Traditions and Customs of Turkmenistan


Turkmenistan is the country which has not only with rich past and all preserved on its territory oriental masters’ monuments of ancient art, but also this is the country with a huge cultural heritage, traditions and customs which have passed through the centuries and have been preserved in the souls and lives of people till nowadays. Turkmenistan is a Muslim country. Islam is the first religion, which has come to this land of Central Asia. But the matter is not about this, but about the fact, that national for Turkmen people traditions are of the same importance as Shariat’s laws in Muslim right. They must be obeyed by everyone not because of this is convenient for people themselves, but because they are supposed to be created not by God, but by people themselves, who have made from this something much more, than just a beautiful interesting game.
Being conceived long time ago nowadays traditions are the basis of the life for Turkmen people. From birth till death a man who was born on this land is under the power of those customs and traditions, which have been created by his ancestors and which he is supposed to follow relentlessly. However, among the urban population observance for some traditional rites is nothing else but just a tribute to the past and a symbolic character of traditional rites realization. But in tribal groups living in their own secluded circle situation is quite different. In such conditions people live in separate clans which have been forming during long centuries and turned into something close to self-dependent communities, closed nations. Every community of such kind has its own formed customs, which can at least slightly but differ from traditions of other clans. Representatives of each of them can easily distinguish “strange” dialect, clothing and decorating style, embroidery and even carpets’ texture and style. They can excellently understand the signs of other tribes.

Nowadays Turkmen people is one of the nations who are still faithful to their traditional dresses, although so many other nations stepped over this ancestor’s ancient tradition long time ago. Turkmen shaggy papakhas, long wadded oriental robes and wide trousers for men and long silk dresses, stripy wide trousers and light headscarves for women are still very popular among the local population, who wear all these with great pleasure despite the antiquity of origin of this kind of clothes. These people don’t follow the world fashion tendencies may be because they don’t want to be like everybody. But one should recognize that this kind of clothes is not a subject for ethnical distinction, but the only suitable decision in the conditions of severe hot climate.
From immemorial time Turkmen people have been paid great attention to colors and patterns of clothes and carpets, and the majority of these ornaments have protection character.

The most important national features of Turkmen character are benevolence and affability. This national peculiarity plays an important role for tourists. Majority of those who have already visited this very interesting land put the peculiarities of local hospitality in the same row with the one in Caucasus, and a social contact with local population usually turns into pleasant event for both sides.

Turkmen wedding
Wedding rite is supposed to be the most important one in the life of Turkmen tribes since ancient times. Today this custom is an act of preserving ancient traditions. Actually, it has always possessed religious and magical character, but with the time even the most faithful to their traditional rites tribes have forgotten all the niceties, which were so important in the past. Undoubtedly both in cities and in villages the whole raw of wedding customs and rites has been preserved, but even if the magical functions of wedding dress noticeably became weaker or disappeared at all, esthetical ones still preserved its indubitable importance.

Wedding celebration is one of the most important events not only in the life of future husband and wife, but also in the life of the whole community. According to the tradition appeared in the time of nomad tribes, all the preliminary preparation for wedding were made by special representatives of families.

After the preliminary agreement between bride’s and groom’s relatives had been reached prewedding rites cycle began. Groom’s relatives used to prepare for the wedding long before its date. Close relatives, friends, neighbors discussed on the council everything necessary for such a solemn event.
Since morning djarchy - special herald notified the whole aul about the forthcoming wedding. Those living in other auls had been notified several days before. According to tradition, wedding’s date was fixed for “lucky day”.
In east regions of Turkmenistan nine days before the wedding, that is to say before moving the girl to her future husband’s family, dowry (clothes, carpets, carpet sacks, bags, house utensils and etc.) was prepared. The main part of wedding ceremony was held in the groom’s house. Wedding itself started in the bride’s house.
Early in the morning friends and same age girls came to bride and tried to make her merry. They sang wedding songs and played the gonuz.
According to tradition, by the time of wedding caravan coming bride’s daughter-in-law “rushed” in her room and tried to throw over her a cape-robe. Bride’s friends tried to prevent this. After numerous useless attempts daughter-in-law resorted to uncomplicated tricks: for example she told that she needed to tell something very important to the bride. Finally she applied for help to women: they pushed apart bride’s friends and threw over the bride the cape by force. First “acquaintance” happened after the circled with a festive crowd groom made the bride to untie the knots on his belt and to take off his boots. Some of the spectators joked to her that the groom might be bald and she needed to ascertain the incorrectness of this by taking off the groom’s hat. All these things she did with closed eyes.

