Art metal, by its decorative and symbolic significance, occupied one of key positions in traditional culture of the Kazakhs. Kitchen and table utensils, metal elements of musical instruments, furniture, harness and other subjects formed a wide field of production activity of metal craftsmen. Proto – forms of some subjects, production and decorative technologies of metal making are going back to the 2nd millennium B.C., to the art of the Iron Age, art traditions of the Huns’ and Qimaqo – Qipchaqs’ periods. Specialization of metal craftsmen: smith – usta, jewelers – zerger, coppersmiths – kolaushi had been clearly differentiated, perhaps, till the late 19th century. By the mid – 20th century more often one person usta had combined functions of a smith, jeweler and coppersmith.
Traditional world vision of the Kazakhs includes the idea of casual connection between quantity of silver presented around and luck and welfare at home. Silver plates decorated elements of interior and housewares: wooden furniture (beds, chests, bins for food products and other things, cupboards, cradles, cases, clothes trees), wooden and leather utensils, leather covers for utensils and clothes. Most attention was paid to silver in semantically important subjects: utensils, food cases, bed and clothes trees.
Silver decorated the frame of yurt: the upper part of open – web walls – kereghe, arch-shaped poles – ayk, cross-point on the top of cupola – shanrak, where on four sides were hung silver wrought and cast bells. Onto the cupola clusters – shashak were fixed wrought silver rings – kumis shygyrshyk. Silver stamped or cast plates decorated leather wall carpet “tus kiyz” with printed ornament. Usually silver plates of different forms were located in key points of ornamental composition. Dark leather of the carpet brightened by printed floral spiral pattern exquisitely harmonized with dead shining of silver plates, which forms gave rhythmic variety. Jewelry pieces in different quantity and order were sewed up onto wide weaved band – baskur, which was located above the yurt door. Thus, light shining of silver spread over all life space. Aspiration of rich people to wide use of silver, sometimes with gold, in yurt interior is proved by verses from the Kazakh epos. For example, the description of some yurt in “Koblandy batyr”:
He ordered till dark
To set the yurt for the couple
And to decorate its interior with
shining of gold coins,
To cover its top with silver.
Subjects of yurt illumination and heating were also decorated. For heating, they used brass ovens – shok saiyt, vertical walls of which were made in a technique of figure casting. Pierced walls played functional role. Red burning coal sparkling through the holes illuminated and heated the premise, creating, as witnesses say, comfort and visual effects. Up to the early 20th century for illumination of the dwelling the Kazakhs applied cast – iron and bronze (sometimes with silver) lamps – shirak. They were cheaper than oil lamps and so were widely used by poor people. Sometimes such subjects imitated medieval forms. They were cast with either one or three and more brackets located in row or circle – wise. The cover was figured and perforated. In rich houses, for better illumination such lamps were hung onto tripod – shanrak. They produced also the lamps on vertical legs of different height. Many of mentioned subjects had been obsolescent mainly after the first quarter of the 20th century. The archaeologists revealed a number of bronze lamps dated from the 10th – 12th centuries in Taraz, Ispidjab, Talgar, Aktob and Saraichik towns (4, p. 68, 285 – 287; 5). The ancient lamps present a reservoir with elongate bracket and handle. There are lamps on four legs with several brackets located circle – wise. Rich piercing ornament decorated hinged covers. For example, quaint floral pattern decorate the cover of the bronze lamp with four brackets on three legs. Supports for lamps in a form of columns of 25 – 35 cm in height having cylindrical or faceted form with semi – circular bottom on legs were decorated by floral and epigraphic ornament performed in a technique of chase.
Clothes trees – adalbakan (1.5 m in height) were cast from iron in a form of a pole with hooks (Fig. 1). They were of different height and consisted of one, two or three sections. Parts of the pole were set one into another. The sharp lower point of the pole was dug into the ground and the upper point (in a case of a high clothes tree) was fixed onto the cupola pole. A lower part of low clothes tress in a form of tripod was set on the ground, and its top, used for headwear, presented a figure in a form of hinge or fork. Stand hooks were usually decorated by means of its silhouette’s plastics. All compounds details of the stand were topped of by ball – shaped or the other figured details enriching plastic silhouette and giving expressiveness to rather ordinary subject. The clothes tree – adalbakan was made also from wood and sometimes was covered by painted in dark leather.
The stand was carved, painted and decorated by silver belts, plates and coloured stones. Iron hooks with figured contour were covered by gilt or silver in a technique of hatching all over the surface or with intervals. Depending on applied techniques, they could reach various art effects. At first, the iron surface was cut with a sharp chisel that left small hacks. Then, on this surface was put thin silver foil, which was hammered and then chased. Finally, they received a dark linear pattern on silver background. When the masters applied band or wire hatching, they received silver or gold pattern on a dark iron background. Often, we can see negative – positive ornament because of balance between background and pattern above it. In most cases patterns in a form of vegetative bines, spirals and horn – shaped curls prevailed. Besides, sometimes semi – precious stones and jewelry glass imitating precious stones decorated clothes trees.
