Part 1

The Sa'wkele
Structure and Design
Ceremonial Use

Part 2

Sa'wkeles in Museums
The To'belik
Qazaq, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Turkmen Headdresses
Other Central Eurasian Headdresses

Part 3

Mythology of the Sa'wkele
Origin of the Sa'wkele
Pronunciation of Karakalpak Terms

Sa'wkeles in Museums

There are supposedly only seven sa'wkeles in the museums of the world, along with just two to'beliks. According to Galiullina five of those sa'wkeles and one to'belik are in Saint Petersburg. In addition there are just two sa'wkeles and one to'belik in No'kis. Although we have seen both to'beliks we have only seen four out of the seven sa'wkeles, two in Saint Petersburg and two in No'kis. The No'kis examples show the contrast between unrestored and restored sa'wkeles and were both well displayed for all-round viewing. Unfortunately the unrestored sa'wkele is no longer on display since the closure of the Museum of Regional Studies. It is to be hoped this situation is soon remedied.

Savitsky State Museum of Art, No'kis

The State Museum of Art named after Igor Savitsky has a sa'wkele (inventory number 5971) and a to'belik (39751) on public display, both fully restored. All of the illustrations in Part 1 relate to this particular sa'wkele, which we photographed at the museum in 2004.

According to the report of Galiullina, the Laboratory of Folk Art at the Karakalpak Branch of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences in No'kis had been looking for a sa'wkele for several years before they came across this example. She reported that it was acquired in 1961 from the home of G. Allambergenova from Tog'ızterek near Qazaqdarya. According to the owner it had belonged to her mother, and possibly also to her grandmother. At that time it was in a very decrepit state.

The records of the Savitsky Museum show that it was indeed bought from Gu'lziry Allambergenova but that she actually lived in the tiny awıl of Tog'ız to're (meaning nine masters or senior people). It lies close to the settlement of Zayır on the right bank of the Amu Darya in Bozataw region. At that time it was a part of the sovxoz named "Qazaqdarya". The Aral crisis has transformed this region into a barren desert and today it can only be reached in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The museum estimates that the sa'wkele dates from the mid-19th century.

In 1968 it was transferred from the Karakalpak Branch of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences to the State Museum of Art and Igor Savitsky decided that it should be restored. It was sent to the Central State Art Restoration Workshop named after Grabarya in Moscow, where it was restored by Margaret Riabova and Tatyana Goroshko. The work was completed over a period of 18 months with no input from No'kis.

Sa'wkele 5971
Sa'wkele 5971.
Image courtsey of the Savitsky State Museum of Art, No'kis.

The sa'wkele was disinfected to kill moth eggs and cleaned to remove mould and grease. The worn patches of ushıga along with missing sections of embroidery were replaced on the cap and the halaqa, the metal settings were cleaned and repaired and all 3,000 beads were polished and re-threaded, missing beads being replaced where necessary. During the restoration of the sa'wkele its vital dimensions were recorded. It has an overall length of 163cm, the tumaq is 25.5cm tall and 16.5cm wide, the upper part of the halaqa is 49cm long and from 13 to 15cm wide, while the lower part is 105cm long and from 11 to 27cm wide.

Igor Savitsky with the restored sa'wkele 5971
Igor Savitsky with the restored sa'wkele 5971.
Photographed in the old State Museum of Art, No'kis in around 1980.

Despite the restoration the tumaq still possesses a significant amount of its original ushıga, although most of the qızıl ushıga has lost its nap. Fortunately this reveals the underlying plain weave of the textile. Although the ushıga has been moulded to follow the contours of the rounded cap, the weave structure does look very even suggesting that the original ushıga was indeed machine-woven rather than handmade.

Sa'wkele 5971
Details of sa'wkele 5971.
Image courtsey of the Savitsky State Museum of Art, No'kis.

The jıg'a is circular with a star-shaped outer edge set with small coral and green turquoise stones. At its centre is a gilded conical setting with fine punched patterning holding a single pink coral stone fastened through its middle by a small metal decorated pin. The qıran are stylistically quite different from the jıg'a, depicting two creatures in mortal combat. The lower figure resembles a mountain goat with horns curling backwards, while the upper figure is the head of a bird of prey with a backwards curling head feather (although it actually looks more like a horned deer or antelope!). The metal settings are gilded but have a silver outer edging. The three linked chains of metal settings within each earguard have been made in a similar style, the conically raised centres being decorated with horn-like scrolls.