During the centuries women’s dress played a great role in the wedding rite.
Bride’s dress differs from casual dress not only with quality, but, first of all, with the symbolism. Its function has a close link with magic, in particular it serves as an item of protection and purification. Special days, considered as lucky days for Muslims, were chosen for wedding dress cutting-out and sewing. Bride’s prosperity depended on it. Dress was cut out and sewed in the bride’s house from the material got in the groom’s house. Because of these all close friends gathered in her house. Respected in the village woman who had a lot of children cut out this dress starting with blessings. Scarps of the material were taken for happiness by those attended the cut-out procedure.

Bride’s wedding dress is always distinguished by wealthy embroidery and decorations. Pendants sewed in the front from both sides of dress in several rows have great importance. Because of this attire dress becomes festive and melodious chime of silvery scaly pendants suppresses evil spirits. By the may, pendants in Turkmen culture have always been served not only as decoration items, but they have symbolic meaning fulfilling the duties of protectors and amulets.
It was considered that the bride summoned evil spirits. That is why she should always be protected by all accessible means. In order not to allow evil spirits to see her face and also to hide her face and figure, bride was totally covered with cape. A lot of actions, amulets and talismans were used to protect the bride. Wickers, laces from camel’s hair, tooth of a swine, silver plates in the necklaces from beads with eyes were sewed into all wedding dresses. «Dagdan» made from wood and a triangle knap-sack with coal and salt were sewed to the connective plate between the false sleeves of ritual cape-robe. Salt is considered to be protection item in the culture of many nations.
Folk superstitions also prohibited the bride to walk near the place where animal’s bloodshed had happen, to pass the water and ashes, to walk under the definite tree in the first few days after the wedding. It was also prohibited to take the bride to funeral repasts and burial ceremonies.

Turkmen people pay great attention to the time of accomplishing any definite action of wedding rite, especially to the time of matchmaking, deal, procession for the bride, taking her out from parent’s house and bringing to the groom’s house.

Kerchief - is one of the most important attributes of wedding rite. All young girls and women must wear bright colorful kerchiefs on the wedding. Some of the girls weave the kerchiefs themselves, others use ready purchased ones. Also such kerchiefs are used as wrapping for the wedding presents which are brought by women from the whole village. By the end of wedding ceremony they are also granted the presents of equal value to the ones they have brought. Big kerchief used to be one of the kind of present. During the competitions among men won kerchief was considered to be the most valuable prize. Nowadays on Turkmen wedding guests are granted with little pieces of material or with pocket kerchief. These pocket kerchief or piece of material is considered to be the sign of festival and prosperity.
There is one more custom called “Kaytarma”. Its essence is as follows: when the young wife comes back to her paternal home after the honeymoon a holiday is organized. In the mother-in-law’s presence bride is clothed with the other dress - red robe with think vertical stripes. She returns to her husband’s house in the olive-colored cape-robe.

There is one more very important wedding tradition called kalym - ransom for the bride by the groom’s family, determined by the bride’s family. Before obtaining the independence of Turkmenistan, in the period of Turkmen SSR this “past’s survival” unsuitable for the requirements of modern politics was desperately fought with. One can say it was really done away with his custom, but it didn’t happen for eternity. After gathering the independence all soviet innovations and rules were abolished and old traditions came back. Preserving the traditions is very good, of course. But is it convenient for everybody? Hardly. Sometimes kalym is supposed to have just a symbolic character, appreciation of the tradition. But this happens very seldom. In other case bride’s relatives can ask a really big amount of money for the ransom. Paying this ransom is the most important thing for the groom. Naturally kalym’s amount usually depends on social status and economic condition of two families. But majority of Turkmenistan population are representatives of comparable “not too rich” strata of society, but kalym’s amount may vary from 1500 USD to 2500 USD. What should the groom’s family do in this situation when besides kalym they are to spend a lot of money on wedding’s celebration itself, where amount of the guests usually exceeds several hundreds? That is why, when the boy is born in the family his parents begin to think how to marry him and they accordingly begin to collect money. In the family where the girl is born, especially if the family is not so rich, they say that finally the family will become wealthy. However, despite this, birth of boy is more desirable than birth of a girl.