We know adalbakan, which cost was equal to the total assets of middle – class person. The respondents informed that some woman (from Abai district of Semipalatinsk region), whose name they did not know but remembered her nickname – Juz tailak that means one hundred camels included in her dowry, owned very richly decorated clothes tree. In traditional mentality of the Kazakhs the clothes tree – adalbakan was associated with the tree of life and world fulcrum, thanks to which order and welfare reigned at home. Therefore, it is logic that even gold and semi – precious stones were lovely used to decorate this important subject. The tradition prohibited to give to somebody adalbakan having been in use, to overstep and to drop it in order to prevent its break that considered a portent. In extreme situations (at the time of enemies attacking) adalbakan, thanks to its sharp point, could serve a spear. In everyday use they used high clothes trees – for clothes and low stands – for kitchen, which separated in yurt by a screen. Bags with food products, salt etc. were hung on hooks of such stand. Similar metal and wooden poles- clothes trees – alabakan with metal details were used by the Kyrgyzes (8, p. 96 – 123).
Wooden furniture, at its outer surface, was decorated by silver plates or metal chased plates with silver (fig. 2). For example, vertical cupboards on legs for food products and dishes – asadal; horizontal bunkers for food products – kebeje, small chests for sweets – sandyksha, jai sandyk; chests for expensive clothes – sandyk; beds – tosek agash, headrests – agash jastyk; stands for bags – juk ayak, for leather or wooden kumys reservoirs – saba ayak. The word kumis (silver) was added to all names of subjects with silver details, and names of subjects containing gilt were added with – altyn (gold). All subjects we have mentioned were decorated by metal elements, mainly with intervals in combination with touretics, painting and inlaid with bone.
Usually, they were set in the center (at key points of decorative composition) and along the edges, what accented contours of the subject. At that, these elements were located either on a level of subject’s surface or were slightly “drowned”, or relieved. As a rule, the master forethought places on the furniture for metal plates and considered in advance their form and ornament in order to rich full harmony. At first, piercing pattern was cut on iron plates.
The silver foil was hammered onto this surface and then chased with thin geometric or vegetative ornament. Sometimes, onto cut iron surface was hammered a silver wire according to previously considered pattern. This last technique was usually applied to S-shaped motives, spirals and floral bines. After that, these metal elements were fixed on the subject by means of silver rivets with “star – shaped” heads, what strengthened their decorative expressiveness.
Small chests – sandyksha, shai sandyk – for store of sweets and tea were made of brass, copper, often with silver and purchased by rich families. Surface of these subjects, in the past rare and valuable, was decorated by chased and embossed pattern of floral and geometric character. Sometimes, the master put red or blue fabric under the piercing pattern of such small chest. Usually such chest was on a cupboard – asadal and played a role of a decorative element in the interior.
Originally look subjects related to the second half of the 20th century (wooden chests, bunkers for food products – kebeje, stands for bags – ju ayak and saba ayak), which are faced, fully or with intervals, by coloured ornamented black plates. On the black plates they combined stamped, chased and antiqued relieved ornament, in which recesses were set enamel, bronze or the other pigments. The subjects faced by the black plates are often lack of decor’s harmony because of ornateness and not well – balanced colours.
For the time of migrations, in order to protect the furniture from damage, it was covered by felt and leather covers decorated by silver plates. In this case, a decorative effect was reached in account of combination of silver plates with leather background. Silver elements (sometimes with gilt) presented on leather covers for chests and cases – jaglan, jagylan, jagdan and jagydan. Sometimes their names were added by words kumis and altyn. In these subjects, the leather itself was decorated by antiqued pattern with spiral, horn – shaped and floral motives. A contrast of light shine of the metal and dark texture of the leather with strict ornament created unusual art image.
Big silver plates, sometimes with waved edges and piercing pattern were usually located at the edges and corners of leather surface and silver shields – either on borders or in recesses of antiqued pattern. At that, silver shields, by shape duplicating contour of ornamental fragment were located at the ends of pattern’s lines. Lighting the accented places, they pointed out expressiveness of ornamental motif and in general gave specific sounding to full composition. In order to reach most representative effect, the customers asked the masters to gild the silver plates and to encrust them with coloured stones. Similar silver or with silver shields in a form of circle, cross or angle present in leather covers for chests of the Kyrgyzes.
In traditional everyday life, the rich Kazakhs used metal subjects for personal use: some special mini subjects, which by their art and technical solution can be related to pieces of jewelry art. Among them, there are silver tobacco boxes, bottles for smelling spices – iis saut, caskets – zerger ashekei saut and combs.
