KEEPERS OF TRADITION: ART AND FOLK HERITAGE IN BASHKORTOSTAN

Sarvar SURINA 

Embroidery in various forms has existed as long as man has been able to produce fabric. Today embroidery is practised all over the world, but it is believed that it has its origin in China and the Near East. The word embroidery comes from the French word broderie meaning embellishment.

Embroidery has long been a favourite pastime of Bashkir women. The Bashkir woman “creates the patterns from her imagination”, “she is an inexhaustible worker, the guardian of the art and beauty of her people,” the Russian ethnographer M.A.Krukovsky wrote in his book “The South Urals. Travel Essays” in 1909.

The Bashkirs from the clans of Bala-katay, Olo-katay, Duvan, Ayle, Upey, Koshso, Tersyak and Gayna live in the upper reaches of the river Ufimka-Karaidel in the north-east of Bashkortostan. This is the land of traditional embroidery. Here, the oldest kind of tambour stitching, kaiyu or elma, is widely spread.

Embroidered dresses and aprons, woven towels and tablecloths, caps and breastplates finished with braiding and coins have been common for the Bashkirs from time immemorial. Bashkir tambour embroidery is rich and diverse. Patterns featuring floral ornaments were embroidered on women’s kerchiefs and headdresses, men’s shirts, as well as curtains and prayer rugs (namazlyk).

Every handywoman has her secrets of kaiyu tambour embroidery. She cares for her crochet hook as for the apple of her eye. They say that there is no tool of labour more tender and sharper than this hook. It starts to play with the thread and cloth, like a goldfish swimming, plunging into the waves. The hands of a master craftswoman keep on crocheting, creating fanciful pictures, flowers, leaves and stems, motifs and signs ... Her thoughts are deep and boundless, the songs are the most emotional. Memories and dreams are the very two feelings connected together by her embroidery.

Handwork has always been highly valued. Only the blind will not appreciate the impeccability and integrity of manual work. The craftswomen know the delicacy of colour, the elegance of the picture, which is original and noble. In the old days, young girls started to embroider from the age of seven or eight, not for sale, but for her dowry. The motives and techniques were passed down from generation to generation. Moreover, the talent was handed down as well. The brightest individualities appeared, leaving not only the trace of the soul of the master, but also the imprint of history, the image of the country, the tide of time in the memory of the generation…

In the bags tied to the saddles of horses of the soldiers who returned in triumph from the war against Napoleon, along with red French headscarves there were also round rings of captured battlefield drums, the so-called tambours. The needlewomen turned these rings of tambour into convenient embroidery frames. Since then, the term “to tambour embroider”, that is, to embroider on a drum, has been in use. The crochet hook is called damberna, that is, a tambour needle.

It is a real art to select and arrange threads of coloured silk, mouline and wool. Vintage embroideries amaze with high and authentic artistic taste. The character of the people was manifested in the coloured patterns: a noble sense of proportion, dignity and modesty. Of all kinds of national clothes, festive women’s costume is the most stable ethnic and artistic phenomenon. Character traits and the soul of the people are well pronounced in these clothes.

Breastplates decorated with silver coins and brass buttons, minted by local artisans or bought from peddlers, earrings, bracelets and rings were preserved in the photographs of the 1920s. In the thirties, during the period of collectivization, Bashkirs’ jewelry made of coins and precious stones was removed for needs of collective farms. During the Great Patriotic War, there was a second wave of collecting folk goods, family jewelry, handed down from generation to generation. However, there remained an ancient skill, there were needles and hooks, new threads and fabrics were found. The revival of tambour embroidery began after the Great Patriotic War, in the 1950s. Bashkir women again took hooks, coloured threads, embroidery frames and produced surprisingly diverse, fanciful patterns on monophonic satin fabrics. The widespread use of tambour embroidery in the Bashkir villages in the northeast of Bashkortostan could not leave anyone indifferent. The researchers working on the causes and consequences of this ethnographic boom called it a response to asceticism and grayness, prevailing in the clothing of the early twentieth century.

The pages of ethnographic publications, old faded photographs document women from the upper r e a c h e s o f t h e r i v e r U f i m k a - Karaidel wearing dresses and aprons embroidered with tambour stitching. These women created the miracle of Bashkir women’s costume, always fascinating and delighting us ... The memory of the craftswomen lives on in their works, in the memories of those who store with gratitude these embroidered dresses, aprons, curtains, towels, tablecloths. Their needlework is kept in ethnographic museums of Ufa, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The names and photographs of these talented women are included in catalogues and books on ethnography.

There were many embroiderers in this area, but few of them became renowned as the master of embroidery. What is the point, though? Perhaps their hands were quicker, the patterns were more clearly set, and the threads were brighter. No, they were just the most talented, Allah dawned upon their souls, and angels gave strength to their hands. Everyone did his best to have at least one piece, embroidered by the hands guided by the angels.

There were special clothes for daily work during haymaking time, harvesting, pasturing the cattle. 

