Kungrat and Lakai Textile in the Set of the Horse Harness

Issue #4 • 1405

Binafsha Nodir,
Art Critic

12The applied art and crafts of the Kungrat and Lakai people is of particularly great interest in recent years, for the national and foreign experts, scholars, critics and audiences both in our country and abroad. A number of short articles and publications that has been published recently, allow an understanding of the ethno-genesis and applied arts of Kungrat and Lakai people, and the semantics of their patterns (1). Several special exhibitions dedicated to the Kungrat and Lakai artistic textile has been organized (exhibition “Unknown Lakai People”, Tashkent, 2006; Uzbek Embroidery in the Nomadic Tradition: The Jack A. and Aviva Robinson Collection, USA, 2007). However, despite the increased interest in crafts of these tribes, many aspects of their applied arts up to now were not subject of a special study by the historians of art. Like this, the use of textile products – embroidery and carpet weaving – in a set of horse harness of these ethnic groups is not adequately investigated. Decorations for the horse, made using the technique of embroidery and weaving, practically are not found in the collections of our national museums, and in the scientific literature they are also not mentioned. The exhibits from the private collections and the foreign museums can serve as samples. Even those few carpet horse-blankets – dig-diga, woven by Kungrat craftswomen, – discovered in Baysun during a research expedition have not been a subject of analytical study (2). The images of the horse-blankets published in the national albums and catalogues, for the most part belong to Bukhara and Shakhrisabz cultures (3).
From time immemorial, the main means of transportation and survival of Kungrat and Lakai people were horses that were used as riding and pack animals during migrations, as well as they were used in economic life, in equestrian contests, horse racing, including racing for a goatskin (ulak). Lakai and Kungrat people have a great number of legends, rituals and traditions related to the horse that emphasize the important role of this animal in their daily life and their cult. The noble Lakai people, according to tradition, used to gift a horse in full gear to their sons on the day of their 15th birthday and used to arrange the goatskin contest (ulak) on this occasion. This ritual was usually accompanied by a sacred phrase: “Such and such bay (lord) made his son a horse gift”. In case of the death of a teenager or a young man in the open-air area, the horse of the diseased one used to be positioned in front of the yurt, while his family was circling around the horse, wailing and crying (4, pp.102-103 ).
Horse riding equipment of the Lakai and Kungrat tribes consisted of several primary and secondary elements: saddle (egar), stirrups (uzangi), bridle (jugan), crupper (kuyishkon), blanket (dig-diga, daur, jul), saddleblankets (chirgi), saddle garth (tushoyil), belts, buckles, etc.
One of the important components of the horse harness of Kungrat and Lakai tribes were blankets, which were often decorated with rich embroidery or carpet patterns that defined the social position of the rider. The horse-blankets were of two types: 1) light rag (napless – kizyl julcha) or made out of homemade wool canvas (shol) that was used during riding in rough weather or cold season; 2) warm and quilted blanket made out of felt or woolen cloth, used to cover a horse at night in summer time and during the day in winter even while riding (katta jul). This kind of blanket sometimes used to be made from quilted padded light fabric that covered the horse’s head. There used to be ear holes (4, p. 102). Usually blankets were made of trapezoidal shape, the side and back parts of which used to be decorated with multicolored silk fringe. As a rule, blankets used to be put either under a saddle or over a saddle. In the latter case an aperture for a saddle bow used to be cut. The part on which the saddle used to be placed, or that part where the rider was sitting, usually was not covered with embroidery.
The wealthy part of the tribes’ population had the horse-blankets made of thin red or black cloth lavishly embroidered and trimmed with a fringe made of twisted silk threads and?. This type blankets were called daur. It used to be put on the horse, on which the bride was riding to the groom’s house.
13Embroidery on most of the Kungrat and Lakai horse-blankets was based on contrast between the black or red background and light shades of silk threads. The coloring of these strikingly bright blankets impresses with their color palette, abundance of red, yellow, white, blue and green colors. Embroiderers hardly used different shades of the same color, which for the most part was typical for embroidery patterns of settled tribes. Softer shades of antique caparisons used to be obtained by dyeing the thread with resistant vegetable dyes.
The technique of embroidering the horse-blankets mainly used such seams as yurma (chain stitch) and bosma (hemstitch). A compact stitching of the individual pattern motifs is characteristic for Kungrat and Lakai horse-blankets of the old type. With a compact embroidery the chain stitching winds along the contour of the pattern, then bents inward along the first one, until the pattern is filled entirely with embroidery. Sometimes the chain stitch is done a little differently: its loops are only visible on one side of the chain, on the other side they are very tight and look like a solid line, which leaves a peculiar pattern on the embroidered surface.