Sa'wkele 5971
Rear view of sa'wkele 5971.
Image courtsey of the Savitsky State Museum of Art, No'kis.

The embroidery on the tumaq is very simple with omırtqa or vertebrae motif used to cover the join between the red and black ushıga, bordered with rows of simple repetitive floral and fork-like motifs, coloured red, white, yellow, and green. The fork-like motif may represent the tamg'a of the Mu'yten tribe. The embroidery on the upper halaqa is more elaborate with a geometric zigzag outer border bearing single curled horns (taq mu'yiz or odd horns) embroidered in raspberry red silk, rows of simple three-pronged floral motifs, and a vertical central column of sun-like medallions.

For detailed information on visiting this museum see our Sightseeing page.

Regional Studies Museum, No'kis

By contrast the second sa'wkele in No'kis is in its unrestored condition and indicates the poor state in which such items were found by ethnographers during the 20th century. Its current inventory number is KP283.

Its museum record card gives no information about its origin, other than that it was brought to the Regional Studies Museum in September 1956. This is a mystery because Zhdanko noted that the museum already had a sa'wkele prior to 1952. The present curator believes that its history has been lost, although it is thought to have come from the northern delta region.

Sa'wkele KP283
Sa'wkele KP283 - front view.
Image courtesy of the Regional Studies Museum, No'kis.

This sa'wkele was described by Morozova in her thesis, where she identified it by the inventory number 99:

" Judging by the sample of the sa'wkele number 99 from the reserve collection of the Regional Museum of the KKASSR, the appearance of the sa'wkele was the following: the main felt part of the sa'wkele was covered with red broadcloth while its lining was made from a handcrafted textile with a stamped pattern "astora chit".

Narrow black bands covered with embroidery were positioned on the red background of the sa'wkele. On the sa'wkele mentioned above, there was embroidery executed on narrow (5.5cm wide) black velvet bands sewn round the cap-band and a cross-shape on the top of the cap. Obviously the cross on the top of the cap underlines the contrasting combination of red and black colours. This is a characteristic feature of the Karakalpak sa'wkele that is also mentioned in T.A. Zhdanko's work "Karakalpaks of the Khorezm Oasis".

The earflaps were decorated with thick rows of corals threaded on silk, which were sewn on above the two narrow patterned strips of red broadcloth; sewn parallel to each other (the first strip was at the earflap edge and the other one was a little bit further from it).

Various forms of small metallic plates with carnelian were sewn on between the corals.

The embroidered halaqa at the back of the headgear was very extraordinary.

All halaqas of sa'wkeles from the Karakalpak Regional Museum consist of three wedge-shaped narrow strips, which are sewn together in the upper narrower part and separated at the end. ..."
This example has several similarities to the Savitsky sa'wkele:
  • the tumaq is covered with qızıl ushıga and is decorated with a black cross,
  • the upper halaqa is paddle-shaped and has a black centre with a red outer border. It is embroidered in simple loop- and chain-stitch with simple motifs, including rows of crosses, chevrons, fish-spear tridents, and segiz muyiz, and
  • it has a lower halaqa made from strips embroidered in basma technique.

Sa'wkele KP283
Sa'wkele KP283 - rear view.
Image courtesy of the Regional Studies Museum, No'kis.

However it also has certain differences, mainly associated with the jewelled forehead and ear covers. The coral beads forming the forehead cover are held by a lattice of metal wire which incorporates three horizontal rows of conical alloy settings holding stones of coral and green turquoise, many of which have been lost. This is more like the decoration on the front of a to'belik and one wonders if the Regional Studies sa'wkele has been made up from the remnants of an earlier pair of sa'wkele and to'belik?

