Daghestan Rugs

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    For thorough workmanship, harmony of color, and adherence to traditional design, some of the floor coverings grouped under the general head of Daghestan are unexcelled. The district from which they are named is a three-cornered bit of country east of the Caucasus, wedged into the angle, which the mountains make with the Caspian Sea. The many tribes which once maintained their autonomies, small and great, within the confines of the region had different languages, or in any case different dialects, and some of them, it is recorded, had no written forms. The vigorous Russification to which they have been subjected since the conquest — conquest against which they warred long and sturdily — has given them a common language and a spur to industry. It has shown them the road to market, but save in that increased production has been attended by something of the universal decline in quality, it has not changed in any important particular the character of the weavings.

    The Dagestan rugs have, in fact, shown closer adherence to old standards than those of almost any Eastern provinces. In their work these Daghestan weavers are patient and painstaking. Among the mountaineers, sometimes, the leisure of two or three years is spent in the making of a single rug. The region is one of the few, which have not changed the whole character of their industry, under the inducements, which recent years have offered. As in Persia, towns and districts which are only a little way apart follow altogether different models in their rug-making, and show no inclination to depart from their respective customs, although communication is much easier now than it was before the Russian occupation.

    Daghestan rugs. — The proper Daghestan rugs can be singled out from all the fabrics of the East, almost unerringly, if one fact be borne in mind — that they are made in imitation of jewels, or, some maintain, of mosaics. They show it at a glance. They have all the brilliancy, accuracy, and clean cutting that either idea suggests. Their whole effect is one of geometrical cleanness and clear atmosphere. They are illustrative, to the last degree, of the pure ornamental forms of the Mohammedan East. The geometrical finds its best expression in them. Only occasionally, to adorn the border stripes or to break up some annoying expanse of ground color is the floral form resorted to, and then it is severely conventional. The colors, too, are positive; the transitions and contrasts are pronounced. There is no shading off from one hue to another. All this would result in harshness were it not for the masterly adjustment of color values and areas. The completeness and perfect balance of the Daghestan are its charm.

    While the designs vary much in detail, the class character is plain in them all. Beyond the geometrical nature of their figures, it may be said that their common feature is the universal use they make of the angular hook, which may be called a "latch-hook", and which seems to be an outgrowth of the Chinese fret. In different forms it appears in all the Daghestan fabrics, and in some of the Asia Minor and Turkmen rugs as well, but in the Daghestan proper its development is probably more complete than in any other rugs, with the possible exception of some Yomuds and the Shirvans and Soumaks, which so far as design is concerned are of the same general family. In the Daghestans this hook is used for every purpose. It is attached to almost every figure by way of finish; it serrates the borders of large geometrical shapes, and softens the contrast between two adjoining fields of color without making its hard self apparent. It is a well chosen agent to produce the delicate, harmonious effect which maintains in the Daghestans despite their subservience to the straight line.

    A characteristic design in Daghestans presents, upon a field of rather light blue, a central oblong, set transversely, and flanked, at either end of the rug, by elongated octagons of old ivory, bound about with bands of red, which extend from the oblong. These three main figures are divided and sub-divided according to the Daghestan method, into multicolored geometrical shapes, the edges of all of which are trimmed with the inevitable latch-hook. Finally, the innermost figure is a diamond, filled with a lattice — work of tiny crosses, of alternate red and blue upon a field of wool white. The corners of the central field, left by the two great octagons, are taken up by triangles and stripe effects, with the hook again softening all.

    Many colors serve to diversify the inner figures of the design, but they are all carefully subordinated to the tonic color. The border is made up of three main stripes, separated and bounded by a liberal number of narrower stripes in solid colors, many of them without pattern. The effect of this is to emphasize the geometrical suggestion, and yet remove the heavy, hard effect of three large stripes, one beside the other, unbroken save by the rectilinear patterns, which they carry. The ground of the middle or main stripe, in the example now in mind — which, it is almost needless to say, is not the one used in the illustration — is of ivory, and that of the supporting stripes the deepest and richest of old green, of a value to balance the red of the central oblong. Upon the green is a running Greek pattern, and the main border carries in repetition, in alternate red and green, a variation of the swastika. Here it is laid in angle-wise, and is further ornamented by the addition of the latch-hook. A narrow band of light red frames the whole. Oftentimes the central ground has, in lieu of large geometrical figures, a lattice-work of diamond shapes made up of latch-hooks. Within every lozenge is a small geometrical figure, divided into harmonious colors, and with its edges further adorned with the hooks in very diminutive size. This latticed central ground is especially common in the prayer rugs. In prayer rugs of other districts — Ghiordes, for example — the field is more apt to be of plain color, unbroken save by the religious emblems at the top, bottom, and sides.