There is evidence that a daughter-in-law went to the field wearing a full costume with heavy jewelry. It was a rite manifesting the cult of fertility. The fresh power of a woman of a different clan was transferred to the land and the new field, and she herself received the blessing of the Mother Earth. This rite still lives on; the old-timers of the area recall it, when their son or grandson brings home a girl from other lands, from another clan. The young woman is dressed in an ancient national dress, breastplate and headscarf. Then, she is asked to perform feasible, but laborious work, where she must certainly sweat. In old times, a young daughter-in-law shed sweat on harvesting and haymaking. Now, standing in front of a hot oven she bakes pancakes for the members of her new family.

High artistic skill required a long and difficult training. They taught the girls to embroider from the age of nine. Before the marriage, she had to weave, sew and embroider a large number of towels, curtains, dresses and aprons.

The women from the shores of the river Karaidel traditionally wear national costumes for Sabantuy1 and weddings. Today, everyone who comes to a wedding, holiday or Sabantuy to Belokataysky district is sure to meet the hosts wearing embroidered dresses and aprons, national costumes of northeastern Bashkirs, embroidered by the hands of skilled craftswomen from “Tambour” national club. The history of this club dates back to 2001. At that time, the head of the state farm, Anvar Galiakberov, and the head of the culture department of the district Lyudmila Bryazgina, were the inspirers of the revival of folk crafts, namely, tambour embroidery. After all, the village of Kirikeevo, where Anvar Zhalalovich lives, has long been famous for its craftswomen. The leader of the group was Venera Galiakberova.

At first, there were women only from the villages of Kirikeevo, Kayupovo, Asheyevo in the club, not only pensioners, but also young ones. Soon the women from the village of Belyanka joined the group. At first, they gathered at homes of each other in turn. They sang songs, talked; the mistress of the house prepared the treats. Later on, the head of the club began to engage them in various events as a folk music group, which they called “Serdash”2. At the same time, they carried on embroidery and folklore. They embroidered traditional costumes, dresses, aprons and towels.

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1 Sabantuy is a Bashkir and Tatar summer festival celebrating the end of spring field works. The holiday’s name means “plough’s feast” in Turkic languages. The presence of Sabantuy was registered by ibn Fadlan as early as 921.

2 Serdash means “best friend, a guardian of the secret” in Bashkir.

In 2004 , they t o o k p a r t i n “Salavat Festival” for the first time, a republican folklore festival in the village of Maloyaz, dedicated to the 250th anniversary of Salavat Yulaev. Brand-new tambour embroidered dresses and aprons of Belokatay masters immediately got everybody’s attention. In 2006 the group was conferred the honorary title “national”. The performances of “Serdash” folk music group in national costumes, embroidered according to the old models stored in chests, became the success criterion of “Tambour” National Club.

The craftswomen believe that “Tambour” National Club will become the center of promotion, preservation and development of such an ancient kind of folk craft, as tambour stitching. Ethno-scientists Svetlana Shitova, Elena Nechvoloda, head of “Ural” gallery Karima Kaydalova, master of gold embroidery Roza Yuldashbaeva are permanent advisers to revive the folk art and the jury of the republican competitions and festivals.

The embroideries of Bashkir women are w i d e s p r e a d in the north-eastern districts of historical Bashkortostan. Precious are the works of craftswomen from different villages. They feature tambour embroidery designs (uranak) of Kirikeevo, Kaipovo, Belyanka, Maskara, Asheevo, also villages of Upey Bashkirs Arslanovo, Ufa- Shigiri, Shakurovo on the left bank of the river Karaidel in Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk regions.

“Celebration in Belyanka” is a folklore festival of representatives of the Bashkir clans living on the bank of the river Karaidel. The holiday is held every two years in the village of Belyanka of Belokataysky district of the Republic of Bashkortostan. The festival organizers invite guests from Belokataysky, Duvansky, Kiginsky, Mechetlinsky, Salavatsky districts of the republic, Krasnoufimsky and Nizhneserginsky districts of Sverdlovsk region, Ufaley and Nyazepetrovsk towns of Chelyabinsk

region, the land home to the Bashkirs from the clans of Katay, Bala-Katay, Koshso, Upey, Ayli, Duvan, etc. At the festival in Belyanka, the works of craftswomen, tambour embroidered samples of clothes of the northeastern Bashkirs are presented. The programme of the festival include master classes on tambour embroidery, scientific and practical conferences involving researchers, archivists and local historians, as well as lectures on the history and culture of the area, presentations of new books on the history of the region and the clans. Products of folk arts and crafts are exhibited. Performances of folklore ensembles, folk games, rituals are organized.

Over the past few years, the masters of “Tambour” National Club have been permanent participants of republican and all-Russian exhibitions of folk crafts and arts. Tambour embroidered headscarves, dresses and aprons of Belyanka people were more than once winners and awarded diplomas of the laureate. “Tambour” successfully presented samples of Bashkir national costume at international competitions in the cities of Ufa, Chelyabinsk, Moscow, St.Petersburg, Yoshkar-Ola, etc.

The Bashkir national costume is as varied and rich as the nature and history of our native land. Bashkirs’ embroidered national clothes are a brand of the republic, Belokatay people believe. Priceless art was restored from oblivion. Thus, nothing is forgotten in art. 

Translated by Farida YUNUSOVA.