that time it was not common for a young Uzbek woman to live independently in a foreign country. Muhayo remembers when her relatives were trying to dissuade me from going, her father's response was "If she is selected among all the competitors, I will give all the support that she needs".

An outfit from Bibi Hanum's new collection
Her study abroad exposed Muhayo to Western culture, an experience that continues to influence her worldview and design. Not long after her return to Tashkent, her father passed away.

Then a turning point for her family - her two sisters opted for traditional, arranged marriages while 19 year-old Muhayo chose to follow the path of autonomy initiated by her father.

Her fluency in English opened doors. First teaching at Tashkent’s international school, Muhayo enjoyed independence but wanted more challenging work.

After completing an international business course she opened a design and sewing workshop in her mother’s garage hoping to include her sisters in the venture. At the same time, she worked as a cultural assistant at the US Embassy with assignments that included international art events. 

“Unfortunately, my sisters both suffered domestic violence that is sadly common in my country, and I couldn’t convince them to seek change. I tried to involve them in our business, but their family problems always interfered.

I was determined my married life would be different; I am fortunate my husband is very kind and supportive in everything that I do, even allowing me to take our children abroad with me even though he cannot leave his job to join us. He is always there to help me when I need it.”

While her passion for design and textiles continued to grow, Muhayo experienced a revelation when she discovered the Western celebration of Uzbek textiles that included extensive museum collections, academic experts, publications and information not readily available in Uzbekistan.

Determined to play a role in reviving and adapting Uzbek textile traditions that were being copied elsewhere, Muhayo applied for and was awarded a grant in 2011 from the Prince Klaus Fund in the Netherlands to produce 20 robes (chapan) based on traditional designs from a catalog of vintage robes. With this, her company Bibi Hanum was formed, named after the favored wife of Amir Timur (Tamerlane). Two years later, the Bibi Hanum line was accepted into the prestigious Santa Fe International Folk Art Market  (New Mexico, USA) where she has continued to bring her designs every year since.

Gorgeous photo album covered in ikat and suzani
With growing demand for her line, her sisters unavailable, and a desire to help women, Muhayo saw the opportunity to “do well by doing good” and reached out to form alliances with programs helping women develop skills and economic independence.

Muhayo also works with Istiqbolli Avlod, an Uzbek program of End Slavery Now, helping women and girls escape human trafficking, providing training and employment in her workshop.

"I think there is a reason for everything that we do in life. I feel that all of the places where I worked had a tremendous impact on my life and in what I would do in the future. I worked in every job with great passion and loved learning new things and tried to improve the job I was doing. I could never say no to extra work. I have learned so much working both at International School and the US Embassy. All of the skills that I obtained working there, I am applying in my current work.”

The Bibi Hanum atelier is located adjacent to the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent.  Phone the atelier before you go, to get precise directions for your taxi driver. Tel: +998 90 947 91 95 or  +998 71 200 10 40.

In addition to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, Muhayo exhibits at shows in New York and Europe.

Entrance to the Bibi Hanum atelier, adjacent to the Chorsu Bazaar
She also sells internationally through her ecommerce website, expanding her fashion line to include home accessories exquisitely crafted with traditional materials and techniques adapted to a modern lifestyle.

Related posts:

The Story of Uzbek Silk Production: Step by Step
Oscar de la Renta's Love Affair with Uzbek Ikat
Uzbek Ikat as Interior Design Element
Ferghana Valley Silk Ikats: Tying the Clouds
Ikat Porcelain Tableware

Muhayo Alliyeva in her boutique, Bibi Hanum

Monday, January 30, 2017

Kyrgyzstan: Yurt Preschools Reach Nomadic Children

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Yurt preschool in the summer jailoo
At first glance, it looks like another iconic felt yurt in a remote pasture high in Kyrgyzstan’s mountains. But step through the door and a visitor can quickly see it is no ordinary nomadic dwelling.

Tiny desks are arranged on the carpeted floor. The curved walls are festooned with fairytale characters. A whiteboard stands at one end.

This yurt has been converted into something new for semi-nomadic Kyrgyz who spend the warmer months on the Aktash jailoo, or highland pasture: a school.

Fifteen families from the jailoo, perched in the mountains south of Lake Issyk-Kul, send their 26 children to the Ananaika preschool for three hours a day to help them make friends and prepare for elementary school. (Ananaika roughly means “sweetheart.”) Most are aged three to six.

