Kazakh Carpets Have Symbolic Design and Mystery

PA280051Julia Connelly stepped in my “Listening and Note Taking” class to give a lecture about her ongoing fascination with Kazakh carpets.  She has a BFA degree in art specializing in Interior Design and when she arrived to Kazakhstan about six years ago she has been researching the mysteries behind this very complex art form.PA280050PA280052PA280053

Notice how one of the three carpets Julia brought has the woman’s name (Rakya) woven in and also the year “1963” when it was worked on.  Something like this would be a part of a woman’s dowry in order to be eligible for marriage.  A carpet typically took one year to accomplish. 

Julia also shared about the Pazyryk carpet that is also known as the Altai rug which measures 6 feet by 6 feet 6 inches.  It was found in south Siberia in 1947 by a Russian archeologist, S.J. Rudenko.  This well preserved carpet (found in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg) was in a grave mound belonging to a fifth century B.C. prince.  Soon after the grave was built and sealed, it was robbed of all its treasures but the theives took no interest in a heavy carpet.  The grave filled with water and then the burial chamber froze and like a deep freeze, it preserved the colors of this carpet.

Julia went on to explain about the dyeing process as well as the weaving on different kinds of looms.  She compared the carpets from Kazakhstan compared to Turkmenistan.  The striking features that I noticed as different is that Kazakh carpets were more creative and not repetitive and seemed to be more expansive in their design and not limited to the same blueprint.

The mystery remains as to why the production of Kazakh carpets that had gone on for 1,000s of year stopped abruptly in the mid-1970s.  These are questions I need answered: Was there a Soviet law prohibiting the sale of these carpets?  Did it endanger the weaver to have symbols that told stories too dangerous to tell?  From what I understood, the families kept their carpets within their own family and for special occasions such as weddings.  But then there is the whole other mystery behind bride-snatching or kid-napping?  Was it so that the woman wouldn’t have to do the painstaking work of a carpet? 

I need my Kazakh readers to respond to some of these baffling questions. Julia commented to me before this lecture that in her researching at the archives and libraries in Almaty, that her work took different zig zags depending on what she found out.  She may have started with one idea and meeting certain people or reading something, made her go in a different direction than originally planned.  I have to tell my students that that is precisely what research does, you can have a plan but depending on the data you unearth, it may have entirely different results surface.  As with the carpets and their significance in the old days, what are the mysteries they keep from us today?

5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Gulya said,

    I’m pleased to find at least 1 article in whole web net from Kazakh person about Kazakh art and history through Kazakh rugs. I can’t believe how much Soviet law and specially dominating Russians forced Kazakhs to forget their own history, lifestyle, art. Yes, Soviet law& KGB prohibited any kind of private business in USSR. Kazakhstan was tiered apart between Russia&China. East Turkestan became colony of China and now has new colonial Han’ name SinZsyan. Best Antique Kazakh rugs were stolen by communists in USSR&China. Kazakhs couldn’t make money by weaving rugs anymore. Since all Turkic countries became a colonies of USSR or CPR(Chinese People Republic), and no westerns were allowed at our Silk Road markets; Turkey became a major market of all Turkic rugs, Kazaks, Yughurs, Uzbeks, Altaics, Turkmen, Azeri, Kirgiz, Gagauzs, and etc. Kazakhs were still weaving some of kilims, but no rugs anymore. Pakistan became major producer of Kazakh design rugs now. My grandfather weaved flat rug; Klem or Kilim. After taking part of World War 2 he tried to feed his big family in Kazakh village on Russian territory near Zhyaik (Ural) river. He had ships, horses, goats. He was hunting and selling fur skin. KGB put him to jail in 1982 where he starngely died in 2 days. He was 50 y.o., his youngest kid was 14 y.o. his widow had no job, raising 2 kids and still doesn’t speak Russian. We still keep kilim by my grandfather. We used it once: on his funeral.

  2. 2

    Gulya said,

    correction to my previous post: at the time my grandfather died, my grandmother was raising 4 underage kids and had 3 more students. She never worked, she was helping my granddad to wash shipskin, fox, rubbit furskin, weaving wool for kilims, sawing, knitting, making felted wool for “valenki”. In one word she made Kazakh hand crafts and tried to sell it sometimes. She stayed true Kazakh, spoke Kazakh, prayed to Allah, had big Koran at home, even though it was strictly prohibited by Russian Federation law. Unfortunately new generations, her kids never were incuraged to learn her skills, since they wouldn’t be able to live on this. I do remember a little, but can’t do even 100th part of what my grandparents did.

  3. 3

    kazaknomad said,

    Gulya, I appreciate so much that you wrote and will contact my friend Julia to tell her what you just wrote me. She is eager to do her research about this and spread the word to other westerners about how very valuable these carpets and the Kazakh traditions are.

  4. 4

    Pakiza said,

    I am from the south of Kazakhstan. We used to make all kinds of rugs when I was growing up in my aul (small kazakh settlement). The last time I took part in making a rug was 1984, just before I left my aul at 17. Making a rug is a hard work. Weaving an average size kilem of 2.5×3.5 meters four girls takes minimum one month, working from dawn to midnight. Apart from four women weaving the kilem, it is also a hard work for a host lady feeding these girls well four times a day. So this is only the weaving process. But the preparation process is even harder, starting from cutting the wool off sheep (mountains of dusty wool), washing, dying and drying, then sabau, we say in kazakh, this is repeatedly hitting the wool by small piles by thin wood sticks to make it more puffy), then the wool is pulled by hand. These work takes days and everyone would get involved here grown ups and children. The more helping hands the better, quicker. Otherwise it is extremely tedious. Then yarn is prepared (urshik iiru) which is also hand made throughout winter months (it takes many months!). It is a back breaking work but I enjoyed weaving it (avoided hand pulling wool, very boring). Now I miss those days. It’s a shame we stopped doing it nowadays; it’s because there are plenty of factory produced rugs (most of them are syntetics and not warm and cosy) available which they can buy. Easy. But these are syntetic rugs and not so soft, warm and cosy like our kazakh rugs). But when I return to Kz one day, I will make a beautiful rug myself even if it would be a small one although it will probably be difficult to find women who would make yarns, the special yarns.

  5. 5

    […] on my blog! They are authentic and informative. What a surprise for me to read a comment made on a blog I posted years ago about Kazakh carpets. Similar to this intensive labor of love, I am having informed ladies from my northwestern […]


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