Embroidered blankets were rich in ornaments that were common to other types of arts and crafts of Kungrat and Lakai tribes. The main ornamental motifs of the embroidered horse-blankets of the Lakai people were round rosette, usually located in the center, and the almond-shaped pattern, bodomgul, or bulb-shaped pattern with two hornlike curls fanning out upwards, situated symmetrically on either side of the rosette. This distinctive motif is characteristic only for the Lakai embroidery, and its semantics today is of great interest to many researchers (5, p. 123). Motives of the horse-blankets’ fringes often consist of the semiabstract images of insects, mostly, chayongul, a pattern resembling a scorpion. It is well known that the scorpion image was used as protective symbol with many Uzbek tribes. The background of the horse-blankets’ was also embroidered with small ornaments in the form of the plants, almond-shaped or hornlike patterns. The Kungrat horse-blankets were different from the Lakai blankets in the composition of embroidery, which almost entirely consisted of the plant and flower ornaments. Some researchers believe that this decoration of the horse-blankets “in many ways serves as the indicator of reorientation, a retreat from ancient zoomorphic characters influenced by transition to a settled lifestyle” (6, p. 129). We must also note that the pattern in embroidery of the Kungrat horse-blankets at the late 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century was notably different from the vegetable-flower ornament of the embroidery of the settled tribes. Judging by the images of the patterns, they were more of the “steppes” nature. They remind us of the plants and flowers growing in the foothills and in the steppe.
As it was mentioned above, the author of this article has not found the embroidered horse-blankets in the major museums of our country. However, during the Boysun expedition in 2003 (Gumatak, Oqmachit, Dashtigoz, Besh Erkak, and other), and during the expeditions to Shurchi, Djarkurgan, Boysun and Sherabad areas of Surkhandarya Province, as well as in Dehkanabad District of Kashkadarya Province that the author of this article had undertaken within the period of 2002-2010, in some villages inhabited by Kungrat people, several samples of carpet napless horse-blankets were found. Majority of them are made in the carpet weaving technique of gadjari (according to this technique the front side is covered by smooth patterns, and on the reverse side there are warp yarns that do not participate in creation of the pattern).
14Despite the poor state of preservation, some horse-blankets are notable for the high quality of their fabrication, which applied the vegetable dyes, with patterns accomplished and colors selected according to the age-old traditional style. All of the horse-blankets are decorated with the unadorned plain stripes in combination with the ornamented stripes of another color. The main elements of the decor consist of S and W-shaped, toothed geometric, horn-shaped, and triangular symbols. The fact that the ornamentation of these samples has deep historical roots is, particularly, proven by the battle scene on the Central Asian miniature of the 16th century, where the riders mounted on the horses are depicted, and the horse blankets’ decoration is very similar to the above mentioned samples (Fig. 6). Moreover, according to some researchers, the ornaments of the horse blankets in the epoch of Sultan Husayn consisted of strips and looked simpler (7, p. 10).
A unique sample of horse harness is the felt saddle-blanket, also found during the Boysun expedition in the Kungrat village of Besherkak (2, p. 90). We still have not found any analogies to this pattern in our museums and in the known publications. An interesting historical analogy, shedding light on the origin and the role of the felt items of horse equipment, can represent the felt saddle cover decorated with the scene of the eagle-gryphon attacking the mountain goat from Pazyryk burial mound, now kept in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (8, p. 112). Firstly, this sample suggests the ancient tradition of using the felt material for manufacture of the objects of the horse equipment. Secondly, it is noteworthy that in the Pazyryk sample, the animals were depicted in full. Subsequently, these figurative compositions were subjected to extremely symbolic representation and eventually evolved into a decorative pattern. Exactly the final process demonstrates the ornament of the felt saddle-cover, which depicts a semiabstract image of a centipede (Fig. 10). Similar stylized images of such representatives of the fauna like scorpions, spiders, snakes, frogs, and beetles were distinctive feature of the applied art of Kungrat and Lakai people. They were symbolizing the inextricable link of the nomads with surrounding world and nature, and these images primarily had the apotropous, protective meaning.
Another interesting article of the artistic textile of the Kungrat and Lakai tribes associated with a horse is the feedbag or at-torba, which used to be hung on the chest of a horse during the festal days or other celebrations, but today the feedbags are completely out of use in the daily life of Kungrat and Lakai people. Decoration of the feedbags consisted of zoomorphic, solar and vegetative-flower motifs. Whirlpool rosette pattern, ot tuyoghi – in the shape of a horse’s hoof, kuchkorak motif – a cross with a diamond shape at the bottom, and the floral motifs were considered the main ornamental patterns of the feedbags of Kungrat and Lakai people. The Kungrat craftswomen sometimes used the tamgha patterns in decoration of the feedbags. It has been known that the main tamgha of Kungrat people was a П-shaped symbol, which can be clearly seen on Fig. 5 demonstrating the embroidered feedbag. For Kungrat embroidery was typical to depict the symbol of the tribe or tribal descent – tamgha (for example, Vahtamghali, Kushtamghali, Oytamghali).
The embroidered elements of the horse head’s decoration are unique. They were also used to decorate the heads of camels, participating in the ceremonies and wedding processions. No similar samples were found in the national museums. Recently, the author of this article has discovered a series of Kungrat and Lakai embroidered ornaments for horse and camel heads, dating back to the late ninetieth – the beginning of the twentieth century, in the foreign museums and private collections. Similar embroidered pieces used to decorate the head of a horse or a camel can be found in Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, and Turkmen cultures. Comparison of their ornamentation allows us to identify the local specific features of the artistic style of various segments of the vast Turkic nomadic culture.