Small bottles for smelling spices were made of silver, sometimes with gold and encrusted by stones. Such mini reservoirs by form can be divided in three groups: in a form of cone, pear and ball with a low neck. In such bottles, they usually stored clove or another smelling spice. Mini reservoirs for redolent means, probably, appeared at the ancient time, what is proved by the small gold bottle occasionally found nearby the Batyr Lake in West Kazakhstan. Combs – kumis taraq were also made of silver, sometimes with gilt – altyn taraq of flat and semi-round form with festoon edges.
At the beginning of the 19th century, into fashion came snuff and chew, mainly used by men and old women. With this purpose, they made mini boxes – kumis shaksha from silver. The boxes were of four types: in a form cylinder and elliptic cylinder of 1.5 – 3 cm in height with a cover as well as in a form of flat ball with a low neck, which spout was closed by silver tap.
It was comfortable to view these subjects ringside. In order to satisfy aesthetic taste of the owner the master paid much attention to art decoration. Considering the form, the subjects were juiced up by dynamic lines of chasing, niello or enriched by grains or exquisite pattern of filigree and covered by geometric grain imitating pattern, etc. Metal elements decorated also subjects connected with professional activity, for example, musical instruments.
Metal presented in the subjects related to cultic circle. The tradition of metal use bearing definite symbolic meaning was typical of many peoples of the world. As R. Mustafina noted, a line of subjects and elements from metal is still used by the Kazakh shamans in cultic ceremonies. For example, clothes of shaman (dress, headwear and boots) were decorated by various metal plates, pendants in a form of birds, triangles etc,, which were clanging upon each his movement. Sometimes, two semi – spherical plates imitating female dress decorated the dress of shaman at the breast.
An important attribute in shamanic practice was wooden musical instrument alike kobyz, which played ritual melodies. In most cases, such kobyzes contain metal details. Shamans used also percussions, wooden sticks of asatayak, syldyrmaka and konyrau syldyrmak type accompanying their ritual dances. The low point of the sticks was toped by spear – shaped heads. S.M. Abramzon (10, p. 44 – 68) described one of such sticks. Sometimes, wooden stick of the preacher had no big up – end and pendants. Just carved pattern or inserted stone decorated it.
Witchdoctors – emshi and shamans – baksi in their medical practice used lashes made of hardhack – tobylgy. Silver rings giving specific snicks were strung on the lash. Medical lashes for personal use were made from seven different materials (different sorts of leather and woods), at that, drowned patterns on the handle were filled up with melted brass, copper and silver. K. Baibosynov and R. Mustafina describing the lashes of shaman – woman Hadishi pointed out that the top of the handle of one her lash was covered by copper plates and decorated by triangular metal shield with two spring – chains. Another lash had the handle entwined by copper wire, covered at the top by metal plate and decorated by two metal pendants – round and triangular shields with green and red stones encrusted. For medical purposes shaman uses also metal strainer for sprinkling a patient.
Among housewares manufactured by Kazakh masters from metal there are jugs – kuman and kettles. We can say that they present transformed versions of ceramic jugs of the Early, Upper and Late Middle Ages (13, p. 385 etc..; 14, p. 422). Metal vessels were especially convenient in conditions of nomadic mode of life.
Limits of the journal article would not allow further listing of examples illustrating the use of metal in everyday life of the Kazakhs. They are numerous.
Subjects of Kazakh metal housewares are similar and sometimes identical with Central Asian pieces manufactured by Uzbek, Tadjik and Kazakh masters. The last ones often imitated finished products. Resemblance can be found in many subjects: pear – shaped jugs for water, almost identical big kettles – Kazakhs shagums and Uzbek choikush. The kettles used by the Kazakhs have relationship with all of three types of Uzbek kettles: filta – round – ribby, satrandj – oval flat and ifshona – bellied. The teapots are similar too: Kazakh shainek and Uzbek choinak, choiydish. The affinity can be revealed in trays (Kazakh – patnos, Uzbek – laili), in semi-spherical covers for food, in mugs and ladles (15; 16, p. 283 – 305) as well as in wash tools – jugs (Kazakh – kuman, Uzbek – oftoba), which have identical form, decor and ornamental motives. It is known that metal housewares was manufactured in Bukhara and Samarkand by Uzbek, Tadjik and Iran masters; it was also produced in Eastern Turkistan, from where it was imported to Central Asia (17, c. 172). Metal products were sold all over Central Asia including Kazakhstan.
Pointing out similarity of forms typical of metal subjects used by the peoples of Central Asia and Eastern Turkistan, it should be noted the difference concerning much reticence of decor in Kazakh products. Exquisite ornament and rich decor inhering in Central Asian housewares are not typical of traditions of Kazakh masters.
In our days, a revival of art metal traditions is running, what was caused by development of national consciousness and, as a result, growing interest to folk art crafts and their traditions in independent states of Central Asia.
Author: Shaizadah Tohtabaeva