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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.

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Filtering by Category: Central Asia Tanning

Primitive Skin Cloaks Afghanistan 1868 Posteen and Horse Rustlers

Robert Cobcroft

Primitive Skin Cloaks from the Stone Age - Posteen and Horse Rustlers  

B. Simpson photographed Colonel Waterfield and his men in Kurum Valley near "Peiwar Valley" Afghanistan in 1878. A Ghilzai Pashtun, wearing a Posteen was recorded standing to the left of the group. Patterned cloth has been used on the outside of the Posteen with the sheepskin lining showing.

 

When the images of the "Kakur" and "Afghan Horse Dealers" were posted on this blog there were a few questions asked.

"Maybe they're horse rustlers?" Milton Cater

"Our friends in the second image came directly from the “come as you are” party. I somehow trust them more, although they do look like they might be pickpockets, they aren’t pretending otherwise." Monika Neuland Kimrey

Searching high and low I discovered the original notes which accompanied these images published in "The People of India" between 1865 and 1875. The photographers were H.C.B Tanner (Henry Charles Baskerville) and Captian William Robert Houghton. The government of India had commissioned the work and the eight volume set of albums is noted as "being one of the first major ethnographic studies produced by the camera."

Notes accompanying the image "A Kakur Afghan" describe the cloak as "Afghan winter costume, a posteen, or cloth cloak, lined with sheeps' wool, forming a most comfortable wrapper." Posteen is consistent with other similar words used to describe sheep skin bedding rugs like "postak".

Afghan Posteen Sheepskin Winter Coat

Readers of this blog instantly detected the true character of the horse dealers. The following description was given to these dogged traders in "The People of India".  "The independence of character which seems to belong to these persons is, perhaps, not a very sound principle or feeling. The love of money would lead them to sacrifice honour or honesty on most occasions where unlawful gains were obtained with impunity."

Posteen wearing Afghan Horse Dealers

 

 

The link between pieced skin rugs, Postak, Pashmani and Posteen cloaks indicates that the practice of using animal hides including sheep skin was common in Afghanistan.  From primitive beginnings the wearing of animal skins continued in Central Asian culture throughout the ages, being refined into a patterned and lined cloak, warm and comfortable in the winter, donned by aristocrats and horse rustlers alike. A true Afghan winter "costume".

IMAGES:

Col Waterfield in Uniform and with Sword; And Group of Men in Costume with Sabers and Rifles Outside Tent OCT 1878 DOE Asia: Afghanistan: NM 40922 04420300, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Simpson B. Bourne and Shepherd 1878. Afghanistan Kurum Valley/Peiwar Valley (Near)

Images contained within the collection: The People of India, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.  “A Kakur” Local number: PoI6.322  “Afghan Horse Dealers” Local number: PoI6.332 H.C.B Tanner (Henry Charles Baskerville) and Captian William Robert Houghton

 

 

 

 

Afghanistan's animal pelts

Robert Cobcroft

Animal hides the chief source of Afghan revenue By the 1950's Afghanistan's animal population whether wild or domesticated was hunted and rounded up for it's hides.  Soft luxurious karakul lamb skins have long been highly prized worldwide. The Karakul Company met demand by supplying baby karakul skins in the millions. Certainly nomads produced skin rugs for their own personal use, take this into consideration and we find an entire nation slaughtering animals for their skins for one reason or another. Even the wildlife didn't escape, wolves foxes and lynx were skinned tanned and exported.

Hands up those of you who took off to Afghanistan in the 60's and 70's and came back with one of those long fur coats or vests that were so popular at the time. Ghazni was famous for the production of fur coats and associated products.

The following account published in the 1950's shows that Karakul sheep skin production was "the chief source of Afghan revenue".

"Afghanistan is noted for it's wild animals. The most important of these are : the wolf, fox, hyena, wild dog, wild cat, jungle cat, common leopard, small Indian fox, mongoose, wild sheep, onager (wild ass), mole, talpidae, Indian shrew, collared-hedgehog, bats, jerboa, gerbit, deer, oorial, ibex, pica and hare.

There are different kinds of sheep, such as the Turki, Ghilji (Ghilzai) Hazaraji, and Kandahari. There is another famous breed of sheep - the Karakuli - which is reared for the sake of it's skins. All Afghan sheep are remarkable for their fat tails, which are over a foot broad, and almost entirely composed of fat.

Northern Afghanistan, it is here that the famous Karakuli sheep are reared. Every year millions of their newly-born lambs are killed for their fine glistening skins which have a ready market abroad, and, from an economic point of view, form the chief source of Afghan revenue.

The Karakul industry : The Karakul producing territory extends from Aqchah in the North of Herat.  In 1945, the producton was 2,400,000 pieces ; at present (1958) it is about 2,000,000 pieces a year. It is estimated that independent producers and distributors handle about 1,300,000, while the Karakul Company handles about 700,000 skins. The Karakul Company has ten plants. The Mazari Sharif plant alone handles 400,000 skins, while the Andkhoi plant handles from 100,000 to 150,000 skins a year. Next to carpets, the making of sheepskin coats and vests is a flourishing industry. Usually the edges and sleeves of the coats are embroidered with yellow silk. Coats of other furs, such as Karakul skins, wolf hides and the pelts of fox, and lynx, etc., are very common in use, and a large number of these are exported." 1

Afghanistan's animals gave up milk, wool and provided transport. Whether required for the survival of the family in a nomadic environment or the economic survival of an entire nation, the animals of Afghanistan kept on giving to keep a nation alive - literally with the skin off their backs.

1 Ali, Mohammed. M.A. A new Guide to Afghanistan Kabul 1958. 56, 68, 77

Karakul skins

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.