This heavily embellished women’s ceremonial headgear of tribal Turkmen origin was purchased by Dr Reem El Mutwalli from the Islamic Antique Suq, recently named as The Blue Souk, Sharjah, in 1992. It was eventually added to The Zay Initiative to enhance its collection.
This is a conical women’s ceremonial – possibly bridal – headgear common amongst the tribal Turkmen women of northwest Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Embellished with (suzani) style embroidery using a plethora of different stitches from (chain_stitch) to (blanket_stitch) in red, orange, purple, brown, ivory, and (indigo) blue, it has a striking similarity to the head gears of Tartar Turkmen tribal women from the Pontic Caspian steppe of lower Volga region north of the Caspian Sea.
It could be divided roughly into three parts – the wide forehead with attached sideburns or temple pendants set with carnelians, a distinct domed finial (qupba) with bells and chains, and the heavily embellished neck piece hanging down the nape.
The wide forehead is mostly hand embroidered with (appliqued) silver platelets set with semi-precious stones and carnelians. The front is covered with chain links commonly known as ‘shinjir’ possibly derived from the Persian word ‘zanjir’ meaning chains, and a series of embossed rectangular and diamond-shaped metal platelets hanging from the edge. A two-tiered long metal temple pendant embellished with carnelians hangs from each side covering the ears. The rounded top is completely covered with appliqued metal platelets.
A finial or qupba adorns the top with small round bells, and platelets hanging on chain links. This particular feature suggests that this headgear was possibly from a Teke Turkmen tribe.
Qupba is the first decorative jewellery perhaps that a Tukmen girl receives for her skullcap. The Teke girls wear this ceremonially until their marriage. Usually, it would be decorated with feathers and plumes of owls and falcons the absence of which suggests that the girl is engaged.
The back of the head gear has a flap covering the nape. Constructed of woven cotton fabric this flap is embellished with small metal discs (capraz), platelets and chain links, a silver amulet with semi-precious stones, and two round floral-shaped (turquoise) amulets. These turquoise amulets are interestingly very similar to Northern Africa and Iraq even in the present.
A series of thick twisted black cotton ribbons with white beads at the end of each ribbon hangs from the hem of the flap. The flap is lined in red and ivory printed cotton with floral motifs that reflect the floral motifs embossed on the metal platelets and the discs. The cap is padded and lined with thick ivory cotton providing cushioning for the wearer as these head gears were traditionally worn directly over the head or sometimes with a veil as an attempt for a better fit.
Interestingly the turquoise amulet is known from North Africa to the Caucasus. It is believed to be of Babylonian origin in Iraq and is often called the ‘seven eyes’ (sb’_’yun) that protects the wearer from the evil eye as it is believed to disperse the energy of it – evil eye – in seven parts thus weakening its harmful ability. It has been a practice in Iraqi tradition to hang such talismans in palaces, public squares, walls, and facades of houses as well as wear or carry them in person.
- Valérie Bérinstain, Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, Zaira Mis, Marcel Mis. Asian Costumes and Textiles from the Bosphorus to Fujiyama: The Zaira and Marcel Mis Collection. California: Skira, 2001.
- Suleman, Fahmida. Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia (British Museum) The Fabric of Life. London: Thames and Hudson, 2017.
- Embroidery from Afghanistan Fabric, folios. Sheila Paine. Washington: University of Washington Press, 2006.
- Sukhareva, Olʹga Aleksandrovna. Suzani: Central Asian Decorative Embroidery. Samarkand: SMI Asia, 2013.
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