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<Turkmenistan - Turkmenistan Culture, Customs and Traditions> - Central Asia Cultures

Central Asia Cultures

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The landscape of Turkmenistan unfolds like a fabled Turkmen carpet…the Caspian Sea forms the western edge while mountain ranges fringe the southern borders and parts east. It is surfaced by one of the largest expanses of sand in the world: the Karakum (black sand) desert. Turkmen carpets are legendary; sumptuously woven of wool, with its distinctive palette of deep reds patterned with traditional ghels – the symbolic motifs and talismans of tribe and region.

Historically this was an area dominated by political forces scuffling across the territory. The armies of Alexander, the Roman, Persian and Arab empires and the hordes of Ghengis Khan all vied for control, while the wild nomadic horsemen pursued their tribal way of life. For centuries unknown and unmapped, Turkmenistan was finally incorporated into the Russian empire. Now the country enjoys independence and neutral status, fiercely proud of its culture and traditions.

Turkmenistan Customs and Traditions

Turkmenistan has a unique and remarkable history. Traditionally a nomadic people, Turkmen are descended from several separate tribes or clans, each speaking a different dialect and with its own style of dress. Turkmen are renowned for their lavish hospitality, respect for seniors, honesty and sincere generosity. To this day, a visitor will be offered tea and food before even being allowed to explain why he has come!

Among the most important values for the Turkmen are friendship and love, always maintaining friendly relations with their neighbors - it is said that "If your neighbor is happy, you will be happy too."

Another common saying concerns horses, which Turkmen have bred and trained for millennia: "Water is a Turkmen\\'s life, a horse is his wings, and a carpet is his soul." The Turkmen\\'s horse is virtually part of the family and the beautiful Akhal-Teke breed is the national emblem.

Turkmenistan Weddings

In a culture where the strength of the family has always been important, weddings and the birth of children hold the highest priority. While society is changing, the traditional customs and rituals of the matchmaking process and the wedding ceremony are still precisely observed. Besides the traditional visits and gifts between the two households, the date for the matchmaking meeting, the wedding and even the direction from which the bride arrives at the groom\\'s home must be in accordance with the position of the stars and planets. As the bride approaches her future husband\\'s home she must take the first step with the right foot - otherwise, it is said that there will be troubles, illness, and quarrels with the in-laws.

Amid the solemnity of the rites, there are songs woven into every occasion. Among these are "yar-yar" or “dear, dear” songs, that include comical verses: We\\'ve seen our future son-in-law, / He doesn\\'t look worse than our girl, yar-yar and We\\'ll give you a chance to race an ant, / Please try to ride it, yar-yar. Others are more plaintive: Chuval [a type of rug] is spread at home, / My house is left behind, yar-yar, / With various dishes in it, / My share is left behind, yar-yar.

Turkmenistan Festivals

Along with the common regional holidays such as Nowruz, several holidays have been established celebrating various aspects of Turkmen culture and life. These include Turkmen Carpet Day, which is observed yearly on the last Sunday of May throughout the country. Exhibitions feature local arts and crafts as well as the exquisite handmade carpets unique to Turkmenistan, showing off the expert combination of color and design that gives them a special glow.

A different kind of celebration is Turkmen Melon Day, held in every province on the second Sunday in August. Festivities include performances by musical groups and exhibitions of foodstuffs, as well as contests for the largest and best quality melons and pumpkins.

Turkmenistan Cuisine

Turkmen cuisine is influenced by both the nomadic lifestyle and the severe living conditions of the country. It is simpler than some of the other cuisines of the region, both in ingredients and in method of preparation, but just as varied. Along the Caspian Sea coast you will find a variety of seafood dishes, combining fish with such unexpected ingredients as apricots, pomegranate juice, and sesame. As in neighboring countries, the most popular dish is pilaf, along with soups and dishes featuring mutton. Turkmen melons, with their sweet honey scent, are world famous.

Turkmenistan National Dress

The national dress of Turkmenistan has changed very little over the centuries. The distinctive high, shaggy sheepskin hats worn by men help keep the hot sun from their heads and, combined with their red robes over white shirts, create a very striking image. Women, too, still wear the traditional clothing of a long silk shift over narrow trousers that are trimmed with a band of embroidery at the ankle. Richly decorated headwear , jewelry and embroidery accent even everyday clothing,

Turkmenistan Music

The songs of Turkmenistan are connected to every aspect of life - from lullabies to the songs children sing during their games, to maiden\\'s songs and wedding songs, to the worksongs sung during camel milking and carpet weaving.
The most vibrant and respected of musicians is the bakhshi. A musician-storyteller, he travels from town to town, dressed in special clothing and carrying his own utensils and water drawn from his own well. The villagers will have prepared a carpet-covered platform for him and there, by firelight, up to 2,000 people will gather to listen as the bakhshi sings, starting before sunset and ending long after sunrise the next morning. The bakhshi accompanies himself on the two-stringed dutar and every two hours he will take a short break, drinking tea and chatting.

Turkmenistan Bazaars

On Sundays, the Tolkuchka bazaar is the best place to view the intricate and unique Turkmen carpets from all over the country. This is the largest bazaar in the country, spread out over several acres in the desert offering every imaginable type of good. Carpets, camels, household goods and vehicles, beautiful local jewelry, handcrafts of every material and design, as well as fruits and vegetables, spices and snacks.

In Turkmenistan the bazaar is not the only place to purchase items. There are colorful fairs and supermarkets and permanent exhibitions of the national crafts. There’s no bargaining in these shops, but you will find an international marketplace that is more attuned to the modern world.

Turkmenistan Applied & Decorative Art

The traditional arts include felt manufacture, jewelry making, woodwork, ceramics, and silverwork, but the two crafts in which Turkmen excel are silk manufacture and carpet making.

Turkmenistan Carpets:

Turkmenistan produces some of the most unique and beautiful carpets in the world. Because they are sold internationally under different names (such as Bukharan or Afghan), many people don\\'t realize their source. Carpet weaving is an ancient art, and each tribe developed its own distinctive pattern. Some of these patterns have been found to be duplicated on ceramics from the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C.! Turkmen carpets have been traditionally woven out of wool, cotton, and silk by women, using horizontal looms. The method of weaving has been modernized, but the beauty and quality of the fabrics remains.

Turkmenistan Silks:

Turkmenistan is also the source of keteni, a homespun silk that is used for the beautiful dresses worn by Turkmen women on special occasions. The embroidery uses different patterns that are as unique as a family seal, identifying the tribe of its artist. Visit a local family and watch as they weave centuries of beauty.