The simple jıg'a is smaller and hangs down between the eyes. The qıran are much corroded and though oriented in an upright position are unusually set to the back of the ear flaps, almost as an afterthought. They are very similar in appearance to those on the Savitsky sa'wkele, each depicting the head of a bird of prey positioned above a horned mountain goat. A second pair of qıran has been attached to the front sides of the tumaq. It is as though they have been rescued from another sa'wkele and have been added to this one for additional embellishment. There is minimal embroidery on the tumaq and an edging of fur has been sewn around its bottom. The lower part of the halaqa is divided into two sections rather than four.

For detailed information on visiting this museum see our Sightseeing page.

Treasury of the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

The sa'wkele in the Treasury (inventory number 5111) is set up in combination with a to'belik inside a large glass enclosure with many other items, including a Qazaq sa'wkele. It is therefore hard to see all of its details, especially the tumaq and the back. The visible parts of the sa'wkele are remarkably similar to the Savitsky example and one wonders whether the latter has been modelled on the former.

Sa'wkele 5111 and matching to'belik
Sa'wkele 5111 with to'belik mounted above.
Image courtesy of the Treasury of the Russian State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

The forehead and ear covers are covered with strings of pink coral beads supported by a lining of red bo'z. The forehead cover has just a lower horizontal row of small tear-shaped metal plates, which conceal the fur edging of the tumaq. A square-shaped bejewelled jıg'a is positioned in the centre and shares many features with its Savitsky equivalent - a star-shaped outer edge set with small coral and green turquoise stones, many of which are missing, and a raised conical setting holding a single coral bead with a small metallic decoration at its centre. The ear flaps contain several vertical chains of conical metal settings and a pair of qıran. As with the Savitsky example, some of the strings of coral towards the front part of the ear flaps contain short strings of small pearl-like beads. The qıran are fastened on upside down and as before depict the head of a bird of prey above the head of a mountain goat.

Sa'wkele 5111 and matching to'belik
Sa'wkele 5111 with to'belik mounted above.
Image courtesy of the Treasury of the Russian State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

The halaqa consists of an upper and lower section, each lined with a different type of hand-printed bo'z. The lower section in this case is embroidered in just a single raspberry red colour.

Red halaqa of sa'wkele 5111
One end of the plain raspberry red halaqa of sa'wkele 5111.
Image courtesy of the Treasury of the Russian State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

Strings of pomegranate-coloured boydası hang down from either side of the halaqa at the back, as do two necklaces strung with a mixture of beads of varying sizes and materials, including glass, stone, quartz-chalcony, and bronze.

Russian Ethnography Museum, Saint Petersburg

This sa'wkele is also unrestored and originally came from the Ethnography Department of the Dashkov Museum in Moscow, which was founded in 1867. Its current inventory number is 23849. Sadly its provenance is unknown. However it is possible that this was one of the 86 items sent to the Fund of the Moscow Museum of the Peoples of the USSR by the government of the Karakalpak ASSR in 1933, presumably in recognition of its recently enhanced status and incorporation into the Russian SFSR. At the time the items were given inventory numbers from 56968 to 57054. We know that they included a sa'wkele and a ko'k ko'ylek. In 1948 the Fund was transferred to the State Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR in Leningrad, now the REM.

The sa'wkele is dated by the museum to the middle of the 19th century. It is in a rather poor condition and may have been unprofessionally restored at some time, possibly by its one time Karakalpak owners. Its tumaq differs by being totally devoid of embroidery, being black with a faint pattern instead of plain red, and having a red rather than a black cross. The red material does not appear to be ushıga but dyed handwoven bo'z, crudely stitched onto the black felt. There are the remains of some coarse black material sewn to the lower sides of the tumaq, somewhat similar to the netting on the Savitsky example.

Sa'wkele 23849
Sa'wkele 23849 shown with a ko'k ko'ylek and a chain-stitch qızıl kiymeshek.
Image courtesy of the Russian Ethnography Museum, Saint Petersburg.

The forehead cover and earguards are not constructed as an integral whole and appear to be additions. The forehead cover is a rectangle of qızıl ushıga with five horizontal rows of small coral beads running along its top, a row of brown fur sewn along its bottom edge with a square-shaped jıg'a affixed at its centre. The earguards have been very crudely made. They are quilted with an outer covering of bright red woollen cloth that appears to be of a much more recent age than the rest of the headdress. Three vertical chains of conical metal mountings incorporating blue turquoise and coral stones have been attached to each earguard, some of them separated by crudely attached vertical strings of small coral beads. It has only one qıran plate attached to its right-hand side, above and to the front of the ear flap in an upside down position.

