The Problem of Stylistic Specifics of the Lint-Free Carpets of Kungrats

Binafsha Nodir,
Art Critic

The study of various aspects of national and cultural identity of the Uzbek people has become particularly relevant after the independence of Uzbekistan. Increased interest is evident in research of the political history of the Uzbek people, the ethnogenesis of the nation, traditional arts and culture as an important element in formation of its civilizational identity. This article, which is part of the monograph prepared by the author for printing, is dedicated to carpet products of Kungrats –nomadic tribes of the past, whose craftsmanship traditions largely determine the notion of “Uzbek carpet-weaving”.

The interaction of different ethnic, cultural and artistic traditions, the combination of urban and nomadic forms of economic activity is one of the features of the historical development of the Uzbek people. This process was peculiar in the manufacture of traditional Uzbek textiles. If cotton and silk are the recognized the attributes of agricultural and urban civilization, the wool is the embodiment of the culture of nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples woolen items were originally made by the representatives of the nomadic peoples of Central Asia engaged in animal husbandry, which was the main source for the production of carpets. The origins of this craft in our region date back centuries (1, p. 167-168).
By the end of XIX – beginning XX centuries due to the urbanization process in the region and a gradual transition of nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples to a settled way of life there was a natural disappearance of many industries and kinds of traditional culture of the former nomadic Uzbek tribes. Meanwhile, their role in shaping the cultural identity of the Uzbek people is significant. This statement fully applies to carpet products of the Kungrats of the Southern Uzbekistan – one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Carpet weaving has been the most resilient part of their traditional crafts. Part of the lint free carpets, which are stored in the national and foreign museums, private collections and renowned in the scientific literature as the Uzbek rugs, was created by Kungrat masters.
Historiography on the origins of the Kungrats is quite extensive (2). Currently, their compact groups reside in the southern regions of Uzbekistan – Surkhandarya Province, mainly in Baysun, Sherabad, Angora, Shurchi, Dashnabad, Kumkurgan, Jarkurgan, Muzrabat Districts, and in Kashkadarya Province a large group of Kungurats is settled mainly in Dekhqanabad District.
In the everyday life the Kungurats used basically the lint-free carpets, although, in the past, the Kungrat craftswomen weaved the pile carpets. Presently, Kungrats manufacture only lint-free kilims (3, p. 18). Although carpet weaving is one of the main types of applied arts of Kungrats, it has not been studied fully. One of the first mentions of the Kungrat carpets can be found at A. Felkerzam, who in a small section on Uzbek rugs, with reference to Dudin, names Kungurats among the eleven most important Uzbek tribes (4, № p. 34). A more systematic gradation of Central Asian carpets, based on my own experience with the arte-facts, gives M. Dudin, dividing all Central Asian carpets into three large groups: Turkmen, Uzbek and Kyrgyz ones. In turn, speaking about the Uzbek carpet weaving, he distinguishes Kungrat carpets as a special group along with Karakalpak and Manghit carpets (5, p. 91). Classification of the Central Asian carpets by M. Dudin is the basis for the structure of the fundamental work on Central Asian carpet weaving by V. Moshkova, who was praising his research. The book by V. Moshkova contains extensive material on carpet weaving of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Despite the fact that in the classification called “The Group of Uzbek Carpets”, Kungrats were included in the main text of her book, the carpets of Kungrats were not considered. However, this work is of fundamental importance, because it deals with characterization and analysis of techniques, patterns, colors and compositional design of the basic types of carpets of a number of other Uzbek tribes, as well as materials for weaving related to Turkic-speaking peoples who have much in common with the Kungrat carpet weaving (6.).
In the works by A. Khakimov and E. Gul, along with other types of applied arts, materials on weaving of Kungrat population of Boysun were highlighted and systematized (7). Certain issues of the culture of carpet weaving of Kungrats were discussed in the publications of the author of this article (3; 8).
The aim of this article is the identification of stylistic features of Kungrat lint-free carpets which used a combined technique – weaving and embroidery. In general, it is ok-enli (other versions of the names – ok-en, okli, and other) with alternating patterned stripes of the woven and embroidered stripes.