    The Daghestans were probably the first of the Oriental fabrics to become popular in America. A large proportion of the rugs in use in American houses today, which were purchased more than twenty-five years ago, are of this variety. At that time they sold for a song, and fifteen dollars would buy a Daghestan prayer rug, which cannot now be had for five times that sum. Their value is vastly enhanced by the stubbornness of the native in this part of the Caucasus. He refuses to lend himself to the making of the enormous rugs for which there is now such demand, and sticks to the small rug sizes, which his forbears made for their own use. Nor will he, as a rule, consent that the character of his work shall be debauched. The result is that he cannot keep pace with the demand — a demand created solely by the ancient purity and honesty of his fabrics. Hence, the number of genuine specimens of this variety now imported is by no means in proportion to that of other rugs, and the price for the real article is commensurately high. In a lot of three or four hundred Caucasian rugs of small sizes it is not usual to find more than half a dozen thoroughly good Daghestans. Other Caucasian fabrics, resembling them in color and design, but in no wise their equals in any respect, are sold masquerading under the Daghestan name.

    Genuine Daghestans are made, warp, weft and pile, of the best wool, and are tied with the Ghiordes knot. They have usually from sixteen to twenty-four threads of warp to the inch — from sixty-four to one hundred and forty-four knots to the square inch — which makes it possible to work out quite minute patterns. The warp is most often of gray wool; the ends are finished in a narrow woven selvage, outside of which the warp is thrown into a knotted fringe. The sides have a fine selvage, usually colored and made of extra threads.

    Derbent Rugs. — The general features of the Daghestan are repeated, in much coarser form, in the handiwork of the Tartar and Turkoman inhabitants of the walled city of Derbent and the outlying country up and down the Caspian. This prosperous town on the sea coast is the capital of the province. It was also capital of old Albania, and in 1722 was taken by Peter the Great. The regulation rug of the Derbent variety is merely a copy of the Daghestan, but upon a heavier scale. It is of greater size, the pile is longer, the figures not so finely wrought, the colors fewer, cruder and bolder. It partakes of the character of the Kazak. Blue, white, red and yellow predominate, but the fine harmony of the Daghestan is missing. The surface has a noticeable lustre like that found in many rugs of Mosul.

    The Turkoman influence has substituted in some of the Derbent rugs a goat's-hair warp for the fine wool of the Daghestans; the fringe is, therefore, darker in hue and wilder in appearance than that of the more finished product. Usually there are four rows of knots in the solid selvage at the ends, from which the fringe grows out, but not infrequently the warp and the dyed weft are woven together in a broad web after the fashion which the Turkomans learned in their wild home on the plateaus of Central Asia.

    The Derbents are essentially floor rugs, and are made thicker and in larger sizes for the purpose. From an artistic standpoint they are mediocre; they are poor Daghestan and not particularly good nomad. They usually have for main design a large star or some other geometrical figure repeated three or four times transversely on a field of blue or red. The figures alternate in color, red and saffron yellow predominating if the field be blue, blue and yellow if it be red. Each is divided into other geometrical figures, in all of which the latch-hook plays an important part. The separate Kazak figures are sometimes seen. The border stripes, as in all the Caucasians, are clearly defined and their patterns pronounced.

    Kabistan Rugs. — An error in a single letter — whose error or when committed it is impossible to tell — has obscured for years the origin of these admirable rugs. Kubistan would have told the story to any one who cared enough about it to study the Caucasus. The name Kabistan has become a fixture in the rug trade, and is here permitted to remain only on the ground before defined, because a substitute of the right name for the wrong would be confusing to many. In the towns of the Caucasus, the title Kabistan is unknown, save to dealers, who through executing orders for purchasers are constantly in communication with Constantinople merchants. A gentleman at whose house I visited in Batoum showed me his collection of rugs, many of them gathered twelve or fifteen years ago, when the rug-making had not become a commercial affair. Among them was a fine specimen of what we know as Kabistan. When I praised it by that name he said, "No. That's one of your American inventions. Those rugs come from Kuba, down in the southeastern part of Daghestan. They are considered about the best fabrics made in the Caucasus."

    I was told later in the bazaars of Tiflis, also, that the rugs were made in the Kuba district, of which the town of Kuba is the capital. It lies on the slopes of the Baba Dagh, and almost directly over the Caucasus range northward from Shirvan.

