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Antique handmade, long piled nomad rugs are rare and unique. Primitive Rug reveals the stories of the nomadic people who wandered the deserts and mountains of Central Asia and beyond, leaving behind these woven works of art. In our store you will find an exclusive selection of old, nomad made rugs. 

These primitive hand woven rugs are from the Amu Darya in the north of Afghanistan, Samarkand in Uzbekistan, the Afghan Pamirs, eastern Turkey, Iran, Spain, eastern Europe, and the mountainous regions of central Afghanistan.

Uzbek Rugs.jpg

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Shaggy Long Pile Tribal Nomad Rugs

Filtering by Category: Kirghiz Pieced Skin Rugs

Primitive Skins from the Stone Age Part 5 Bearskin Postak

Robert Cobcroft

Bearskin Postak

Kirghiz Hunters
Kirghiz Hunters

Group in costume with dogs, yaks, horse and mountain sheep head, returning from hunt for wounded mountain sheep.

Himalayan brown bears are found in the Afghan Pamirs, usually seen running helter skelter across the jagged mountains and valleys displaying shaggy coats of a reddish-brown or sandy colour. This Postak is in the collection of Karl-Heinz Breuss and was published in 2000 und 1e Nacht1 It has been suggested that the central skin panel could be the hide of an unlucky bear. The colour certainly matches that of the Himalayan brown bear.

Kirghiz pelt rug
Kirghiz pelt rug Karl-Heinz Breuss probable bearskin central panel

These shaggy fur rugs would normally consist of Karakol sheep skin, Yak skin or Mountain Goat. The Kirghiz were not noted for hunting bears. M. Nazif Shaharani wrote, "Hunting, trapping, and collecting are very marginal activities among the Kirghiz. The Kirghiz, I was told, relied more heavily on hunting for their food in the past than they do now. The Kirghiz never go out solely for the purpose of hunting animals regarded by Islamic doctrine as unfit for human consumptoin-wolf, fox, bear or marmot. They shoot wolves and foxes if they run into them."2 The Karl-Heinz Breuss Postak is most certainly one of the rare group of late 19th Century examples. It's plausible that a Himalayan brown bear ended up in the sights of the hunters rifle, perhaps the result of an encounter that neither man nor bear had wished for. The Wakhi and Kirghiz did hunt mountain goats for their hides, the Wakhi were noted for making long skin coats of mountain goat.3 The attached images all shot in the 19th Century indicate that hunting in the Wakhan corridor was common practice. The Marco Polo sheep has been hunted in the area for centuries.

From the Kirghiz legend of Jalyil "Over mountain and valley he hunts the Marco Polo sheep, the one of a kind" 4

Inevitable change impacted on the traditional ways of the Kirghiz. This rare group of pieced-skin Postak remain. Bear or no bear, the Karl-Heinz Breuss example is a tangible link to a primitive past that pre-dates the woven carpet.

Kirghiz Hunters late 19th Century Wakhan Corridor
 Hunters late 19th Century Wakhan Corridor
Hunting 19th Century
Hunting 19th Century

1 Gerhard M. Dienes,  Helmut Reinisch 2000 und 1e Nacht. Teppiche und textilen aus Privatsammlungen - Stadt Museum Graz 2001 , no. 161 pg 227

2 Shaharani M. Nazif  The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan  Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War University of Washington Press 2002 108

3 Dor, R. & Neumann, C. Die Kirghisen des Afghanischen Pamir Akademische Druck- u. Verlanganstalt, Graz 1978 37

4 Dor, R. & Neumann, C. Die Kirghisen des Afghanischen Pamir Akademische Druck- u. Verlanganstalt, Graz 1978 99

Image Citations - Hunting party, photographs by David T Hanbury, probably Pamir mountains. DOE Asia: China: Xinjiang (Sinkiang):
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
Local Notes: Photo Prior to 1898, NM 32640 04535000, NM 32640 04529500, NM 32640 04532900, NM 32640 04532800, NM 32640 04532700, NM 32640 04535500, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution NM 32640 04535600,

Primitive Skins from the Stone Age Part 4

Thierry Girard

A few years ago a group of fur rugs appeared in the collectors market.

