Wedding costume of Karakalpak woman

Issue #2 • 1460

The Karakalpak female costume, in spite of its easy, tunica-shaped clothes, emphasizes beauty and grace of the woman. A red color of clothes and headdresses contrasts with yellow, green and white colors of embroideries. A bright color of the costume moderates and shows off warm silver of adornments.

The most interesting set of clothes is the traditional wedding costume of Karakalpak women. Till now, it has not become a subject of special studying. All scientific publications devoted to female wedding attires of Karakalpak women, mainly confined to the description of some its elements, particularly, headdresses – saukele and kiymeshek. Meanwhile, the wedding set with extraordinary brightness expresses aesthetic preferences, originality of color combinations, feeling of style and skills of its makers. The wedding clothes, more than any others, were decorated by embroidery and jewels, what gave unique and solemn appearance, correspondent to importance of a main moment in a life of a woman. The Karakalpak wedding costume does not contain any “disposable” wedding clothes, as it means now. Preparing to the wedding, the women usually created a set, which later was used as holiday dressing. The set included: semmit and trousers, a dark blue dress – kok keilek, headdresses – kyzyl kiymeshek, saukele and tobelik. The head cape was put over – jepek jegde. The girl could marry only after she had finished preparation of wedding set and decorated it with the embroidery.

The employees of the Karakalpak museum of Arts (Nukus), the Republican Museum of History and Area Study of Karakalpakstan, the Art Fund of Karakalpak branch of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan (Nukus) try to reconstruct the set of female wedding clothes of the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries, its details and accessories.

The wedding kok keilek is an ancient gala dress, which was sewed from a dark blue homespun having tunica-like silhuette. Similar samples are kept in funds of the State Museum of Ethnography (5 samples, Saint Petersburg), the State Museum of Arts by I.V. Savitsky and at some other collections. The dress kok keilek differs from usual dresses in color, which symbolized the sky, the upper world, and in a character of the embroidery, which ornament had some distinctions in different areas and depended on a social status of the woman and her clan belonging; though in a whole it kept composite stability. The dress was decorated by canvas-work done with red threads, with addition of yellow and green in details.

Genesis of embroidered ornaments on the dress kok keilek is of scientific interest. This ornament has a general name – sauyt naghys – a pattern of the armour for the rows of ornamental strips from rhombus-shaped figures on a breast remind the armour or chain armour. According to A. Allamuratova, this ornament has preserved genetic affinity with a military uniform of girls – warriors from the Massaghet tribes, glorified in the Karakalpak national epos “Kyryk kyz”. Such connection of the embroidery on the dress kok keilek with a female armour has no analogies in clothes of the other peoples of Central Asia. If the ornament sauyt-naghys decorated the upper part of a dress, the lower part was decorated by stepped rhombuses with crosses inside and identical by size, horn-shaped motifs (Khorasan horns). These are traditional elements found in many fields of nomadic art. Their symbolics is connected with the idea of fertility, wishes of prosperity and reproduction. Use of these elements in the embroidery on the wedding dress was to emphasize and strengthen reproductive functions of the woman. In our opinion, the decor of a wedding Karakalpak dress organically combines ideas emphasizing a dual role of the woman in tribal society – a warrior and transmitter of life.

The arrangement of patterns on a dark blue dress is canonized, equally with its general colour palette. The patterns include magic apotropaic signs, wishes of happy future and the coded information about the history of girl’s family and her tribe. The composition of the embroidery on a dark blue dress is done under the principle of a strict symmetry. Its central line has alternating pattern of “Khorasans horns”, which number indicated to a number of her clan’s degrees. From this axis, on both sides, rhombus-shaped patterns “podprughi” and small alternating “Khorasan horns” are going bias upwards. At the collar – jaga are located the stylized pictures of earrings – syrga naghys. These patterns are placed where earrings or the other ornaments are usually sewn onto the ordinary dress, which is not decorated by the embroidery.

Stepped rhombuses with crosses inside on the dress kok keilek are usually identical in size and perceived as aggregate ornamental field (kok keilek from the St.-Petersburg’s museum). Sometimes there are just two ornamental strips, in this case the lower strip plays auxiliary role towards the upper. The ornament from stepped rhombus-shaped figures may be continued in the lower field of the composition. The wide ornamental strip decorates the sleeves. Usually these are zigzags from small triangles, teeth and squares with horn-shaped patterns.

It is interesting that a dark blue dress without embroidery was considered as a mourning attire of Karakalpak women. Kok keilek is rarely revealed, while the other kinds of female costume (kyzyl kiymeshek, ak kiymeshek, ak jegde, jengse, jengush) were available almost in each house. Hundreds of such samples have been preserved.

