Monday, December 12, 2011

Central Asian Head Gear

turkmen elder and telpek
Turkmen telpek
Central Asians adore hats: there's an astonishing range of fabrics, colours, shapes, and embroidery. Each region has its own style and the head piece can be an indicator of status, age or gender.

Turkmen are most readily identified by their big, woolly telpeks. Usually made of black sheepskin, the hats are shaggy and surprisingly very practical. Despite appearances, it was the headgear of choice for nomads. Even today the wearer has usually shaved his head and wears a skull cap underneath. This creates a microclimate that prevents overheating in summer and extreme cold in winter. Happily the telpek industry is alive and well in Turkmenistan.

Kyrgyz alkalpak white felted hat
Kyrgyz al kalpak
Kyrgyzstan's al kalpak is more than a hat: it symbolizes the snowy peaks and vitality of this mountainous country. It is the most sacred part of the Kyrgyz national dress and is referenced in many everyday expressions, e.g. "If you lose your kalpak then you will lose you head". Kalpaks are still hand made of white embroidered felt with black highlighted seams.

The skull cap, known as duppi or tyubeteyka, is an integral part of Uzbek national attire, both for men and women. There is a large diversity of forms: conic, four-sided, round, and cupola-shaped. Often richly embroidered, they can resemble a delicately bejewelled carpet.

Each region has developed its own style, passed from generation to generation. Every woman enriches the traditional ornamental motifs with her own creative images and stylization.

emroidered uzbek skull cap
Emroidered Uzbek tyubeteyka
Probably the most common men's skull cap originates from Chust in the Ferghana Valley: it is black with 16 decorative arches around the border, representing strong gates through which no enemies may enter to kill the wearer of the skull cap.

Often there are almond or pepper patterns stitched on these. The design is an ingenious 'flat pack'. In Tashkent there is a garden cafe that has used this shape to create a very cool sun umbrella!

Bukhara is the Uzbek centre of gold embroidery and the skull caps here, particularly favoured for weddings, reveal very delicate needlework.

Tajiks wear skull caps with Zoroastrian and Indo-Iranian symbols woven into the design, e.g. fire and the swastika. The people of the Pamirs wear round and flat caps and people of different religious sects within the same region may also wear group-specific skull caps.

Although Kazakhs often wear the felt al kalpak, their hats can also be made with fur and feathers.  Kazakh men may wear a rounded warm cap, trimmed with astrakhan, marten or raccoon fur. During the harsh winter they wear the tymak, a fur cap with three flaps - a pair for the ears and a longer and broader flap at the back.

uzbek man skull cap black white
Chust style skull cap
The Kazakh bridal headpiece, the conical saukele, is 70cm high, and is the most expensive item in a dowry. Ornamental images such as the tree of life or ram horns form part of the saukele design.

This article is merely a quick romp through some of the fabulous head pieces of Central Asia. The finest examples are on view in the national museums. In Uzbekistan, Urgut and Shakhrisabz are good places to pick up vintage pieces.

However, it is on the streets, in the bazaars and the countryside where you will be dazzled by how strong and glorious the head gear traditions in Central Asia remain.

Related post: Uzbek Robes Features in Russian Textiles Book 
Elechek - Kyrgyz Traditional Headdress Part #1
Elechek - Kyrgyz Traditional Headdress Part #1

Kazakh bridal headpiece, the conical saukele