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Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Six: From the City to the Steppe—Art Beyond the Royal Court/ Chapter Three: The Nomads of Central Asia—Turkmen Traditions/ Weaving and Jewelry Making

Weaving and Jewelry Making

The tradition of Turkmen weaving, dating back centuries, was a universally female practice and constituted a major part of women's contribution to tribal cultural and economic life. Weaving also played an important role in the socialization process; young women learned their art from their mothers and older sisters. By the time a girl was considered old enough to marry, often shortly before she turned twenty, she was already an experienced weaver. Women created many items for a dowry or as wedding decorations, such as the tasseled trappings (asmalyk) designed to decorate the camel that carried a woman from her father's tent to that of her new husband.

Unlike the women in the tribe who wove textiles, men made jewelry. The process required fire, chasing tools made of hardened steel, and an understanding of techniques for shaping and decorating silver. Although metalworking was a logistical challenge for those living a nomadic lifestyle, the Turkmen excelled in this medium.

In Turkmen society, jewelry served several functions. Its precious metal (silver) and semiprecious stones (carnelian was the favored gem) served as a tangible and convertible form of wealth, which in hard times could be sold or pawned to help the tribe or family. Jewelry was also a form of conspicuous consumption and an indication of status that proclaimed the wealth and prosperity of its wearer. Equally important in traditional Turkmen society was the apotropaic, or protective, power ascribed to jewelry—shiny silver, bright red or blue stones, and tinkling pendants were thought to protect against the malign influence of evil and envious spirits. Girls wore jewelry from an early age; it was thought to promote fertility and good health, and was given as gifts on important occasions, such as religious holidays and celebrations of rites of passage.

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