Kirghiz primitive skin rug

Probably sourced in Afghanistan, they raised a lot of questions as they were not woven but consisted of various fur pieces sewn together.1 Moreover some parts were dyed in the way Uzbeks and Arabs from Afghanistan dye their polychromatic julkhyrs and some other trappings.  Another curious and unusual feature were the presence of threads sewn all along the back of the rug and a horn motif was even visible in the corners of some rugs.

Their precise and definitive origin has never been clearly identified but it is highly probable they were used by Kirghiz populations inhabiting the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan. The widespread use of fur among the Kirghiz population and the presence of the little horns seems to indicate this.

They are difficult to date but the presence of synthetic colours among the embroidered threads prove they can not be older than the last quarter of the 19th century.  Synthetic dyes were already widespread among Kirghiz weavers in the 19th century. Some Kirghiz rugs collected in the Wakhan corridor by Russian expeditions in the 1880’s were already dyed with the poor fugitive red dye for which Kirghiz rugs and trapping are famous.

The Kirghiz were already well known a few centuries ago in international fur trading.2 They use furs as a blanket, of both sheep and camel origin, and they even produce warm and thick fur topcoats they call « Tôn ». Pictures taken by Sabrina and Roland Michaud in the Wakhan corridor in the 70’s show raw furs used as packaging for camels and covers on the back of horses.3

Dr Nazif Shaharani, author of The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan, confirmed the use of such furs as rugs among the Kirghiz and Wakhi people in the Wakhan and Iktamish districts of the Afghan Badakhshan province and called them Postak. He did not however confirm the presence of fur dying processes among these populations and even raised a doubt about the genuine origin of the dyed pieces.4

Detail sheep skin rug

 

Quilted undyed fur rugs with very similar rectangular designs are also used among Siberian Yakoutes tribes who are of Turkic origin and

Decoarative embroidered edge binding

historically fur counsumers, they are also traders like the Kirghiz people. 5

 

Postak, fur covers and blankets, are widespread in the Kabul market and they are allegedly used even in the Pashtun Southern provinces of Afghanistan. They are not quilted but simple pieces of fur. In Wardak Southern province, they are called by the simple word of pashmani (from « pashm », the Persian word for wool). In these areas both Pashtun villagers and semi-nomadic tribes (« Kutchis ») have furs but consider them too costly to be used as mats. 6 It is right that Durani Pashtun are mainly goat breeders and sheep skins are highly prizedamong them. They are used as covers during the night or even folded on the shoulders when seated in either the tent or the house.

Hence it is possible these quilted and dyed furs would have a twofold purpose and could be also used as shoulder covers which could explain the presence of decorative thread on the skin part. A similar practice has been noticed on a mummy found by scientists in Subeshi, not far from Turfan, and dated from the warring states period. 7

Otherwise use of quilted furs is not widespread in the world but one can also notice the similar use of quilted fur mats in Tchad and Mauritania where they are called Khlef, Khlief, Farou and Farouw. 8 And curiously the famous french artist and decorator Armand-Albert Rateau created a very similar collection of fur rugs for the company Lanvin Couture early in the 20th century. 9 At this time occidental artists and decorators often took inspiration among ethonological artifacts from colonies. It is possible Armand did the same.

To summarize one can say that use of furs is a common practise in Central Asia but such quilted furs with both embroideries and unusual dying processes are virtually unknown… They could be the result of a limited and creative attempt by a group of women from the same family. This would explain the limited number of existing pieces, about a dozen,  and the fact they appeared all at once in the market…

Thierry Girard

Back of Kirghiz pieced skin rug

1 - J.Wertime, Hali 100, 1998 p.86

2 – R .B Serjeant, Islamic Textiles, : material for a history up to the Mongol conquest. Beirut 1972 p.p.209

3 -  Roland Michaud et Sabrina Michaud, Caravans to Tartary New York 1978

4 - Dr Nazif Shaharani, personal communication, 2009

5 – V.Gorbatcheva & M.Federona, L’art de Sibérie, Parkstone Press 2008p.191 & 226