Kungrats and Lakays: the similarities between textile styles
By the end of the XX century there has been an increased auction, commercial and, consequently, research interest in Lakay and Kungrat textiles, which was reflected in a number of foreign and domestic publications and exhibitions (9). At the relevant sites across the web, the information materials with reproductions of the products of the galleries that are engaged in the sale of the carpets from Central Asia began to appear, including the carpets and embroidery by Kungrats and Lakays. At the same time, one of the main problems is the degree of reliability of determination of their belonging to Lakays or Kungrats, because the major part of their textile products incoming to the gallery through the hands of numerous dealers had no particular attribution and precise place of manufacture.
The fact that there are many references about the weaving of the Kungrats in the above mentioned scientific literature, there are virtually no mentioning about carpet weaving of Lakays, suggests that a significant part of carpets which are attributed to the Lakays, requires a more careful analysis. Moreover, there is no data from the field research with samples of carpets, which could be attributed with certainty to textile products of Lakays. The information given by A. Felkerzam indirectly evidences that the predominant part of the ok-enli carpets is a product of Kungrat craftswomen. He says that he did not found the carpet samples at Lakays: “Lyakay Tribe roams in the mountains near Sary-Chashma in the Eastern Bukhara. So far, we do not have information about their carpets; and the same can be said about other Uzbek tribes” (4, p. 38). At the same time, A. Felkerzam mentions the Kungrat carpets and highly appreciates them: “the Kungrat Tribe excels in manifacture of luxurious carpets with floral patterns” (4, p. 37).
S. M. Dudin, who wrote that the carpets with the layered pattern could be found among the Uzbek tribes only with Kungurat and Karakirgiz tribes (5, p. 81 – 82), also does not mention Lakays. It is noteworthy that currently Lakays are identified only with the carpets of the combined technique, which uses embroidery – textile type, in which Lakay craftswomen achieved the highest mastery: “Lakay women are particularly known as skilled embroiderers and weavers” (10, p.22). No information was found about manufacture of woven carpets by Lakays like terma ghilyam, gadjari ghilyam, kattyk ghilyam, takyr ghilyam, kokma ghilyam, which are widespread with other Uzbek tribes. B. Karmysheva, mentioning the similarity of the motifs of embroidery and carpets of Lakays to the motifs of the carpet products of other Uzbek tribes, including Kungrats, says nothing about the types of carpets by Lakays, limiting only to general notion: “representatives of Uzbek group weave the ornamented rugs (lint-free carpets), small pile carpet items and do embroidery” (10, p.22).The picture made by B. Karmysheva as a sample of the Lakay motif used in the lint-free weaving, may contain the carpet insets in the items of ok-enli and oy-ghilyam types (10, p. 23).
In our opinion, the similarity of many products of carpet weaving and embroidery of Kunguratsand Lakays is explained by their common ancestral origin and the proximity of the territories of their residence, language, anthropological appearance and character of economic activities, ritual practices, etc. To confirm this, we will limit to a brief digression from the main topic, since the scope of this article does not allow to present more widely the interpretation of this question that could shed light on the similarity of the stylistic qualities of textiles of Kungurats and Lakays, which B. H. Karmysheva included in one ethno-cultural group of Uzbeks of Dasht-Kipchak origin along with such tribes as Durmen, Katagan, Marka, Kauchin, Kesamir and Semizam, who came to Transoxiana from Dashti-Kipchak, she stressed their common traits in their lifestyle, material culture, and crafts (B. Karmysheva used the term – “folk figurative art” – B.N.) and in the number of customs and rites (10, p. 21). In addition, the author mentions the information of the informants, indicating ethnogenic similarity of Lakays, Katagans and Kungrats, indirectly referring to their cohabitation on the same territory.
In general, the stylistic features, manufacturing methods and patterns of the lint-free carpets, attributable to Lakays and Kungrats, are so much similar that experts sometimes get misled in determining their ethno-cultural origin. As noted by Karmysheva herself, “the ornament of Lakay embroideries and carpets are very similar, sometimes completely identical to those of the Katagan, Semiz, Kesamir, Durmen, Kungrat and other Uzbek groups and has much in common with the ornaments of the Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs and Turkmens. There is no doubt that the origins and history of the evolution of this ornament are common” (10, p. 23).
Ok-Enli or Besh-Kashta?