    In point of workmanship the Kabistans equal the Daghestan proper. In texture, indeed, they are finer; in design, more diversified. In some very fine pieces the elaboration and coloring are really Persian. For hard wear under foot they are not as desirable as the Derbent. They have a wholesome plentitude of color, in the same general tone as the Daghestan, but lack in some measure the glow and brilliancy. This results from the sparing use of white to produce areas of high light, and of reds. They follow more commonly the Persian tendency to the use of dark blues in the ground, which imparts to them a sober richness. The patterns in many of these are identical with those of the Daghestans, though they have on the other hand many designs borrowed from other sources. The elongated star as a dominant figure is frequent. It is customary to find this repeated thrice, transversely of the field, in the sedjadeh, and a diamond shape of smaller size at each end; sometimes there are even smaller diamonds linking the main figures together.

    Again, and it is a standard substitute for this pattern, three large diamond figures are found, with the field space which they do not cover filled in with the ubiquitous pear pattern, diversely figured and adorned. The Kuba weavers seem to have caught a penchant for the use of this device from the Persians, once their masters and within easy reach of whom they dwell. They use it in many ways; a not uncommon arrangement is to fill the entire field with it, repeated in transverse rows. Above and underneath each row runs a regular, serrate line, or rather pattern, across the body of the rug, the upward angles pointing between the pears, and the pears of the next lower row taking their places beneath the same angles. This, it will be seen, throws the pears into diagonal rows. The effect is suggestive of the pear designs in many of the fabrics of Persia, where it belongs, especially in the Saraband and Shiraz, and the alternate arrangement of the same pattern in the rugs of Khorassan.

    The stripe, for a central device as well as a border element, is popular among the makers of the Kabistans. In some cases it is clearly defined, and not merely an effect produced by the arrangement of the patterns. Sometimes the whole field of a rug is divided into perpendicular stripes of different colors. In such cases extraordinary taste and skill are displayed in maintaining harmonious tone in the entire fabric. Where, for example, the prevailing tint is a pale fawn, intensified in places to a decided brown, only two or three of all the stripes are put in red or blue for the sake of accent. Each is shaded so skillfully that sometimes the color seems almost to have vanished; then it returns to a deep value. It suggests a dyer's samples. There are sudden breakings off from pale brown into some equitable value of dull red or old rose, from which the stripe is gradually worked back to its original hue, by the most delicate shading, a trick rarely if ever employed in pure Daghestans. Each stripe carries some small decorative pattern throughout its entire length. The pear, wherever used, is more or less rectilinear, and broken in the manner peculiar to Caucasian figures. The borders in many cases have rude bird and animal shapes similar to those found in nomad rugs; and these will sometimes be found adorning the geometrical medallions thrown in upon the body of the rug. One essentially Caucasian feature, although it is found in the Yomud weavings, on the other side of the Caspian, and in the rugs of Turkoman nomads of Laristan and Farsistan, in Persia, is the "barber pole" stripe occurring in the borders. The component diagonal stripes forming it are red and white, or blue and white, alternately, and frequently carry tiny patterns of their own. In the border stripes the Kabistans are notably rich, following generally the rectilinear Daghestan patterns.

    The skill of the weavers of these rugs is conclusively shown in the close and even clipping of the pile. Only the Tekkes and Sehnas excel the Kabistans in this respect; certainly no variety of Caucasian or Turkish fabrics does, unless it be some of the particularly fine Ghiordes or Kulah antiques. This close trimming makes them flexible, and impairs in a measure their durability as floor coverings; but it serves to bring out with fine clearness the minutest details of the design, and adds to their beauty when employed as covers for divans or tables.

    The similarity of many Kabistan rugs to the Daghestans in quality, design and color enables dealers to sell one for the other, but they may almost always be distinguished by the fact that Kabistans are overcast at the side, or if selvaged the selvage is made with the cotton weft, while the Daghestan selvage is of fine, extra, colored wool yarn; and further, that while in the Kabistans the weft and sometimes the warp is of cotton cord, like most of the Persian rugs, the Daghestan has for both warp and weft the best of wool. Herein, too, lies one element of the narrow margin of superiority of the Daghestan over its neighbor, in point of durability. Genuine rugs of either variety will wear away down to the warp and still retain their harmony of color, enhanced rather than diminished by age and service.