6 - Rafiq Sharifi, personal communication, 2008

7 – J.P Mallory & V.Mair, The Tarim Mummies, London 2000 p.25, pl.VI

8 - http://www.quaibranly.fr, items N° 71.1938.48.1, 71.1957.82.117 & 71.1969.70.1

9 – F. Olivier-Vial & F.Rateau, Armand Albert Rateau, les éditions de l'amateur, Paris, 1992, p.127

Primitive Skins from the Stone Age Part 3

Robert Cobcroft

Skin Merchants Samarkand

In 1916 E. Nelson Fell wrote:

One day I saw a man slaughtering a sheep and I jauntily said to him.......

"Aha; you will have a good supper tonight. 'Nonsense' he said 'I am making a pair of boots.' 'Of course' said I 'how stupid of me, the skin will make good boots.' 'That is not the way to make boots' and he looked at me in surprise and pity. 'You must take the entrails of the sheep and draw it into fine strings like dombra strings, and with these you can card the wool and then make felt shoes like these. I made these myself,' he said, pointing to the pair of felt overshoes on his feet. In the same manner the Kirghiz are extraordinarily clever along their own line of workmanship. The community starts with the camel, the sheep, the ox and the horse, and from these, as they and their families wander over the Steppes, they evolve their tents, their clothes, their embroideries." 1

E Nelson Fell observed the Kirghiz of the "Russian Steppes", animal skins were high on the list of items necessary for survival. The Kirghiz of the Wakhan Corridor shared the same approach to the use of animal skins.

"Rucker was in great glory. On his feet were huge felt linings encased in Kirghiz-made leather boots with silver mountings. On his legs were sheepskin trousers, untanned, having the wool inside, and these were tucked into his boots. We began to dress ourselves. We drew on our shoes, three pair of them - first a loose pair of thin embroidered leather boots (with moccasin soles), then felt boots (peemies) of solid wool about one inch thick, and then stout leather boots, all coming well over the knee. Next a short over-coat to the knee, lined with curly wool sheepskin - then the dacha, a huge overcoat of horse-skin outside and fox-skin inside, coming to the ground, with a collar which when turned up reached to the top of one's head and so voluminous that it could be wrapped nearly twice round one's body. Then with a huge wolf-skin rug, we were ready." 2

Tanning was widespread amongst Nomads and people of the cities and towns in Central Asia during the 19th and 20th Century. The use of animal hides was widespread amongst the Kirghiz of Kyrgyzstan and generally in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan,3 Kungrat Uzbeks were particularly noted for their pieced sheepskin mats, Hasali Pustak4.  The Kirghiz Pieced - Skin Covers discussed in recent posts are one adaptation of a widespread practice in Central Asia.

IMAGES: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Turkestan Album 1871 – 1872 [reproduction numbers, LC-DIG-ppmsca-15021] - Bazar Samarkandie

REFERENCES:

1. Nelson Fell. E Russian and Nomad Tales Of The Kirghiz Steppes London Duckworth & Co 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden Cornell University Library, 1916

2. ibid.,

3. Pedersen. G Afghan Nomads in Transition Thames and Hudson 1994 111 (The animals supply wool, skins, milk)

4. Elmira Gyul confirmed that Hasali Pustak's - pieced skin mats were made by Kungrat Uzbeks and posted images on facebook, taken at Boysun in southern Uzbekistan "Uzbek Kungrats make pustaks (hasali pustaks) up to now - Surkhandarya, south Uzbekistan." Also Karmysheva, B.Kh.: On the History of population Formation in the Southern Areas of Uzbekistan and Tajikastan (Ethnographic Data). Moscow 1964; noted that the same pieced skin rugs were made in Kizyl Cha by Uzbeks, approximately 100 kilometres west of Boysun. 

A Kirghiz Pieced Skin Cover Primitive Skins from the Stone Age

Robert Cobcroft

This pieced skin cover is so primitive it looks like it came straight from the stoneage and wouldn’t look out of place in the cartoon “The Flintstones”. Vivid saturated natural Indigo and Orange-Red dyed strips, stitched together with coarse and shaggy natural shades of brown and black hide. Creating a tangible and expansive view into a long lost nomadic past.

