The suit of the Great Steep nomads

Text Ajdarhan Kaliev
Photo Danil Olejnik

Kazakh suit

The history of the Kazakh suit closely connected with the history of the Great steppe. And this gives the overview of the material and cultural values of these nations. The analysis of historical essays of the ancient chroniclers, scientists and travelers, reports of the field expeditions, examples of the museum displays demonstrate a rich artistic performance of the suit. It clearly reflects the ancient traditions connected with historical, economical, social and climate conditions, and also the influence of other cultures and suit complexes. The Kazakh suit had been created and modified under the influence of the conditions of steppe life: hot summer, splitting winds, cold winter and beautiful spring. Being formed during centuries, the Kazakh suit strongly saved functional and esthetic valuables fitted for the nomad’s way of life. The suit reflects historical processes which took place on the territory of Kazakhstan, from the time of ancient Sacks (IX-II before our era), Huns (II – before our era, V – our era) and Turks (V-XII our era) and also periods of the forming of Kazakh State system, joining Kazakhstan to Russia, revolutions and establishment of the Soviet Power.

Traditions of Sacks.

Our ancestors - Sack’s in the ancient time were famous for richest traditions and excellent fighting qualities. Enduring Sacks could easily spend several days on the horses; they could sleep putting their heads on the horse’s mane. About the Sack’s clothing culture we could discuss from the results of the archeological digs or essays of the ancient chroniclers – it is worldwide famous Golden man, founded in the Issyk-Kurgan, and also from the images of private life which were founded by the archeologists. Sack’s clothing can be described from illustrated constructions of K.S. Ahmetzhanov, M.V. Gorelik, M.V. Basta. High gabled head dress from white thick felt, open wide beshpet (the variety of upper clothes) from leather or handmade broadcloth, which decorated with metal plates, leather belt, leather trousers and felt jackboots in the sack’s suit pointed on the comfortable horse riding, and nomadic way of life. Metallic plates on the Sack’s garments were not only subjects of decoration, but also in the aim of safety. The décor being made from precious stones, in the shapes of different animals, (so called “animal style”), is one of the largest legacy of the sack’s culture. Totemic myths about the first appearance of Human Being from animals were main topic based on such art. The man didn’t feel himself without nature, because he was the part of it.

Sitting on the koshma (large felt mat), covering with thick felt…

After the collapse of the State of Sacks the new state appeared in the territory of Kazakhstan – the state of Huns. The Huns dealed with nomadic cattle breeding, they were fearless warriors and excellent horsemen. The ancient historians wrote about the Hun’s life style: "They wear clothes from leather. Sit on the koshma (large felt mat) and take cover with thick felt ". Patchworks of fabric, carpets, jewelries, being found during the archeological excavations prove the high level of creating subjects of the Hun’s mode of life. Special importance Huns spared to the horses. The Winged expression "Horse – wings of man" came to us exactly from that very epoch. The Huns raised thoroughbred horses and they were excellent horse riders. They were the forefathers of the horseback games. The Hun’s state was located between Europe’s countries – from the west and Khan Empire (now China) – from the east - left the imprint of their cultural clothes. Along with that the Huns saved traditional garments of their ancestors - Sack’s, High headdresses, deftly decorated upper cloth, quilted shirts, pants from sandpapers of kid or foal, leather boots were made from high quality materials. After period of timewhen the state of Huns dripped in history, over the territory of Kazakhstan the more powerful Turkic state - West-Turkic Kaganat was formed. Turks worshipped to Tengri - an invisible spirit, dwelling in the sky, sized as the whole sky and the whole World. The ancient Turks respectfully named him "Eternal Blue Sky", or "Tengri - khan", they also worshipped to the goddess "Umay". From the Turkic stone statutes of Merke sanctuary, it is possible to define not only the sex of Turks, but also headdresses, embellishment, accessories, weapon and cultural subjects of life style. Thick felt found a new usage - it became the building materials for the yurta. Saving heat in the winter, cool – in the summer, thick felt was the excellent material for creation the subjects their mode of life. The products from thick felt don’t drench – the rain drops flow down from the fleecy surface. The Turks deftly, skillfully and finely produced wool, sewed clothes, footwear, and headdresses for themselves. One of the largest cities of that period which characterizes the culture and life style of nomads was the city of Taraz. The historians wrote: "Rich and glorified the trade city of Taraz. It’s business relation are extensive, there are no country which doesn’t sent their caravans here".

Bazaar of Taraz

Everything were sold and bought on the bazaar of Taraz. Luxurious furs of sables, martens, ermines, linen cambric, linen dressing-gown, semi-precious stones came here from the Ancient Russia. Precious velvets, limpid bridal veils, golden brocades were taken from Vizantia. High quality broadcloth was supplied from Floridian, woolen fabrics – from Albion, cashmere, linen fabrics, taffeta and corrals - from India, silk – from China. Nomads mastered making out astrakhan furs: from silver and gold to purple and white marmoreal. Thin felt and koshma (large felt mat) were made from skin of camel and sheep, and high quality woolen fabric. Taraz citizens were talented silk-yarn-makers. They got the thinner kiseu from the silk thread, dense taffeta with ribs and patterns on the mat. Silk of Taraz was as good as golden brocades from China and India, and even Vizantian purple.

Abundance of decisions and colors.

In the period of the Turk’s state raise, nomad’s suit was complicated from constructive and compositional point of view. With the prosperity of the Silk Way and with appearance of the first signs of the settled way of life there can be observed the borrowing of the forms of head-dress cut, clothes, boots, and other accessory. At the same time the assortment of the using material and color specter was spreading. Side by side with thick felt, self-made broadcloth from camel’s skin and leather dressing, cotton, silk and linen fabrics used in the clothes. The technology of usage and decorating of the clothes was perfecting. One can get more exact information about Eurasian nomads having studied dairies and sketches of outstanding scientist Chokan Yalihanov, reports of the field researchers and ethnographers such as N.P. Lobacheva, F.D.Lushkevich, M.V.Sazonova, R.Ya. Rasudova, M.V.Gorelik, Z.A. Shirokova and others. Very valuable data about nomad’s suits was received during the study of the Chinese sketches and Chinese chroniclers, travel notes and sketches of Silk Way travelers.


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