Such element of the Karakalpak wedding set, as kyzyl kiymeshek, which is embroidered long and with a diligence is the most richly decorated by embroidery. The embroidery decorate not only its breast part, but also edges of the triangular scarf sewn at the back and falling down wedgewise. The embroidery is added by tassels from spun threads in a form of a fringe 5 – 7 cm long, located densely in one row. At the breast part – kiymeshek aldy are located some rows of horizontal and vertical patterned strips making one complex composition. In the center there is a black horizontal strip (width – 5 – 6 cm), which ends do not reach edges and bend in narrow strips upwards. This horizontal black strip-insert from cloth – orty qara is also embroidered by various patterns. Orty qara always forms a center of the composition on a breast part of kyzyl kiymeshek; often the space around it was not embroidered in order to accent a pattern on a black strip. Edges of kiymeshek were embroidered by a vegetative ornament – these are narrow strips from a black cloth – shetteghiqar and a black strip on shoulders – yinqara, which joins ornaments on the breast part and edges of kyzyl-kiymeshek.

The ancient headdress of Karakalpak women in a form of a helmet – saukele was put over kiymeshek. It was made of felt, covered by red cloth, richly decorated by metal figured plates, pendants, colored stones and beads, mainly coral. One of the major pendants – jyga (precious) – went down on a forehead and was decorated with stones and beads. The others, small metal plates on saukele are called kyran, that means dexterous, quick, sharp-sighted and sure. The form of metal plates reminds a head of an eagle or some hunting bird. To the back lower part of saukele was fastened a long embroidered strip of a fabric – halka, or halyka. To its side parts were sewn large-cell grids from beads of green and yellow colours or colours of pomegranate grains, which went down onto shoulders. Finishing decoration of a head, three long strings of beads – boidasy, of different size and material fall down on a breast.

Saukele was worn in a combination with another headdress – tobelek, forming a cylindrical metal cap, which was put as a top of saukele over its soft fabric – tumak. Tobelek was richly decorated by ornaments and had a set of convex metal plates with coloured stones inserted into them. Just rich family could afford such expensive headdresses.

The wedding costume was completed by a robe-cape – jipek-jegde, reminding by a cut the Uzbek veil and Turkmen robe – chyrpy. It was put on a head and shoulders. Characteristic feature of this cape were very long false sleeves swung behind at the back, where they were fixed together by special bands. At a level of a breast, jegde, as well as a veil, had vertical cuts for the hands. A collar of jegde was usually decorated with embroidery and silk tassels with beads at the ends. Red, striped, silk jegde was a part of the dowry. They were worn from 15, but in 40 – 50 years the woman wore white jegde – ak jegde. Unlike the Uzbek veil, jegde was not combined with chachvan. The Karakalpak women – have never hidden their faces. Silver jewels gave especial smartness to the wedding costume – earrings – syrga, breast adornments – khaikel (in its middle part there was a hollow for “dua” – prays against charms, protecting from misfortunes), onghirmonshak, tuime. Khaikel could be replaced by silver metal plates with enchased gems – shar tuime, nose rings – arabek, rings, plait-cases – shashbau, bracelets and amulets – tumar. Perfect samples of these adornments are kept in the museums mentioned above. The wedding dress was pinned up by a round flat brooch – aishyk from silver and decorated by chasing and graining. Cornelian was inserted in the center of the brooch. Aishyk, probably, had a form of a shield, being an echo of the war past. The face of the bride was decorated with a thin gold ring – arabek, fixed at the nose; hands and fingers were decorated by rings – juzik with a different ornaments, inserts from gems and bracelets – kuime bilezik. The plaits of the bride were decorated with plait-cases – shashbau, representing strips of a fabric (width – 2-2.5 cm) with beads, coins, small bells and plenty of tassels. Cornelian, which all peoples of the East considered as a protective stone, played especial role in jewels.

Soft leather boots – masi s geushi added the wedding set. In general, the wedding ensemble consisted from several dressed one above another clothes, gave grandiose solemnity to a figure of the woman. A combination of dark blue, red, colourful embroideries, shining of silver, gilding and gems appealed to the eye and emphasized the beauty of the bride. The abundance of clothes and adornments was hard examination for the girl and required patience and force, as if testing her “durability”. Just strong girls were able to endure weight of wedding costume, what was an indispensable property of the bride – future mother.

It is interesting, that just Karakalpak female wedding costume has preserved traces of the military past. Anyhow, in this costume the girl looked modest, strict and majestic. The wedding costume also demonstrated skills of the bride as it was fully created by her hands, and elaboration of embroidery indicated to her assiduity and skill.

Author: Gulnaz Toreniyazova

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