A specific feature of the technology of ok-enli carpets is combination of weaving technique (most of the woven strips were done in the gajari technique, more seldom using terma) and hand embroidery. Embroidery is applied mainly on bright – white or yellowish stripes, and woven stripes are usually of dark brown or dark red color. When determining the width of the narrow lint-free carpets, the Kungrats as well as other semi-nomadic Uzbeks used the term “en” (meaning width). One en was equal to the width of one woven rug. If a rug consisted of 6-8 stripes, the width was equal to 6-8 en. Thus, the name ok (white)-enli. Kungrat craftswomen use several derivatives from ok-enli to name this type of carpets – okli and ok-en. A. Khakimov, E. Gul had chosen to use the term ok-enli (7, p. 55), referring to the book by V. Moshkova (6), they suggested that connection of ok-enli with the besh-kashta carpets, well known in the Central Asian carpet weaving. However, they did not go beyond this assumption.
In the work of V. Moshkova, the term ok-enli is not found, but, judging by her description of some samples of Uzbek carpet-weaving, it is referred to ok-enli: “In the Museum collections of Uzbek carpets occasionally there are interesting samples of rugs, for ornamentation of which the embroidery and applique were used. S. Dudin refer them to the works of Uzbek carpet weavers of Bukhara and Samarkand provinces. These are the smooth woven stripes of brick-red, brown and ochre-yellow color, embroidered with wool and cotton yarn. The author of present work have not seen the embroidered rugs in the districts of Samarkand Province, and the location of their production remains unknown” (6, p. 66). If we assume that we are talking here about the ok-enli carpets, actually in the Samarkand Province, V. G. Moshkova could not find them. Both in the past and at present they are manufactured mostly by Kungrat craftswomen of Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya provinces (possibly by Lakay women of Southern Tajikistan. However, we cannot be sure of it, since no specifically localized samples have been found yet), and until the 1980s, they used to be made by the representatives of the Uzbek tribes and on the territory of Northern Afghanistan (11, p. 19). The composition of design and technology of manufacturing of besh-kashta carpets, which the Central Asian Arabs call hurboflik, as well as besh-kashta, Turkmen carpet weavers – oydume, and Kyrgyz craftswomen – besh kashte, are described in detail by researchers (6, p. 40; 12, p. 62) Unlike besh-kashta, which uses the applique pattern primarily in the technique of weaving, the ok-enli carpets apply traditional technique of handmade embroidery. This difference in the techniques of applying patch pattern was evident in the interpretation of patterns. In woven options (besh-kashta) it looked geometrically calibrated and consisted of the correct shapes of the elements with sharp corners, while the options created in technique of embroidery (ok-enli) had more rounded and smooth shapes. At the same time, the mentioned combination technique and the patch pattern of the besh-kashta and ok-enli carpets leads to ambiguities, as indicated by Moshkova: “Beshkashta rugs with overlaid relief pattern seem roughly embroidered in needlepoint technnique, which sometimes leads to confusion in the definitions (6, p. 40). In confirmation of her words she demonstrates as an example a pattern with fragments of the motifs saying “Samples of rugs made in beshkashta technique” (6, p. 41). A photo of the same piece of rug was mentioned in the work of A. Felkerzam, whose article contains the picture composed of three parts, as well as the photo given by Moshkova, which shows only the lower fragment. The caption in Felkerzam’s article is different: “Fragments of the Uzbek Kungrat embroidered rugs (Russian Museum of Alexander III)” (4, p. 29). Each of these three fragments shown on the photo vertically one above the other, contains the fragments of alternating dark and light patterned stripes. Motifs of the embroidered light stripes include S-shaped, hexagonal star, a stylized image of turtle or insect, lozenges, four shamrocks united by a small lozenge at the base, symmetrical patterns of the horns (kuchkorak), also united by small lozenge, big diamond-shaped figure with four anchor-shaped finials at the ends located along the vertical strip. On the dark woven stripe there is a picture of the medallion of giol type (the “kalkan nuska” motif, according to V. G. Moshkova) and the stripes with vegetation motifs of alternating length. These elements are most common on the well-known weaving and embroidery products attributed to Kungrats and to a certain extent can be considered as markers of Kungrat ornamental identity.