Sa'wkele 23849
Sa'wkele 23849, showing the qıran and the rear halaqa.
Image courtesy of the Russian Ethnography Museum, Saint Petersburg.

The lower back of the tumaq has a rectangular patch of brown felt, from below which hangs the upper part of the halaqa. This is paddle-shaped with a black centre and a red outer border. It has been embroidered with repetitive rows of simple motifs: chevrons, diamonds, stylized single stem plants, and three-pronged fish spears, the latter being the tamg'a of the Mu'yten tribe. The museum literature refers to the presence of motifs representing a four-armed goddess, "a characteristic of the Aral area". We know of no such Karakalpak embroidery motif. The motif referred to is probably the trident fish spear. Images of the goddess Anahita have been found on Khorezmian silver dishes and ossuary dating from the 6th to the 7th centuries, showing her as a four-armed goddess holding images of the sun and half moon. However we find it impossible to connect the pre-Islamic culture of Khorezm to 19th century Karakalpak folk art.

Sa'wkele 23849
Sa'wkele 23849, showing the rear of the tumaq and the upper halaqa.
Image courtesy of the Russian Ethnography Museum, Saint Petersburg.

The lower part of the halaqa is sewn to the underside of the upper part and is composed of two lengths embroidered in basma technique with a sequence of raspberry red cog-shaped roundels on a green and yellow background.

Approximately ten strings of pomegranate-coloured and other beads are fixed behind each ear guard. There is no separate necklace.

Other Sa'wkeles

We have yet to locate and view the three other sa'wkeles that are apparently located somewhere in Saint Petersburg. However we have found examples of Karakalpak sa'wkeles illustrated in the literature that are different from those described above. It is possible that some of them might be the missing examples we seek.

Sa'wkele drawing from Zhdanko
Sa'wkele drawing published by Zhdanko.

The first is the hand-drawn illustration used by Zhdanko herself in her first 1952 article and reproduced by Morozova. This may have been the image used to encourage a response from elderly Karakalpaks during field visits in 1947. It is not clear whether it is an artist's impression or the depiction of an actual sa'wkele, since it differs from all other known examples.

Sa'wkele drawing from Andrianov and Melkov
Painting of a sa'wkele published by Andrianov and Melkov.

The second is a coloured illustration from a collection of plates published by B. V. Andrianov and A. S. Melkov in 1958. This example is quite distinctive, having a low skullcap-shaped tumaq, decorated as usual with a black cross but in this case on a background of black ushıga rather than red. The qıran is upside down and the rear halaqa has an unusual embroidery motif. There is no indication of a peacock's tail.

Sa'wkele drawing from Zhdanko
Painting of a sa'wkele published by Sazonova.

The third example is an illustration of a sa'wkele referred to as belonging to the State Museum of Ethnography of the Peoples of the USSR in Leningrad by Sazonova et al in 1961. It was one of 175 items collected during the period 1928 to 1938 by individuals such as Davlet, Melkov, and Tolstov. It is not the sa'wkele currently owned by the Russian Ethnography Museum in Saint Petersburg.

Finally we should mention that Lobacheva referred to a sa'wkele from Tasbesqum Island, Taxta Ko'pir region, which was owned by a member of the Mu'yten-Ken'tanaw clan. The top was made from thin layers of cotton, covered with small lines of stitching. The owners referred to it as a taqıya.

The To'belik

The two known to'beliks are very similar to each other.

To'belik front
Karakalpak to'belik 39751 from the front.

The Savitsky to'belik, inventory number 39751, originally came from the Regional Studies Museum. At the time of its acquisition 75% of the original headdress had been lost. Igor Savitsky sent it to Moscow for restoration, a task that took 13 years. It is possible that it was modelled on the example already held at the Museum of the Peoples of the USSR in Moscow. The restorers could not find a place to attach the fur fringe and also added a red plait cover, although none was present prior to restoration.

To'belik back
Karakalpak to'belik 39751 from the back.

