Ritual jewelry of the Karakalpak women
in the 19th – early 20th cc.
(in a complex of national female costume)

Issue #2 • 2517

Jewelry of the Karakalpak women in the 19th – early 20th cc. demonstrates rich and various forms, technologies of manufacturing and functional purposes; they accumulated huge art experience of different historical epochs and peoples. The female costume and jewelry formed an ensemble and complete aesthetic and poetic image of the Karakalpak woman. Social and age differentiation determined strict rules to be obligatory – jewelry complexes demonstrate obvious tendency to complication of their set from the period of childhood up to the age of consent and the following gradual simplification towards the old age. The special role belonged to jewelry in ritual practice of the Karakalpaks as well as in ritual traditional actions. So, adornments of girls differed in an abundance of amulets and talismans having the ability “to drive away” the malign forces.

The wedding costume of the Karakalpak woman formed a top point of ritual functions, what was connected both with religious and cult ideas about especial vulnerability of a young woman (actually all her adornments played a protective function) and specific “oriental” views at the woman – daughter and woman – mother (as a parameter of welfare and a social status of a father and husband).

At that, fully frontal and temporal elements, magically “protecting” a forehead and cheeks of the bride, left open only her face. In addition were used protective adornments – nose ring “arabek” and temporal rings joined by means of a chain with fine pendants “khalkaply syrga”, which also “prevented” to discern the bride’s face. So was reached the psychological effect, forcing to fix attention on magnificent costume and adornments of a bride. At the same time, her costume in a complex magically prevented whammy playing a role of “veil”. The same design was applied to the back part – “saukele”, which vertical lines as if spreading downwards on embroidered on – plait element – “khalaka” (in a form of shut peacock tail), and absence of jewelry was an equivalent of national ideas about harm that can be caused by long send – off of the bride and a long look following to the leaving person.

E.Gorozhankina notes, that an abundance of jewelry and magnificence of national costume of the Muslim women was caused by aspiration to hide a true face of the one who has doubtless value both for all society, and for micro society – family. In this case the creative act takes the subject (female jewelry units) out of a domestic context and raises it onto the level of ritual importance (1, p. 13).

The large on-breast amulets-tumars “khaikel” (a monument, an idol) also can be originally interpreted. This is a cylindrical amulet – case with a top in a form of archaic talisman – the bull horns. It is known, that many peoples of the ancient world ascribed magic properties to horns, canines, claws, feathers of those animals and birds, which had especial fertility or force. They thought that they can submit these qualities to the person who wears them on. Therefore, in the past, many adornments reproduced these zoomorphic forms. Variants of the Karakalpak “khaikel” had the tops in a form of fortified wall’s fragment, a magnificent trefoil. Going further after the detailed description of jewelry symbolism, we shall note, that symbols – protections in the Karakalpak jewelry art were expressed as well by means of the astral, f.i. cross – shaped on-breast pendant “shar tuime” (having the force of the Sun and fire), and through the anthropomorphic images – a belt pendant “anshyk” (a rudiment of stylized female figurine, i.e. Goddess – mother).

After the ancient tradition, finalizing a ceremony of courtship the bride’s parents gave to matchmakers a number of gifts “toghyzlyk” (nine subjects), first of which was a silver bracelet. Since this moment the girl had been considered affianced (2, p. 67). On the day of wedding the bride distributed gifts, in particular, jewelry pieces – earrings, bracelets, rings to women and girls living in the settlement of her groom. Among the gifts there were also special ritual bracelets “zhez bilezik” from a brass with the ends in a form of amphibious heads (fishes, snakes), paws or canines of animals. “Zhez bilezik” were given only to the old women who did not wear them, but kept in chests as a symbol of initiation totem of the bride’s clan to the patrimonial totem of the groom (3, p. 60).

On a wedding day the bride for the first time put on the adornments having a form of the ring (rings, bracelets) and nose ring that was connected with the symbolics of matrimonial fidelity and had, according to the archaic ideas, the ability to convert the person to another condition (4, p. 126).

After wedding (entering the category of the married woman), after a birth of the child (entering the category of the mother), after a marriage of children (entering the category of mother – of – mothers) and in a case of the close relative’s death the woman should have followed the ritual restrictions within forty days “shille” (chilla). During this term the woman was prohibited to wear jewelry pieces and their taking off meant a symbolical end, i.e. transition to another category (1, p. 14). After these “transitions” the Karakalpak women did not wear many kinds of jewelry any more or replaced them with more modest. All these, as well as many other examples of jewelry use, as ritual attributes point out that they played a magic function and symbolized transition into another condition, and then into the new life cycle – childhood, maturity and old age.

Thus, the Karakalpaks had definite standards regulating the wearing of strictly certain ritual adornments on days of national holidays and family ceremonies, which differed from the daily and obligatory ones by their strictly fixed form, a decor and semantic content. Stability of ancient aesthetic categories and art canons was promoted by relative ethnic isolation of the Karakalpak patriarchal society. Besides that, the preservation of previous cult – religious views, even after swingover to Islam, rare use of a full set of ritual adornments, high quality of materials and technology and the high cost – they were made from silver, encrusted with gold, cornelian, corals and less often with turquoise, caused careful treatment of them. Adornments were handed down from generation to generation. They were holiday and heavy, initially made as the ritual – cult attributes but later having got properties of special symbols demonstrating luxury and well – being.

Furthermore, the adornments were given a special decorative form, which should have become an expressive color spot on the rich bright embroidery of female costume. They acted as a certain antithesis on a background of embroidered details with the finest pattern. The embroidery of the Karakalpaks was always a female occupation, whereas jewelry making was occupation for men only. Jewelry had laconic and large forms as well as “toned down” colour. The embroidery combines simplicity and accuracy of compositions, ancient steppe motives with complicated manufacturing technologies and deep contrast colour. As a link between these fields of art were adherence to the general art style and vital national – poetic concepts of the Karakalpak about ritual – cult adornments and costumes.

The significant part of the Karakalpak ritual jewelry has analogies in jewelry of genetically close peoples – the Turkmens, Uzbeks and Kazakhs. For example, the encrusted Turkmen bracelets (Tekin) have the same techniques of manufacturing as the Karakalpak splint bracelets “khasyl tasly bilezik”; cast bracelets “kuima bilezik” were popular both with the Karakalpaks and the Khorezm Uzbeks; the Karakalpak on – breast pendant “baka tuime”, the Turkmens’ “dagdans” and Khorezm’s “yarimtirnol” represent variants of the same motive, a frog – an ancient totem of nomadic tribes; the Karakalpak belt pendant “ongirmonshak” reveals the analogy, by form and function, with the Uzbek “peshevez” and “peshikhalata”; the wedding headdress “saukele” (coming from the ancient helmet) in different art variants existed at the Karakalpaks, Kazakhs and Kirghiz. Much in common connects the Karakalpak and Turkmen jewelry art: technology, compositional and ornamental principles, semantics and the art style gravitating to severity and monumentalism.

At the same time the Karakalpak jewelry has original art style, unique and differed from the jewelry art developed by any other people, for example, on – breast pendant “shar tuime”, belt pendant “anshyk”, a headdress “tobelik”, temporal unit “kyran”, the maiden set “ongirshe”, etc.

In general, in the jewelry complex of the Karakalpak women is traced the tendency to metaphorical picture of the Universe. Besides that, the adornments reflect a way of life, age and social status, and are obligatory attributes of cult rituals concerning the basic age stages of each woman.

Author: Zafara Alieva

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