These animal skin covers are rare, not much is known about their origins or use. James Blackmon had brought some of these to the marketplace in the mid nineties. Eventually an example from the collection of Dr John Sommer came back to the market via James and I snapped it up. Another example is held in the collections at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

James Blackmon wrote, “ I would date the sheep skin rug to the late 19th or first part of the 20th because the dyes appear to be natural. It is difficult to date these things because there are not many examples to compare. I have seen pieces with only natural, un-dyed sheep skin used and I have seen one or two with some synthetic dyes used. This one I would say is in the oldest group of these skin rugs. I have had 5 old ones over the years and all came about 13 years ago. Since then I have not seen others of this natural dyed type. It must have been a small, remote community where these survived, since after they came to market and relatively high prices were established for them, none or only a very few have surfaced in the market place since. This defies the usual pattern and market logic for newly discovered, old ethnographic items. Once something is discovered there tends to be many more that come out of the woodwork to meet demand.”

Two examples were published in John Wertime's landmark article "Back to Basics: Primitive Pile Rugs of West and Central Asia" Hali 100 in 1998. Wertime discusses the use of the needle and it’s invention 20,000 or more years ago as being central to the original creation of these tanned covers. The ability to stitch animal skins together to make larger items probably pre dates woven rugs.

Made up of a number of pieces of animal hide strips in varying sizes, determined by the size and shape of the original hide. Stitched together to form a complete cover, usually from different types of animal. The preservation of the hides is a key element to their intended use. In Central Asia there is a long history of tanning. A distinction needs to be made between tanned goods where the fur has been stripped from the hide or alternatively softened and treated hides where the fur remains. Nazif Shaharani in “The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan” discusses the method of treating Yak hide as well as Karakul Sheep, where the fur remains. “Yak hide is untanned but treated (oiled and softened).” Further, “The hides of sheep, goats, lambs, and kids are utilized in many ways. By treating and softening wool-covered sheepskin the Kirghiz make long fur overcoats. Sheepskins are also used to make fur mats that are used as mattresses.” In “Die Kirghisen des Afghanischen Pamirs” by Remy Dor & Clas Neumann some clues are given, “Next to the stove lay a sheepskin”. Included is a reference to an old Pamirs Kirghiz proverb. “In the past tanning was women’s work. So the following proverb attests: She who brings with her a skin of Russian leather, (supple and well tanned) will carry to wealth her marriage. Contrary, the property of a bad wife, she spoils the hide and puts the married couple in debt”.

The Wakhan corridor is extremely cold and inhospitable. The Kirghiz Yaks and Karakul sheep (turki qoey) have long thick coats as protection from the cold. Our rug illustrated here combines Karakul sheep and Yak or Goat hide. The Yak or Goat fur is particularly long, up to sixteen centimetres. Karakul sheep and Yak were the two types of hides that were “softened” for use by the Kirghiz. This process of softening hides, dip dyeing, stitching and embroidering produces a minimalist design aesthetic. Even though our example is primitive by nature it was created with a greater ideal that was of obvious importance to its original owner. At least 100 years old, this cover is remarkably well preserved. James Blackmon wrote, “All examples I’ve had show native patches and repairs and were in the early group. This one has less of this damage than the others. It was well kept.”

Dip dyeing was used as a technique to add colour and enhance design in some examples. Before sewing the strips of hide together, some covers were dip dyed. Dip dyeing is a process where the entire woven strip or selected piece of skin is dyed prior to stitching all elements together to complete the design. The obvious choice for dip dyeing would be white pelts, although I’ve seen black goat hair dyed with indigo! Arab Nomad Julkhirs from nearby Qataghan were also dip dyed. Minimalist design and sparing use of bold and graphic colour is evident in Kirghiz, Arab, and Uzbek weavings in the region. Indigo and deep saturated reds were commonly used throughout the Northern border regions of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

Notes from a friend who has been conducting research in Afghanistan since 2007, his example has an embroidered edge and is not dip dyed. Mainly consisting of darker coloured strips of natural Karakul sheep.

