The simple reason that Turkmen weavings are so important today is that the Turkmen represented the last horse mounted horde of freely mobile nomadic warriors the world has seen or known. Their traditions were simply extensions of those written about in the 13th and 14th centuries by Catholic priest/secret agents of the Western Christian powers who visited Genghis Khans court and those of his successors, a la Marco Polo. They reported on the nomads drinking fermented mares milk, living in felt covered yurts supported by collapsible wooden modules including a sky wheel, its spokes, and an expandable interlocking series of wooden slats that supported the felt sheets. These modules were simply lashed together with strong animal hair cords and the felts were then passed over the skeleton and securedagain by strong woven cords. In side the yurt was a fire whose smokehopefully exited the sky hole through the gap produced by adjusting amoveable flap. In the back behind the fire were the sleeping and love making areas. In a wealthy mans yurt this area would be strewn with great carpetsand the stacks of blankets and other weavings would have itself been coveredby a special weaving. The interlocking side panels would be festooned with glorious trappings and silk embroideries that would glow in the light fromthe fire. It must be noted that truly authentic Turkmen weavings that wereactually used in situ will always have some residue of smoke.
The Turkmen only required that their culture remain intact with the bare minimum of resources, and those being chiefly sheep, goats, and the woodthey found all over the world, for them to survive, not marginally butRoyally in what can be called nothing less than the wasteland of Earth.
They lived in real comfort in dwellings that resemble nothing more than awoman’s breast. Their encampments looked like breasts dotting the landscapeas if here was nourishment for the land. The land provided pastures for their sheep and by summering them at high altitude their wool was famous all along the Silk Road. There were many wealthy Turkmen khans who controlled vast herds and many long knives.
It is so simple a fact as to be obvious, that a nomadic herding society cannot exist in a world where rule is by law and property rights are granted to individuals by powerful organizations called governments. This is the nexus of the problem for these two societies. The onslaught of civilization, with its literacy and legalities, has carved up the whole world into “countries, states, and regions”. These things don’t really exist; in fact there are no lines drawn in the sand between countries. Sure a fence can be raised and property rights protected. Herein lies the problem. A free ranging society that depends on good pastures and unimpeded access cannot flourish in the face of national boundaries and modern military forces. The Turkmen were routed in 1882 by the Russian military who used artillery and rifle shot to subdue this last fierce remnant of the descendants of Able, “whose blood cries from the ground”.
I dream of riding free over trackless fields of green grass and thinking to myself, God! What a wonderful world! A man bonded with his horse, his hunting bird, his favourite hound, and his women. How I cringe at the pale comparison I make to the worst of them!
Turkmen collectors don’t stand apart from their possessions, they fondle them and caress their soft exteriors lovingly with their hands. We collectors all long for their lost lives, our imagination about their freedom and for their free Love in ancient pre-islamic time.
One might ask what did it take to be a Turkmen. It took the enculturation of millennia of experiments into those few truly necessary skills required to reign supreme across the abysmal depths of Asia. These included the ‘Zen’ required to fire an arrow from a bow held by a man in complete harmony with his mount and its motions. He must subconsciously subdue all the chaos that is created by riding a horse to concentrate only on bringing the bow, with its ready arrow, into resonance with the target. This is in fact exactly what is required to shoot a wild hare with a bow and arrow from horseback! These skills were tested once ever year or two in great hunts were all the tribes would congregate and set out with nets to corral the game and give both young and old horsemen a chance to show their skills and compare them one to another.
It has been theorized that it was under just such circumstances that Genghis Khan fell from his horse possibly splitting his liver. Through this evaluation and comparison process a mobile force was established that could shoot with deadly accuracy from any number of difficult positions and who, with long curved knives, could easily kill anybody they might touch. These men rode rough shod over the best Europe could muster until a Jesuit priest acquired the secret of gunpowder from those horse mounted nomads who had stolen the secret from the Chinese. Sir Francis Bacon was supplied with the formula for gun power in code from another Jesuit priest, John De Carpini, who had travelled to the Great Khans Court.
Ironic isn’t it that the nomads would give up the secret recipe for a powerful explosive chemical reaction whose energy could be controlled to hurl a small lead ball at fantastic velocities sufficient to kill them all.
In conclusion the horse mounted Turkmen nomad wasn’t significantly different from many of our own Native American Societies, especially those horse mounted ones in our western regions. Native warfare in some cases had evolved into bouts between rival chiefs with ‘coup’ being far more important than the actual killing of ones opponent. These early yet advanced societies tended to be simple bi-pedal ones and not as mobile as later Plains Indians who’d acquired wild horses, let loose from Spanish missions from the 15th to the late 18th centuries. The Plains Indians also acquired sheep from those Spanish Missions and almost overnight began weaving their gathered wool into fine garments of great cultural and utilitarian significance. After the introduction of Anatolian kilims and a few Turkmen weavings to these same Indians in the 1880’s, their repertoire of designs blossomed overnight. It is my firm belief that the incorporation of mythic designs into the durable media of woven and piled weavings resulted in the stable transmission of the most poignant and necessary information for each and every nomadic society. What we so blithely relegate to the category of ‘floor covering’ is in reality the sacred documents of a previous and flourishing alien way of life.
James C. Allen