Avian Imagery in the Tajik Jewelry

The collection of the Museum of Ethnography at the Tajikistan Academy of Sciences includes a pair of earrings with a remarkable design. A small figure of a bird is soldered onto the lower edge of the hoop (plumage is carved in the shape of small squares, the bottom of the hoop is thickened, under the bird figure three granulated cylinders are centered between two pendant loops; under the cylinders there are three loops of seven pendants hanging on chains. The entire construction ends in a wrought sheet in the shape of a heart edged with niello, a trefoil motive is in the center; Weight 23 gr., length 9 cm.)

These earrings are not very common in Tajikistan; however, a similar pair of earrings was found in the Kalayhumsky region. According to the owner, the earrings were brought from Afghanistan, although the niello (blackened) ornament, chains, the shape of the earrings and the overall composition remind us of articles made by the Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Caucasian jewelers found in the museum collection. In Z. Jalil's book "Iranian Women's Jewelry from the Ancient times to the Present" (Tehran, 1969), we find descriptions of last century's earrings that depict a pair of birds. In one case, they are described as Turkmen.

Among the Kazakh jewelry, we see not only similar niello ornaments, but also the specific shape of pendants.

The earrings in question are very similar to a pair made in Dagestan – these differ only in the shape of the pendants. As noted by E. Kilchevskaya in her paper "The Silver of Dagestan," the top part of these earrings was made in the 18th century, while the pendants were fashioned much later, in the 20th (Decorative Arts, 1980 # 9, pp.48-49).

Bird figurines were usually done in low relief and, decorated with niello and additional engraving. In the older items of the 18th – early 20th centuries, birds were often fashioned by using filigree and granulation techniques, which made them look larger, more three-dimensional that when niello technique was used.


Other earlier analogies can be traced in the jewelry designed in Moravia in the 10th century, for example, a pendant from the Old Korim (see picture). Here, the central image is not of a bird, but another character, however, in terms of composition, there is much in common – essentially, it is the same pendant.

These analogies serve as witnesses to the existence of not only cultural and trade relations, but also of similar beliefs and rituals of peoples from distant regions. Thus, zoomorphic or avian images are fairly ancient motifs, associated with the embodiment of certain species of birds laden with symbolism. It is possible that the earrings from the Ethnography Museum of Tajikistan portray a falcon or a pheasant. These birds are found in the jewelry of medieval Khorezm in the 9-11th centuries, during the so-called afrigido-samanid culture (S. Tolstov, Ancient Khorezm) and in the Iranian earrings (Jalil Z. ..). Pheasant, peacock or rooster symbolized solar deities, and were considered the embodiment of fertility. The number of pendants sued for the earrings has also been linked with a certain symbolism – the sacred number seven, through which the idea of the universe and the permanent symbol of the Tree of the Universe were expressed (Myths of the World, v. II, M., 1982, p.629). Other sacred examples are seven days of the week, seven stars of the Big Dipper, seven beams in the architecture, etc.


As a representative of the upper world, the bird is placed over the pendant chains, symbolizing water, blessed rain that facilitates vegetation. Thus, one of Avesta hymns refers to the sacred tree, in which the seeds of all the plants of the world are collected. Some of the birds sitting on tree scrape the branches, while others collect falling seeds and carry them to heaven, where they fall onto earth with the rain and grow new plants (see Myths…).

In spite of the inexpensive metal from which they are made, the earrings’ proportions, their harmonious structure, and their evocative lines and shape, put this pair of earrings from the Museum of Ethnography in the same class with items designed by high-end jewelers in the late 18th- early 20th century.


From the ethnographical point of view, we can assume that earrings with that type of symbolic design could be worn by a young married woman, as was noted in Kalayhumsky region in 1987.

Thus, despite the fact that this is not a very common type of earrings for Tajikistan, the mere fact of their existence brings up interesting aspects of material culture and art of the peoples of Tajikistan.


COPYRIGHT 2009 Elena Neva, All rights reserved.
No portion of this article nor the accompanying illustrations can or may be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.





 
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  • 24-2-2009

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