Design of the horse head’s decoration in all of the samples has a general structure – it is a broad horizontal stripe with several vertical rectangular cut-outs. A row of separately cut geometric details of triangular, square or diamond shape is sewn to the bottom of this stripe. Normally, the lower part of the headpiece used to hang down in the form of long brushes of different configuration. The main pattern used to cover the entire surface of the horse headpiece.
Appurtenance of these objects to Kungrat or Lakai schools of embroidery and their distinction from other Turkic-speaking nomadic tribes can be traced along the common color patterns, correlation of colors, and on the basis of their patterns, which are similar in the decorative elements of the Kungrat and Lakai rugs and embroideries. Thus, in all instances of a horse headpiece ornaments there are many ornamental motifs which are common to other types of arts and crafts of Kungrat people. It includes different variations of the horn-shaped pattern kuchkor shokhi (ram’s horns); kush oyok pattern (bird claws) in the shape of a three-toed feet; as well as the patterns it izi (dog trail), ilon izi (serpent trail), ot tuyok (horse hoof), tumorcha (amulet), djillik (finger). The vegetable-floral motifs, which are found less often, are mostly of the steppe nature. These are mainly the images of plants that can be found in the steppes and on the mountain hills – wild flowers, tulips, thorns, etc.
15The first sample of the decorative headpiece of the horse (Fig. 3) is the most interesting and rich sample in terms of the pattern content. Thus, the outer trimmed border of the headpiece has a series of colorful motifs – solar circles. The cosmological symbols in the ornamentation of nomadic peoples are characteristic feature of their art, associated with permanent living in the open spaces of the steppes and a permanent connection to the nature and the cosmos. For decoration of this embroidered piece various geometric, zoomorphic, floral motifs are also used, which, in turn, could be distinguished as more ancient layers of ornamentation and motifs. For example, in the center of the middle stripe there is a double V-shaped pattern, which can be categorized as tamgha sign. Appurtanance to Kungrat ornamentation confirms the presence of characteristic motifs of kuchkor shokhi and kush oyok in the same stripe, as well as the patterns that fill the square faces underneath this stripe, which consist of four sectors, each of them is filled with tridents – such pattern was very popular in the decoration of Kungrat bugjoma and the ok-enli rugs.
Another example (Fig. 4) is notable for combination of the patterns of Lakai origin with the ornamental elements of the fine Kungrat embroidery. Thus, two horizontal and one vertical lateral stripes are decorated with the alternating patterns in the shape of triangular fan made of multi-color lines, which is distinctive attribute of Lakai ornaments. This range of Lakai patterns may include the motifs on the two lateral vertical strips of the horse muzzle in the form of two F-shaped signs of yellow and blue colors and two abstract figures of the birds with spread wings.
The lower part of the muzzle is represented as a series of spaced squares pointing their sharp corners upwards inside which there are embroidered patterns, most of them representing the circle from Kungrat ornamentation. Background in all of these samples is red. The predominant colors in the ornaments for horse headpiece are yellow, blue, white, green and black.
The origin of the ornaments for the headpiece of horses and camels of these nomadic tribes have virtually not been explored, there are only publications about horse harness of the Amir Temur epoch, as well as the article on the aspects of the riding culture in Central Asia (7; 9). It is possible that the decorative embroidered articles for horses and camels made by the craftsmen of the Turkic nomadic tribes originate from the ancient leather, felt and metal samples. Initially they had protective function during the military operations, later on they have transformed into decorative articles used to embellish the heads of horses and camels during the festive ceremonies.
The examined samples of Kungrat and Lakai decoration of the horses and the camels indicate that the artistic textile of these two Uzbek tribes has a lot of common technological features, this refers to the stitching technique, the way of the processing of raw materials and dyeing the yarn, and the color palettes of the manufactured articles, etc. At the same time, there are stylistic differences that are associated with the peculiarities of ornamental repertoire of Kungrat and Lakai embroideries.
The great variety of textile pieces and unique artistic style of Kungrat and Lakai people allows distinguishing their applied arts into the original local school, which is at the same time makes an integral part of traditional artistic crafts of Uzbek people.

Tags: Kungrat people, Lakai people, horse-blanket, embroidery, ornament, color specifics, horse

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The photographs used in this article were copied from the books and websites:
http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/(fig.1);Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale. Lakai: the Bad Beys of Central Asia // HALI, №75, 1994 (fig.4); Полякова Е., Рахимова З. Миниатюра и литература востока.Т., (fig.6); Костюм и текстиль пазырыкцев Алтая. Новосибирск. 2005 (fig.9); Хакимов А., Гюль Э. Атлас художественных ремесел Байсуна. Ташкент. 2006 (fig.10); Наследники шелкового пути. Узбекистан. Каталог выставки и сборник статей. Штутгарт, 1995 (fig.11); http://cetinkayagallery.com/ (fig.12);

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