The top section of the to'belik is made from three metal plates: a flattish top, a semi-circular front, and a semi-circular back all held together by small ring-like fasteners. They have been decorated with patterns using a metal punch and have then been gilded, except for the lower section of the front plate, which has been silvered. The front plate has rows of semi-circles and flowers and a line of wave-like curls. The top and the front plates also have rows of conical settings with spiral decorations, each holding a semi-precious or glass stone mainly turquoise-coloured glass and a few pink corals. In between there are round coral beads that have been riveted in place by metal pins that pass through their centres. The back is relatively plain but has a lower row of oval lobes and is backed by a stiff red fabric. Identical chains of equal length containing coral beads and three tear-shaped metal platelets hang from the bottom edge of this fabric like a curtain.

To'belik painting
Painting of a Karakalpak to'belik along with some design details.
Published by Andrianov and Melkov from the Khorezm Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition in 1958.

A second jewelled curtain is suspended across the lower front of the to'belik, its two upper corners fastened to the lower outer edges of the back plate. It consists of a horizontal chain of gilded conical settings, each holding a stone: green turquoise, turquoise-coloured glass, coral, or carnelian. Vertical chains descend from each setting, each containing two further conical settings with stones and a lower tear-shaped platelet. Each of these components is separated from its neighbour by a round coral bead.

A long plain maroon red plait cover trails down from the back.

To'belik from the Hermitage
Karakalpak to'belik from the Treasury of the Hermitage with a wide forehead cover.
Image courtesy of the Treasury of the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

The Hermitage to'belik is constructed in exactly the same manner. It too is decorated with wave-like curls and the conical settings are decorated with spirals. Although hard to see in the museum, the top plate has a somewhat Arabesque decoration of winding plant stems. The precious stones seem to be far more complete, composed of mainly green turquoise and coral without any glass replacements. The main difference occurs in the construction of the jewelled curtain suspended at the lower front, which contains three times as many coral beads as the Savitsky to'belik, giving it a fuller appearance.

Qazaq, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Turkmen Headdresses

Whereas the Karakalpak sa'wkele was helmet-shaped, the Qazaq sa'wkele was tall and conical. It consisted of two main parts: a conical cloth cap with a quilted lining no more than 25cm tall, sometimes incorporating a forehead cover or a rear neck cover, and a taller reinforced conical sheath with a diagonally truncated top, usually covered with red felt and decorated on the outside with corals, semi-precious stones, silver platelets, and braids, with a lower edging of fur. Strings of coral, turquoise, metal plates, and tassels were suspended from either side reaching down to the stomach. Finally a large cloak, called a jaulyk, of light cloth such as white silk or muslin decorated with embroidery, was fastened to the top and hung down over the shoulders, enclosing the wearer's body. Like the sa'wkele it was worn by the brides of aristocratic tribal leaders and was particularly fashionable during the second half of the 19th century.

Qazaq bride with sa'wkele
Etching of a Qazaq bride with her sa'wkele.

Styles varied between the three Hordes and by region. There are two fine examples in Saint Petersburg, the first in the Hermitage Treasury and the second in Peter the Great's Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. The latter sa'wkele, inventory number 439-21, was donated to the museum in 1899.

Qazaq sa'wkele from the Hermitage Detail of Qazaq sa'wkele from the Hermitage
Richly decorated Qazaq sa'wkele with a white silk jaulyk.
Note the gilded horned settings holding large carnelian stones and the absence of coral.
Image courtesy of the Treasury of the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

Some Qazaq married women wore a more conservative, white-coloured aq sa'wkele after they were married. There was also an alternative headdress for the Qazaq bride known as a kasaba, which seems to have become less popular during the 19th century. It was cylindrical, made of red velvet, and was richly decorated with gold embroidery, semi-precious stones, beads, and medallions. Strings of platelets and beads with tassels hung down over the ears and the top was decorated with a cluster of birds' feathers.

Qazaq kasaba
Illustration of the Qazaq kasaba.