Robert “News from my colleague in Kabul. He is a highly educated fellow from rural Wardak province South West of Kabul. I showed him my pieced skin rug, he recognised it instantly. According to him it is all sheep’s wool. He called it Pachmani. Pachm means wool in Persian. He said people do not create these pieces anymore but used to make them, even in his area which is Pashtun and where Pashtun Kuchi nomads used them. His grandfather has some at home. Interestingly he said that people never used these pieces as mats, they were far too costly for this purpose. Instead they used exclusively namads (felts) on the floor. The pieced skin covers were used as night covers or folded on the shoulders when seated in the tent during winter.

These pieced skin items are probably not some type of yatak or mat but rather covers. That’s why there is some embroidery on the part we considered as the back but which should be the front. To use fur in direct contact with the ground is not convenient at all, the fur can become dirty and damaged easily. Washing these pieced skin rugs would be almost impossible. It is very important to keep the tent clean and well ordered and the use of such materials is not really relevant in this case. It is better to use these covers close to the body for warmth. Contrary to this Namads (felts) provide a solution as a floor covering to keep the warmth in.

I remembered that a few years ago in Kirghizstan some nomads welcomed me in their yurt. They gave me a piece of camel fur as a cover for sleeping. I do not remember if it was a simple fur (I guess so) or a patchwork like ours but the practice is related. It is also interesting to note that Kirghiz use fur for some large warm jackets they call “Ton”.

I am not sure that the pieces discussed with my colleague were patchwork items with embroidered edging. They were probably simple furs un-dyed with simple patchwork strips.

A few years ago I found some fur pieces in the Peshawar market, they were simple, undyed and a little different. So they may be like those of the Pashtuns and our examples which are more elaborate, specifically pieces created by Wakhi or Kirghiz.”

Kirghiz Rams Horn Detail
Kirghiz Rams Horn Detail
Kirghiz Wakhan Corridor
Kirghiz Wakhan Corridor
Kirghiz Rams Horn
Kirghiz Rams Horn

Rugs or Covers?

These pieced skin covers do not show the usual signs of wear and were probably not intended for use as a floor rug. As with most cold climate rugs and covers, the intended purpose was insulation from the cold. Our example has an embroidered red, two cord, edge binding, finished in typical Kirghiz style with a rams horn motif in one corner. There is evidence to suggest that these were used with the fleecy side against the body like a cloak worn as a cover at night. When worn on the outside the embroidered design would be prominent.

Some terms which have been used to describe these covers.

Wraps, Rugs, Blankets, Covers, Hides, Pelts & Mats.

pachm wool in Persian

pachmani Kuchi Pashtun covers

postak sheep and goatskin mats Kirghhiz Wakhan Corridor 7

postdagi

takhta postak Wakhan Corridor Kirghiz mattresses, fur mats

tushak

Kirghiz Emroidered Edge
Kirghiz Emroidered Edge

1 Personal communication James Blackmon  2007.

2 ibid.

3 Wertime, J. Back to Basics: Primitive Pile Rugs of West and Central Asia (Hali 100, 1998) pp.86-87.

4 Shahrani, M. Nazif The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War University of Washington Press, Washington 2002 p. 75 The hides of sheep, goats, lambs, and kids are utilized in many ways: By treating and softening wool-covered sheepskin the Kirghiz make long fur overcoats. Sheepskins are also used to make fur mats that are used as mattresses. 94 Yak hide is untanned but treated (oiled and softened) 102. Wolves & Foxes are shot and used to make fur hats and fur linings for other garments. 108 Most Kirghiz have fur mats to keep themselves comfortable at night. p.108.

5 Dor, R. & Neumann, C. Die Kirghisen des Afghanischen Pamir Akademische Druck- u. Verlanganstalt, Graz 1978 p.86.

6 Dor, R. & Neumann, C.op. cit.,pp.86-87.

7 Shahrani. M. Nazif op. cit.,p.377. Poostak, sheep & goatskin mats. p.275.

Kirghiz Shaggy Pieced Skin Rug
Kirghiz Shaggy Pieced Skin Rug