Thus, comparison of the patterns on the Kungurat carpets in question with the motifs on the pictures by A. Felkerzam and Moshkova indicate that their published photos show the Kungrat carpets ok-enli, and not besh-kashta as noted by V. G. Moshkova. Definitely there is some kind of genetic link between them and it is expressed in the use of combined techniques in both types of carpets. We can assume that ok-enli is some sort of variation of the besh-kashta carpets, which in their turn originated from the functionally important woven bandage strips of the yurts – baskurs in the life of nomads (variation – ak baskur, kur, etc.) having similar to besh-kashta motifs. This idea suggests the principle of stitching the carpets besh-kashta and ok-enli of the narrow strips similar to the size of baskur and the fact that major part of these strips is of white color, like most of the baskur.
Evolution of the Ornamental System of Ok-Enli
In the captions to many of the images of ok-enli in the literature the expression “Lakays or Kungrats” is often used as another confirmation of the similarity of Kungrat and Lakay carpets, which hinders a more accurate attribution.
Naturally, in the process of assimilation with the culture of the settled farming population the evolution of the ok-enli patterns was going towards floral themes, although the floral and vegetative motifs were characteristic of the ornaments of Kungrats in the past. In the early samples of ok-enli (until the mid-twentieth century) and some of the embroideries, the motifs of floral ornament had more steppe character. Thus, in the decoration of ok-enli carpets until the mid-twentieth century reflected the flora and fauna of the steppe landscapes familiar to the nomads: acantha, semi-circular, spherical flowers, stylized, primitive images of insects, separate body parts of animals or birds, etc. Stellar and solar patterns symbolized their ancient cosmogonist views. Probably, as the influence of traditional large and small embroideries of the settled population should be considered the emergence, in the late XIX – early XX century, in the ok-enli carpets the objects representation, for example, a pair of jugs, symbolizing fertility (links to water). Such images (jugs, knives, etc.) and zoomorphic figures we find on the embroideries and embroidered ribbons of Nurata of the middle of XIX century.
After the second half of the XX century the composition of the ok-enli patterns gets systemized, loses its archetypal strata, woven and embroidered patterns become larger. By the end of XX – beginning of XXI century the former coloristic harmony and sophistication in the interpretation of the decorative motifs give way to the primitive and colorful style, which is especially clearly manifested in the vegetation pattern of embroidered stripes of ok-enli carpets, created by modern Kungrat craftswomen of Boysun and other districts of Surkhandarya and Kashkadarya, where the Kungrats reside today.
1. Genesis of the ok-enli carpets, as well as besh-kashta carpets are allegedly linked with the tradition of binding strips – ak-baskur (kur), which was transformed into the floor type rugs. Appearance of hand embroidery technique on the ok-enli rugs testifies to its later origin than besh-kashta carpets, which apply mainly the weaving technique. Perhaps in favor of a later origin of ok-enli testifies the fact that the form of hand embroidery can be attributed to the period of assimilation of the nomadic Dashti-Kipchak Uzbek tribes on the territory of Mawerannahr with the advanced forms of hand embroidery of the settled people.
2. The ornamental composition of the ok-enli carpets has a fairly stable system of elements which goes back to the traditions of carpet weaving of the general Dashti-Kipchak area, although there is a certain interaction with the weaving and embroidery patterns of the neighboring Uzbek, Turkmen and Arab peoples.
3. Analysis of the carpet patterns that are attributed or localized with certainty as Kungrat (materials of field research) revealed the most stable and commonly found motifs that may act as a certain marker to determine the stylistic properties of Kungrat textiles, which allows specifying the identification of a number of gallery and museum samples that have been attributed to Lakays.
4. On the basis of such significant similarities of the lint-free carpets of Lakays and Kungrats, we cannot exclude the fact that some of favorite Lakay samples could have been borrowed and copied by Kungrat weavers or vice versa.
Therefore, the lint-free ok-enli carpet with the combined technique of weaving and embroidery is a unique sample of Kungrat textiles. The similarities to it among other Uzbeks tribes of Dashti-Kipchak origin were found only with Lakays. In general, the problem of identification of the stylistic peculiarities of carpet weaving of Kungurats has a great scientific importance to determine the nature of ethno-cultural interrelations of the peoples of the Central Asia and requires more detailed study in the future.
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The article uses the photographs from the books and websites:

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