Saddlebags?...and Grain Sacks

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Posted by Marla Mallett on July 13, 1999 at 19:09:14:

It's been my hunch for some time that the Turkmen "ak cuval" format was originally a saddlebag format. These pieces are exactly the size and proportion of large old "hurch" (as opposed to "heybe") from Eastern Turkey. And although made in horizontal, envelope style like Central Asian torbas, mafrash and hanging chuval, the banded ak cuval always seem to have integral braided closure cords. At least the oldest examples do. These cords were actually made on the loom, between the bag proper and the hems, and were not sewed on afterwards. They represent a very subtle and nicely crafted detail. I am particularly interested in knowing how the top edge is finished on any ak cuval that seems early and actually still has its back. Does the back have a hem that seems original? And which way is that hem turned... inward or outward? Of course the earliest examples are those least likely to have their backs...

As for grain sacks, according to reports I've read or received at first hand from field researchers, Central Asian Turkmen do not differ from their Turkic relatives in Anatolia and NW Iran in that most normally use plain, sturdy vertical sacks to hold barley, rice, wheat, etc. Strangely enough, although Turkmen nomads in Anatolia have traditionally decorated vertical sacks ("ala cuval") that are known both in the trade and in rug books as "grain sacks," nobody that I know who has spent time among Anatolian nomads has ever found them actually used for grain, but instead always for clothing or other fabric items. I have found that even in the households of prolific weavers, sacks used for grain are plain, solid-colored or striped objects. On rare occasions they may be decorated with extremely simple brocading. This is true for both black-tent and yurt dwellers in Anatolia. Though this is off the subject slightly, it seemed a good opportunity to mention a common misconception.

It is easy to forget that most photographers (whether casual travelers, ethnographers or collectors), naturally concentrate their efforts on the "picturesque" or more "public" parts of a tent, yurt or village house, not the portion filled with drab, grubby, purely utilitarian objects. Likewise, out of any group of tents, it's the most affluent family's household--the most picturesque one--that gets documented...not the average or typical example. Thus our overall notions of nomad life get pretty distorted, and since undecorated utilitarian woven objects have never been marketed to Westerners, folks who have never visited such Asian households remain largely unaware of their existence.


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