Most Ersari weavings were produced after they migrated to the eastern regions of Turkmenistan and these have an entirely different physical character to those of the western groups. However, the Ersari were originally located in the Balkhan mountain vicinity of western Turkmenistan and Plate Six, a chuval, was produced in that area.
The examples made in the east are very different, they usually have goat hair warps and weft (as opposed to the sheep wool used by western groups) and are more coarsely woven. In comparing their weavings to those of their western neighbors, eastern Ersari examples have a more limited connection to traditional Turkmen designs and in general lack the variation and more archaic character of these other weavings. Consequently theirs have not been as appreciated, however, there are a limited number of examples, like Plates Four and Six, which are as deserving of attention as any weavings from the west.
The term Ersari, unlike Arabatchi and Tekke, is a far less specific attribution as it includes a number of weaving groups that utilized materials and techniques which do not have the uniform nature seen in most of the other Turkmen groups. And like the term Yomut, Ersari is a broad general grouping with many weaving sub-groups. Ecological differences over the large area in which the Ersari were scattered forced the use of different materials and dyeing methods. Due to these factors, especially the migration east, their weavings exhibit the strong presence of alien designs and foreign patterns.
This example is the earliest Ersari engsi to be published, however, several mitigating factors prevent its inclusion in the group of archaic period Turkmen weavings. Another Ersari engsi (fig.25) has been illustrated for comparison. Both have been worn long and hard and the large central area of severe wear seen in our example also must have been present in the other before it was cut up and fragmented in an effort to disguise similar damage.
While they might seem to be very similar, there are actually several significant differences. Coloration is the first and most obvious. The brilliant blue/green and pure deep green are absent from fig.25 and indicate Plate Four was produced by a very small Ersari sub-group known as Ersari-Beshir. These weavings were characterized by glowing, shiny wool, extremely brilliant dyes and light handle and although fig.25 has excellent wool quality and dyes, it lacks the luster and intensity of this example and also has the typical, heavier handle of an Ersari.
There is another group of weavings that should not be confused with engsi, even though both have designs featuring mirhabs. Known as Beshir prayer rugs, these were made as actual prayer carpets in the area south of Khiva. The earliest of these form a small cluster of rare extremely beautiful examples that were likely made for export to Iran and Turkey with others destined for use by Turkmen converts.
The appearance of the two large niches in Plate Four have a greater probability of being references to the pre-Islamic concept of the niche as sacred space rather than as a feature of Islamic worship. And while it is true this engsi was made after the Islamic domination and the related conversion of many Ersari groups, the materials, dyes, designs and apparent significant age imply it was produced in an outlying mountain area east of Beshir. The wool quality and surface patina are indicative of high altitude pasturage and it is extremely doubtful any archaic nomadic group was practicing Islamic rituals or weaving designs derived from such practices.
During the late Paleolithic period niche-like receptacles have been located at numerous cave sites used by early man. These sites have been located over a large area stretching from western France to Central Asia. Some of these niches were naturally occurring crevasses while others were purposely carved into the cave walls. Many researchers believe they were used during ritual worship and even though nothing concrete is known of these ceremonies or the role these niches played, the following scenario has become an accepted part of the attempts to understand the prehistory of this period.
At several of the cave sites where these niches were found, and at other sites as well, small, carved mini-statuettes have been recovered as well. Always depicted in the form of a female with exaggerated sexual features, these idols are believed to represent what has come to be called The Mother Goddess and are believed to be tied to the earliest attempts at religion. This assessment is quite logical, as the woman’s body was the giver of life, one of the if not the most magical event man could witness. Many archaeologists and pre-historians have suggested these idols were kept in these niches and that these cave sites were not used for occupation but rather were places where special rituals and activities were conducted. Several thousand years later, in the Neolithic period, the idea of the sacred niche became more prevalent and the recovery of female idols more widespread. The idea of a prayer arch, perhaps the most obvious physical feature of Islam, was undoubtedly chosen and directly modeled after these sacred niches.
In conclusion, no archaic Ersari engsi like these exists, nor will one ever as this particular style has been copied from another Turkmen weaving group, known as Saryk. The two large niches, the many-branched tree within, the large crosses in the border and the design of the elem are all part of the specific engsi iconography used by this other group. Fortunately there is one surviving archaic period Saryk engsi to prove this relationship and it presents the archetype of this engsi format. The migrating Ersari must have adopted this engsi form after their departure from the west and perhaps an archaic period Ersari engsi made prior to the eastward migration will surface sooner or later and hopefully be identified as such.
The history of Turkmen movements and group amalgamations will be explored in a subsequent exhibition the Museum is planning. Focusing on main carpets made by the various Turkmen groups only archaic and classic period examples will be illustrated. The descriptive text will also consider the development of the various major and minor göl designs found on these main carpets and their relationship to Turkmen history.
Fig.25 Ersari engsi classic period from Tent Band Tent Bag Plate 38
No photographs or text may be reproduced without the written consent of the copyright holder, the Weaving Art Museum, Inc.