During the school’s first weeks in operation, some children had trouble socializing, according to Jenishgul Sharsheeva, 45, the teacher.

“When they stay at the jailoo, where the nearest family can be more than a kilometer away, children hardly make any friends,” Sharsheeva explained, adding that even with her 18 years’ experience in teaching preschool in a village below the mountains, working with jailoo children was a challenge.

“Many of them have never seen basic things like modeling clay and colorful pencils. For the first few days, some would try to eat the modeling clay; others would only draw with a black pencil.”

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Jenishgul Sharsheeva and her pupils in the high mountain pasture

Over the course of the summer her students have learned to count to 10, differentiate colors, geometrical shapes and do some basic spelling.

The Soviet collectivization drive during the 1920’s and 30’s forced most Kyrgyz to abandon their traditional nomadic lifestyle.

Yet, today some families still lead semi-nomadic lives, travelling into the mountains with their cows, horses and sheep to graze during the summer months.

Few stay in the jailoo year-round; the semi-nomadic herder families mostly hail from remote villages, where their children receive only a rudimentary education. And few have the opportunity to attend preschool.

“Preschool is crucial for a child’s development,” said Burulai Aitikulova, education program officer at the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), a non-profit that piloted the idea of jailoo-based preschools in 2006. “That’s why we decided to follow the children wherever they are to give them access to education.”

AKF has opened 20 jailoo preschools around Kyrgyzstan since 2006. Their idea is now being replicated by a local foundation run by former interim president Roza Otunbayeva. That initiative oversaw the opening of 100 jailoo preschools in 2016, including Ananaika.

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Children using colouring books in the preschool yurt
Asylbek Zhoodonbekov, a program coordinator at the Otunbayeva Initiative, explains that some families live far from the jailoo preschools, but still bring their children each morning on horseback. “That’s how much people want to educate [their kids],” he said.

Five-year-old Aelina walks more than a kilometer every day with two siblings and her grandmother, Chinar Chikeeva, to get to Ananaika. “In the mornings the children are so excited that they don’t want to have breakfast, they just want to go see their teacher and their new friends,” said Chikeeva, 52.

Chikeeva’s family stays at the jailoo for four months every year. There is no preschool near their winter village, but there is an elementary school. Aelina says she is especially excited to attend that school in two years’ time, “especially now that I know how to count.”

But for some children, the yurt may be the only schoolhouse they ever see. Thirty-nine-year old Gulzat Ishembaeva migrates year-round among pastures with her husband and seven children. None of her kids – the oldest is 21 – finished middle school. She’s not sure if her six-year-old son, Beksultan, who also attends Ananaika, will be able to attend school next year. “It’s far, and we don’t have a car,” said Ishembaeva. “But at least he joined this preschool. I can see him learning; I’m very happy about it.”

Less than a fifth of Kyrgyz children attend preschool, according to data compiled by the Ministry of Education and Science; most of them live in urban areas. The quality of Kyrgyz education has fallen since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but even then, only 35 percent of children had access to preschool, says Aigul Kamalova, an expert on preschool education at the ministry. Kamalova says that the ministry is open to creative solutions, and hails the innovation of jailoo preschools.

Up in the jailoo, at Ananaika, the children are learning to differentiate a triangle from a circle by constructing the shapes with pinecones on the grass. “These children are so thirsty for education, for knowledge,” Sharsheeva, the teacher, said. “Teaching a kid who is seeing a book for the first time in his life is a different experience for me, but I love it and I hope that next year we can take more children.

Spend 10 minutes enjoying this inspiring video of a yurt pre-school. Listen to the children, parents and teachers as they share their enthusiasm and joy. (In Kyrgyz and Russian with English subtitles)

If the video does not appear on your screen, please do directly to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rBUCsU1sYg

This article, written by Asel Kalybekova, was originally published on EurasiaNet.org

Since then, many more yurt preschools have been established with the assistance of the Roza Otunbayeva Initiative and the Aga Khan Foundation.

Related posts:
Yurts of Central Asia
Kyrgyz Chii - Yurt Screens and Mats
Manaschi - Bards of Kyrgyzstan
Felted Carpets of Kyrgyzstan