There is one widespread in rural areas decision about payment of kalym. That is conclusion of marriage between relatives. That means parents marry cousins to each other, uncles to nieces ant etc. This tradition exists for a long period of time. As usual, all this happen due to financial matter. “It’s much easier to make an arrangement about ransom’s amount with relatives”, - Turkmen people say. In order not to pay fabulous price for “strange” bride, it’s easier to make an agreement with relatives about the price which will satisfy both sides. By the way such kind of marriages give birth to children who are on a lower level of their physical and mental development. With every new generation it can be felt more acute and in general this leads to the nation degradation.

By the way, there are several other reasons of marriages between relatives, such as, strengthen of bonds within family and clan, when one or another relative branch begin to distant because of different reasons, for example - death of clan’s elder or other respected in the clan person, or moving to another territory. That is why to become closer to each other again suitable young man and girl from both sides are married. Second reason is unwillingness to give the daughter to “strangers” or take “strange” daughter-in-law in the own family. Third reason is “goods exchange”, when two families are exchanging with daughters and sons, celebrating two weddings one after the other. In this case absence of the necessity to pay kalym is in the basis, because there is no opportunity to pay it.

Jewelry for Turkmen people is an expression of traditions and a sign of social status. During the ages jewelries have been created not only for women, but for men as well. By the way for the last ones it has always been a main way of saving up the money. For a long time Turkmen people have lived as nomad tribes and a sack with money on the shoulders looked more like a burden in such life’s condition, than a sign of social prosperity. Also jewelries have a token status points the age, family and clan standing as well as income level of its owner.

Carpets are the national property of Turkmen people, symbolizing the ancient tradition of this land. For nomad Turkmen carpet was the only furniture item: it is easy transportable and warm, it served as a cover for yurta’s outside enclosing, as a planking for the floor and as a bed as well. It’s refined and complicated ornament, different in every ethnic group, was like a visiting-card of the family and a house decorating item as well. Art of carpet-making, very complicated and laborious, was traditionally passed by seamstresses from generation to generation. Ability to weave beautiful carpets was considered to be one of the most important benefactors of brides and wives.
Every time when the carpet-maker finishes her next work of art she is congratulated with this important in her life event. All the people who are near to that place are given one thread of basis to tie it around the head. According to the folk superstition this can help to get rid of the headache.
In 2000 on the basis of reorganized “Turkmen khaly” state union, “Turkmen khaly” state joint stock corporation was founded. Main objective of its activity is to preserve and develop hand carpet-making in Turkmenistan.
About 10000 carpet-makers are working at the enterprises of the branch.
Symbol of the courage, women’s diligence and Turkmen nation’s unity is the giant carpet “Turkmen kalby” made in 1941-1942. Now it is exposed in the museum of Turkmen carpet of “Turkmen khaly” state joint stock corporation. Second giant carpet named “Turkmenbashi” was made in 1996. It is kept in Turkmenistan State museum. Third giant carpet named “President” was made in 1998. Now it decorates Congress Palace “Rukhyet”. In honor of the day of national Turkmen flag - at February 19th, 2001 - corporation started the work of manufacture the new forth giant carpet named “Golden age of Great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi”. This carpet with the square of 300 km2 was listed in the Ginnes world record book as the biggest handmade carpet in the world. The carpet decorates the museum of Turkmen carpet of “Turkmen khaly” state joint stock corporation.
For Turkmenistan carpet is something holy and that is why carpet ornaments are pictured on the country’s flag.
Nowadays hand woven carpet is something like a picture of a famous painter and that is why it has a very big price.

