For a number of years now, traditional art and material culture of southern Uzbekistan (Surkhandarya Province) have attracted attention of both domestic and foreign researchers – archaeologists, ethnographers and other scholars. In 2003, using the facilities of the Research Institute of Art History of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, a complex Baysun research expedition was set up (led by Academician of the AAUz A. A. Khakimov) to study historical, archaeological and ethnic-cultural heritage, musical folklore and traditional art of the region. The expedition explored types of decorative/applied art such as embroidery, carpet-weaving, felt-making, weaving and ceramics.
Traditional costume is one of the most significant and specific part of cultural heritage, as it reflects sustainability of traditions, environmental and aesthetic ideals, social and ethic norms, as well as man’s notion about the universe and cognition of oneself in it. Surkhandarya costume is different from one of other regions: it features bright colours, peculiar headdress, footwear and jewellery. The fact that the region is peopled with sedentary and formerly semi-nomadic population (the Kungrat, the Juz) with different culture and traditions makes local traditional costume unique and distinctive. Jewellery is an integral part of the costume, which also reflects the nation’s history and culture and represents one of symbolic models of reality and cultural and historic connections.
The art of jewellery-making in Surkhandarya has not been particularly well-developed. One of the favourite occupations for women is the art of beading. Beading technique is employed in many kinds of chest and neck jewellery worn by Surkhandarya women, particularly after wedding, to guard them from evil powers and evil eye and protect women’s reproductive health. Among jewellery items endowed with sacral power are khapamat and gulband – either intertwined or in the form of a net made of multicoloured beads.
Khapamat was worn chiefly by Kungrat women, although the name comes from Tajik word khafa (sorrow) and band (to fence, to ward off). The design of these jewellery items depended on the manufacturing technique and was predominantly geometrical. Rows of multicolour bead threads – white, red, yellow, blue and black – connected to form geometric shapes: rhomb, triangle, trapezium… These seemingly simple geometrical forms based on underlying symbolic texts reflect the people’s mythological notions about the world around.
All types of khapamat have mainly been made in the form of a triangle, the protective function of which is believed to be connected with the name of goddess Umai. According to the beliefs of ancient Turks, the goddess held special place in the pantheon of guardian-spirits. She personified the ultimate earthly existence, i.e. birth, marriage and death; she was also the guardian of children and their mothers, and the goddess of fertility. The symbol of Umai was a triangle, as well as trefoil, Moon, comb, scissors and arrow. Rhomb, one of the earthly signs, was also believed to be the symbol of fertility and was frequently used in khapamat compositional solutions.
The use of cowry shells (Cepraea moneta – Lat.) in khapamat, which performed a sacral function, goes back into deep antiquity. Based on the name the Kungrat people gave to the shells – jilan bosh – and their semblance to the snake’s head, it can be inferred that the cowry magical power was linked to the snake cult that existed among almost all Central Asian peoples in the past. The Kungrat of Surkhandarya still embroider snake on the back of a child’s gown to guard against evil eye and dark powers.
Another kind of women’s jewellery, gulband, consisted of multiple bead threads, sometimes intertwined. The threads could be as many as 80. The name gulband came from the word gul, which meant rubella disease in local language, and band. Therefore, it was believed that wearing gulband could prevent rubella. The most interesting part of gulband is its centerpiece – the bobokhur stone functioning as protective amulet. Young women wore it as charm for conjugal happiness that protected family hearth and marriage.
Research into and the analysis of Surkhandarya traditional jewellery semantics helps to explore the content of various aspects of jewellery functions, and to identify archaic strata of people’s world views and mentality. Jewellery of this region is an interesting topic for further research into the subject of traditional costume of Southern Uzbekistan.