The importance of procreation
First, add my compliments to John Howe's. Your bands are a treat, and reproduction in the arts of western and central Asia are too rarely discussed.
One point I'd raise is the importance of procreation. In your essay, you mention the responsibility to the community that a couple has - to provide the next generation of members. John takes a similar tack in his opening post.
I think there's another important element that we tend to forget because it isn't very significant in modern western society. It is that having children is the couple's route to not being destitute when they get old. In most societies, including our own until fairly recently, the children had the responsibility of caring for their elderly parents. Not having children, therefore, had serious consequences to the couple, not just to the community. And, of course, procreation of the livestock is central to the economy in pastoral societies.
The genitalia and the navel are extremely prominent features of African tribal sculpture, and images similar to those the Persian bands are also widely used in southeast Asian tribal arts. In fact, sexual and reproductive imagery is important in the arts of virtually all cultures, partly for the reason I just outlined and partly because of the connection it implies between the individual, ancestors and future descendents. That is, it is a reminder of the familial bond and all that it implies.
Seems Also Reflected in "Award" of White Chyrpys
Steve et al -
A few years ago, Adjap Bairieva, a Turkmen lady and textile expert, came to some of the rugs clubs and talked, among other things, about the various colored chyrpys that western Turkmen women wore (and sometimes apparently still wear on occasion).
I asked her explicitly whether the colors had significances that we heard about informally. She was quick to say that they did.
Here is my remembrance of them:
Black ground - unmarried girls
Yellow ground - married women
Green ground - (this one I'm not sure of) perhaps, a widow
White ground - "Awarded to some women" 60 years or older.
I pressed her about the criteria that would be used to justify the award of a white chyrpy. She said that the person would have to be recognized generally in the community to have been a "good woman," and that a definite part of this is that she must have been a "mother."
Now this seems blatantly unfair from our now "more enlightened" perspective, but you can see that it is a continuing reflection of this same value.
I was not able to get clear about the process through with a chyrpy is awarded. But the "award" characterization indicates that it was/is honorific and that not every woman who reached 60 could don one.
R. John Howe
Some of the wives of European royalty were killed if they didn't bear sons. Compared to this part of the our western tradition, not being allowed to wear a white chyrpy seems pretty enlightened.
I mentioned the "unfairness" only to defuse that potential issue and to permit folk to focus instead on the fact that the possible award of a white chyrpy, toward the end of a Turkmen woman's life, is in part driven by the same concerns that are also reflected in the signals given by the community to a couple as they marry.
There is a consistency here that suggests something about its importance in traditional societies.
R. John Howe
You have made a good point about the importance of taking care of the elderly. This practice exists in the weaving areas under discussion; a good reference of this can be found in Lois Beck's text 'Nomad', which many Turkotek followers know to be an excellent source of information about daily life among the Qashqa'i. I don't recall ever seeing an image in tribal weavings specifically representing an elderly individual, but it is likely that many of the master weavers came from this age group.
The representation of sexual themes appears in many cultures, and the African examples are a well known type. Many ancient artifacts show birthing and other reproductive events; the Central and South American weavings, sculptures, and pottery come to mind. Although I am not an expert on Islam, I suspect that the relative rarity of these images in Iranian weavings of any type is no doubt influenced in part by the religion of the peoples in all substrates of society. It is my position that the nomads of Iran were the least restrained by the societal pressures which make these images so uncommon on any but tribal textiles.