The Kyrgyz shukulu was closer to the Karakalpak sa'wkele. It consisted of a conical helmet, 25 to 28cm tall, which was quilted and ribbed with vertical stitches. It had large rectangular ear flaps and a triangular-shaped plait cover at the back, up to 45cm long. The top was finished with feathers from a peacock, pheasant, or crane. The outside was richly decorated with pearls, mother-of-pearl, silver and gold-plated figurines, brocade, and a net of small coral beads. Sometimes gilded plates known as kalkan were fastened to the sides. Such headdresses were mainly in use during the second half of the 19th century and were restricted to the wealthy. The less expensive helmet-shaped kep takyya became popular during the late 19th century, especially among the Pamiris. This was made from home-made cotton, had ear covers and a long plait cover, both of which were elaborately decorated with raspberry red embroidery patterns. The top was left open and undecorated, being pulled together by a draw string and then covered by a white cotton turban.

As already mentioned the Aral Uzbeks had a sa'wkele very similar to the Karakalpak sa'wkele. However the Khivan Uzbek bride wore a somewhat different headdress for the wedding ceremony during the 19th century. On her head she wore a high pointed cap called a chumakli tax'ya made from silk alacha with a red and black stripe. This was quilted with a layer of soft cotton and had an inner lining of white bo'z. Although the cap was tall and conical it was actually worn squashed down with two folds. The tax'ya was then decorated with a set of jewellery known as a shevkele or shevkeli. This was a somewhat tiara-like headdress, with a metallic front and two metal side plates, both engraved with filigree, gilded and studded with semi-precious stones, and both supporting vertical strings of small beads and metal platelets from their lower edges, which covered the forehead and the sides of the head down to the shoulders. The shevkele has a clear resemblance to the forehead and ear covers of the sa'wkele.

The Khivan Uzbeks also had a headdress resembling the Qazaq kasaba. An example exhibited in the Islam Xoja Museum in Khiva is listed as a tax'ya duziy. It is a woollen cylindrical skullcap with a circular silver plate attached at the top, the latter set with carnelians and edged with small turquoise stones. A bunch of feathers sprout from the top. A multitude of chains are suspended from the edge of the circular plate, fanning out to cover the sides of the tax'ya, each one strung with coral beads, gilt platelets, and other semi-precious stones.

Khivan Uzbek tax'ya duziy
Khivan Uzbek tax'ya duziy.
Image courtesy of the Islam Khoja Museum, Ichan Kala, Khiva.

The headdress of the Yomut Turkmen located near the mouth of the Atrak River was first decribed by Nikolay Muravyov in 1819. He compared it to the Russian kokoshnik (see below), except that it was two or three times as high. Among the wealthy the headdress was edged with gold or silver. The hair was visible on the forehead, but was combed "modestly off on either side and plaited into a long tail behind". Other 19th century travellers, such as E. Eichwald, Ivan Fedorovich Blaramberg, G. S. Karelin, and P. P. Ogorodnikov, referred to the Yomut headdress as a khasava and noted that the front was decorated with gold plates and silver coins.

A Turkoman woman
Lithograph of a Turkmen woman with headdress.
From "Atlas of the Journey to Turkmenia and Khiva of Nikolay Muravyov, Captain of the Guards and General Staff"
Avgust Printing House, Moscow, 1822.

The examination of 20th century examples of the headdress used for the wedding of a northern Yomut Turkmen bride shows that it contained some of the elements found in the Karakalpak sa'wkele, although structurally it was quite different. It was constructed in situ on the head of the bride, starting with an underlying wooden framework known as a borik. This was wrapped in home-made silk and a silk shawl was suspended from the back. A sinsileh or chain of hanging silver plates was fastened horizontally along the top of the headdress and a forehead cover or manlayik was attached below it. Finally pendants known as tenechir are hung on either side, framing the face. A richly embroidered black or green silk chyrpy with false sleeves was draped over the top of the headdress to complete the costume.

Russian ethnographers have reported that the female headdress of the Chodor Turkmen was different, being very similar to the sa'wkele. In the 19th century the Chodor were settled on the western edge of the Aral delta.

Other Central Eurasian Headdresses

Female headdresses with features similar to those found among the Karakalpak, Qazaq, and Kyrgyz also occur among many of the Turkic, Slav, and Finno-Ugric Tartar peoples living in what is today eastern Russia, inhabiting the region stretching from the mouth of the Volga northwards to the southern Ural Mountains and Siberia. Married women wore richly decorated helmet-shaped or conical headdresses with long plait covers, while unmarried girls tended to wear decorated skullcaps very similar to the Central Asian tax'ya. In general the hair was always plaited, young girls having many plaits but married women having just two.

