Turkmen crown: silver with gold leaf and carnelian stones.
Central Asian silver work captured my heart a couple of decades ago. Bold stones embedded in Islamic patterns bring grace and fluidity to the jewelry, but of all of them, the work of the Turkmen artists remains my favorite. Much of it is easily recognizable by the gold on silver designs embedded with large stones: carnelian, lapis lazuli or other gemstones. Afghan Tribal Arts has a rich collection of head dresses, cuffs, pendants and collectible pieces, most of which is not in our Etsy shop at this time. We will get there, in time, I promise! Meanwhile, enjoy some images of our Turkman collection from past shows. Clicking on the images will move the slideshow forward.
Some background on Turkmen jewelry:
The first thing you will see when you start reading about it is that the tribal name is spelled in many different ways. I have seen it written as Turkman, Turkmen, Turkkoman, and other variations. When you do a search, make sure you test the different spellings as it will change your results.
This first image is from Thomas Cole’s must-see site, tcoletribalrugs.com. He has a whole section of images from Central Asia, old and new, which are wonderful to see. His description of this photo:
“A classic photo of Dudin’s, depicting a Tekke Turkmen woman. Her image is often seen in the various books on the Turkmen, be they books on the people or their rugs. Her relaxed demeanour translates well as she stands with one hand on her hip, staring straight at the camera without hesitation or modesty. The relative abundance of silver jewelry suggests she is from a fairly prosperous family or clan, as does her confidence and presence. Draped across her head is the classic embroidered garment known as a ‘chyrpy’.”
As you can see, Turkmen women have been loading themselves down with as much jewelry as they can carry for a long, long time! The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a nice page on Turkman jewelry. They talk a bit about the importance of why these women value their jewelry:
“Jewelry was a significant financial investment, as it was handcrafted from precious materials. There were cases when, in times of dire need, a woman would part with her jewelry in order to help the survival of the tribe. Significant in size and weight, Turkmen jewelry objects were made of silver, decorated with semi-precious stones, and sometimes gilded for an added color effect and value.
Common shapes found on Turkmen jewelry include mountains, animals, horns, and plants. The mountain motif is part of the Turkmen creation story and is significant for its ancestral and heavenly connection (2006.544.9). Each Turkmen tribe holds a specific mountain in their region sacred and only that tribe can ascend it. The mountain ram is a sacred animal to the Turkmen and its horns are frequently used in rituals (2008.579.12). The double leaf and two-leafed flower motifs are connected to the growth of human existence, and are part of a long-established decorative tradition (2008.579.6).”
The Turkmen people today are spread over several countries in Central Asia, but most live in Turkmenistan. Traditional garments and jewelry are still worn in the more remote areas and celebrated with pride in urban ones. The following photos were found on the web with no attribution:
- Wikipedia, of course, has a lot on the history of the people. I thought this tidbit was interesting: “Many tribal customs still survive among modern Turkmen. Unique to Turkmen culture is kalim which is a groom‘s “dowry“, that can be quite expensive and often results in the widely practiced tradition of bridal kidnapping. In something of a modern parallel, President Saparmurat Niyazov introduced a state enforced “kalim“, wherein all foreigners are required to pay a sum of no less than $50,000 to marry a Turkmen woman.”
- Anahita Gallery has an article originally published by Ornament Magazine. The whole article is great, but here is a nice sampling: “Many types of Turkoman jewelry carried meanings related to their history as a warrior people and to the pastoralist tradition. Some ornaments had homeopathic properties, some sympathetic magic, some made reference to pre-Islamic notions of totemic spirits. Throughout a Turkoman’s life, there were periods in which a person was particularly vulnerable to harm, and other times when it was possible to partake of another’s good fortune. Many types of ornament served to protect as much as to decorate the household and the human form. Amuletic material from Turkoman culture often does not include the type of written prayers and mosque images found in talismanic material from Islamic areas. Instead there are ram’s horns, snakes and a variety of triangular shapes. During the period in which Soviet scholarship sought to minimize the role of Islam, this lack of overtly Islamic content was used to support the hypothesis that Turkoman folk culture was based on long forgotten Zoroastrian or shamanist belief systems. Perhaps it is more useful to consider the long tradition of highly abstract art on the steppe, in which formal considerations of line are more important than representation, and totemic animals take precedence over the human form – and to look at what is meaningful to the Turkomans today.”
- Central Asia Online also has a good page on the history of Turkmen jewelry and dress: “Silver jewellery, like the embroidery, is also an integral part of Turkmen national dress, and it accompanies a woman throughout her life. Young brides are particularly generously attired with a large number and variety of articles of jewellery. The most numerous and complicated is the set of bridal jewellery worn until the birth of the first child. According to legend, women used to wear so much jewellery that they could scarcely turn their heads beneath its weight and they were unable to walk without assistance. Experts believe that the lavish decoration of national dress with items of jewellery became a tradition in this part of the world at least 2000 years ago. This is evidenced by the terracotta statuettes of goddesses from Margiana (1st century BC), which depict numerous pendants and tall headdresses, similar to those of today. Lavish head decoration is typical of the Turkmens. It is almost the highlight of the costume and is created using scarves, embroidered skull-caps (in the case of children) and large sets of jewellery which have a particular meaning. It also serves a more useful function as something to which to attach scarves and clips.”