There is a supposition that exactly Turkmenistan was the first country where horses were tamed. It may be the truth, because recently archeologists made a sensational discovery: on the territory of the site of ancient settlement Gonur-Depe (Margush) skeleton of the foal was found. That is an indubitable evidence of that it has already been domestic animal, who was born exactly there, not brought from outside.
In Turkmenistan horse was tamed at least 5000 years ago. Specialists are sure, that exactly foothill plains of Kopetdag created favorable climate conditions which facilitate to birth of healthy and frisky horses. These are protected from cold winds valleys rich by leguminous plants and cereals; never drying in summers herbs of mountain’s meadows; plenty of ponds. That is why akhaltekin horses are not used to feeds of law quality and it is difficult for them to stand the frosts. At the same time ancient people were settled there and this is the explanation of early domestication of horses. It is necessary to mention, that earlier in the foothills of Kopetdag a lot of big predators, such as tigers, ounces were found. Rugged relief created favorable places for ambushes. Horses were to be on the alert all the time, and if the danger came they broke away from the place by harsh jumps, galloped at full speed across the hills, changing the direction of race very fast in order not to fall into the precipice. This anxious life in the constant struggle for surviving, proceeded in favorable fodder conditions, stimulated the evolution of akhaltekins’ ancestors. With the time lasted heightened sensitivity, easy excitability was forming in them, therefore their nervous system was improved. These valuable qualities of the species were further developed by turkmens’ ancestors. Feeding by cereals was not also of little importance. This was possible only because of development of farming in these regions.
Akhaltekin horses - the greatest achievement of Turkmen nation. These wonderful animals during the whole history of Turkmen people’s existence have been considered as holy ones. They have always been not only alive machine for their owners, but faithful friends, darling brothers, for whom people could give their lives.
By the way, since 1992 Day of Turkmen horse is celebrated in Turkmenistan annually.

Tradition of New Year holiday
As in many other Muslim countries in Turkmenistan New Year called Navruz is celebrated in spring. Rite ceremonies of this most important holiday of the year usually happen on large meadow glades. There is such a folk belief that one should throw eight little stones into the river and after this all the dreams and wishes will become true. After Islam was adopted on this territory custom of decorating houses for Navruz with green trees’ branches, especially of pomegranate, apricot tree and apple tree, appeared. By the end of the leaving year it was usual to get rid of old stuff which had already served its age, and to acquire new house utensils and clothes.
It is usual for Navruz to cook a dish from a grown wheat. Every woman stirring it thought of a wish which was supposed to become true.
Usually these traditions strengthened friendly relations among people, made them closer, made them to forget offences and quarrels to each other, and uniting with the peace and consent enter the New Year with pure soul.

”Kurban Bayram” holiday’s traditions
Kurban Bayram is the most important holiday for those, whose religion is Islam. According to the Muslims’ Holy book Koran, to fulfill Allah’s will prophet Ibrakhim was ready to sacrifice his son Ismail to show by this his love and obedience to the Most High. However Allah, taking his sacrifice by the pious intension, let Ibrakhim to sacrifice an animal instead of the son. That is why the highest meaning of Kurban Bayram is following prophet’s example to express love and obedience to Allah.
For the holiday all the believers accomplish the rite of sacrifice and a meal from sacrificed animal’s meat is cooking. Relatives, close people, neighbors come for treating, but actually everybody may come. It is not noted in Koran what animal should be sacrificed, but in Turkmenistan traditionally it is a sheep. Usually on the eve of this holiday and during the Kurban Bayram days prices for this animal are very high. That is why some not to rich people make a sacrifice with camels or bulls.
Youth in Turkmenistan also like to celebrate Kurban Bayram holiday. During 3 days festively dressed girls and guys spend time on a specially fixed for holiday swings. It is considered that swinging during Kurban Bayram holiday deliver from the signs. Such a cheap and funny way of purification usually gathers long queues near the swings, consisting not only of the youth.

Also sacrifice holiday is the time when holy rite of Khadj - pilgrimage to sacred objects of Mekka and Medina - is accomplished.

Such Turkmen descendants as ersari, sakars, bayats, salyrs, chovdurs, iomuts and other little Turkmen groups living in the Amudarya banks have their own customs and traditions, quite different from the ones Turkmen people from other regions have. One of these customs is devoted to annual cleaning and deepening of canals and aryks - khashar works. Every passer-by on the bridge through the cleaning aryk is offered a piece of bread on a spade by the one who is working. Passer-by should bite the bred, taste it, and then put some amount of coins on the spade. For the gathered money at the end of the working day common treating is bought. If the traveler doesn’t have money, he must clean some definite part of aryk or fight down the one who offered him bread. In some places on the Amudarya bank this tradition is still alive.

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