Among the Turkic tribes were the Noghay, Kazan and Crimean Tartars, Bashkirs, and Chuvash. Among the Finno-Ugric tribes were the Mordvins, Mari, and Udmurts.

Noghay Tartar headdress
Noghay Tartar headdress illustrated by Geissler, 1793-4.

In the lower Volga, Noghay brides wore a tall headdress covered in red felt with a rounded top. It was covered with either Turkish coins or silver plates set with semi-precious stones and had chains of beads and silver platelets suspended from each side. The Tatars of Kazan, meanwhile, wore a pointed helmet-shaped headdress covered with metallic plates with a long plait cover attached at the back, reaching down to the calves.

Kazan tartar headdress
Kazan Tartar headdress illustrated in the 1776 Russian edition of Georgi's
"A Description of all the Nationalities that live in the Russian State", Volume 2, the Tartar Tribes.

North of Orenburg, wealthy Bashkir married women wore a helmet-shaped headdress called a kashmau, which completely covered their hair. The top of the cap was decorated with a grid of coral beads, coins, platelets, and included suspensions of chains, while an occipital plait cover was hung from the back, decorated with embroidery, beads, and cowrie shells. Suspensions on the front of the helmet reached down to the eyebrows, covering half of the face. Some caps incorporated animal fur. Unmarried girls wore knitted and embroidered caps known as takyya.

Bashkir kashmau headdress
Bashkir Tartar headdress illustrated in Georgi, 1776.

Chuvash married women wore a similar khushpu, which could be of two types: cone-shaped or helmet-shaped. They were usually worn over a surpan, a towel-shaped rectangle of linen. Both types of khushpu were made of canvas and were completely covered with red and green beads as well as coins. They had a long narrow plait cover.

Chuvash kushpu headdress
Chuvash married woman's khushpu headdress with a beaded plait cover.
From Saratov Province in the Lower Volga Region, dated late 19th century.
Collection of the Russian Ethnography Museum, Saint Petersburg.

Young girls wore a tukh'ya, very similar to the Central Asian tax'ya. These also occurred in two forms, with or without a pointed top, although both were covered with beads and coins.

Chuvash khushpu headdress
Chuvash Tartar headdress illustrated in Georgi, 1776.

Mordvin headdresses varied between the two main tribal groups, the Erza and the Moksha, and were called either a panga or a soroka or sorka. They could be cylindrical, half-cylindrical, or conical and were made on a framework of white birch bark. They incorporated a rear plait cover and were worn with one or more shawls.

Mordvin Tartar headdress
Mordvin Tartar headdress illustrated in Georgi, 1776.

The Mari or Cheremiss had three types of headdress: the shimaksh, a cone-like cap with a rear plait cover; the soroka, a corona with a rigid rectangular top; and the sharpan, a turban-like head wrapping. They were all made from cloth and were richly embroidered.

Mari Tartar headdress Mari Tartar headdress
Mari Tartar headdress illustrated in Georgi, 1776.

The more northerly Udmurts or Wotjaks had a headdress known as an ayshon, which was tall and made from two pieces of half cylindrical birch bark, one placed on top of the other and tilted forward. The whole assembly was draped with a rectangular cloth decorated with embroidery and fringes.

Wotjak Tartar headdress
Wotjak Tartar headdress illustrated in "Picturesque representations of the dress and manners of the Russians",
by William Alexander, Plate 14, Published by Joghn Murray, London, 1814.

Up to the end of the 19th century in the Smolensk and Vologodsk regions of Russia, married women wore a kokoshnik or a kokoshkhikov, a tall round-topped birch-bark headdress wrapped in fabric, covered in metal plates and incorporating a kerchief.

In the Caucasus bejewelled helmet-shaped women's headdresses have been found in Azerbaijan. Tall conical headdresses made of metal are even found among the Druze people of the Lebanon, who call them tantour.

Visit our sister site, which uses the correct transliteration, Qaraqalpaq, rather than the Russian transliteration, Karakalpak.

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