    Very recently the Kuba weavers have taken to putting a "body finish" on the sides of their rugs. The pile is carried out to the last thread of the warp save one, and the weft, passing around this, makes a cording. The ends have the narrow cloth webbing and the warp-threads are left loose to form a fringe.

    "Chi-chi Rugs" or Tchetchen. — the name given in the trade to the textiles of certain tribes and some colonies of sedentary artisans, is a corruption of Tchetchen, the tribe whose chief habitat is in the mountains north of Daghestan. The nomad tendency to individual conceit in design is apparent in many "Chi-chis". Moving from place to place, too, these rovers who make them pick up suggestions from this or that wandering company of shepherds with whom they come in contact. These patterns, therefore, vary indefinitely, and this very condition is made a cloak to enable unscrupulous dealers to sell as "Chi-chi" the products of other districts. Genuine "Chi-chi", of which the older examples are as good rugs as need be, will be found to conform in certain points to the Caucasian notions of ornamentation, although strangely enough a marked Persian tendency is to be noticed. The ground is frequently filled with small patterns — rosettes, scrolls, compact geometrical tree patterns, pears, and so forth — arranged in a manner similar to that of Kabistans and some Kurdistans. For want of other name this may be called a grill pattern. Usually the transverse line separating the rows in the "Chi-chi" is straight instead of serrate, as it is in the Kabistans.

    Other pieces have two or more main figures, crosses, oblongs, stars or something of the sort, composing the central design, as in the Daghestans, and the remainder of the ground filled in with varied figures, disconnected and usually of the conventionalized flower order. There is a generous allowance of border stripes, three and sometimes four, their patterns alternating between geometrical and floral devices. The reciprocal trefoil, to which reference is made in connection with the rugs of Karabagh, is extremely frequent here. The general tone of the "Chi-chis" is dark and seemly. Blue predominates as a ground color. Some few specimens are in a higher key by reason of having pronounced border designs in bright yellow.

    To acquire a correct idea of the tribes who make the "Chi-chi" rugs discrimination must be made between nomads and nomads. These of the Caucasus of the present day must not be confused with the lawless Bedouins of Mesopotamia, the turbulent vagrants who infest Kirman, or the restless Tartars who live by foray throughout Turkestan.

    The Tchetchen nomads inhabiting these northern hills move with their flocks in quest of food and water, and the sphere of their wanderings is seldom more than a hundred square miles. Winter finds them in the lowlands; spring sees them starting with their sheep for the hills again. The plateau where a flock is pastured is the temporary domain of the tribe. The individual holds no land.

    There have been wild wars between these shepherd tribes in the past, but the Russian government is scattering so thoroughly the seeds of civilization that it is doubtful if at the end of the next decade aught will remain here of the strange tribal life which has prevailed since the dawn of history.

    Cherkess Rugs or Circassian. — The Cherkess rugs are few in American and European markets now, and good reason is found in the fact that the Cherkess people, as a people, is routed, dissolved, destroyed. This sturdy, comely, and unprincipled race, whose women filled the seraglios and whose men the guards of the Turkish Sultans, and whose long, fierce struggle against Russian supremacy amazed Europe, is today as a race extinct. Finding it impossible to withstand the Muscovite, almost the whole people — half a million of them at least — went out in one great, wretched exodus from their native land, vanquished, heart-broken, desperate, but bound not to serve the infidels. The two hundred miles of country, which they had occupied, stretching along the Caucasus and to the shores of the Black Sea, is today unpeopled, save for a tribe or two of mixed Circassian blood, and a handful of Russians or German immigrants huddled here and there. When in 1864-5-6 these exiles came strolling through Anatolia they were beggared, bereft of everything in the way of earthly goods and lived in predatory fashion, stealing where chance offered. They housed themselves, as do the meanest of our immigrant laborers, in huts they made of sods and clay. With part of their scant gains they bought cheap yarns and wove rugs for coverings. Little Turkish children watched with wonder the weavings of these strangers, so different from any fabrics ever seen in that part of the country before, and the Turkish mothers worried for fear the visitors should steal the toddlers, as was reported, and truthfully, to be the custom of their homeland.

    In the rugs which the vagrants made there was small and rude pretence at design. Sometimes, since dyeing involved cost, they wove simply of white woolen or cotton yarn, with no sign of color and no pattern at all. Even in the most pretentious of their fabrics white areas were frequent, and the few tints used were of the most elementary kind. Rugs of the same sort filter into the Constantinople markets nowadays, and in bales of other weavings come, one or two at a time, to this country. We might know from these creations, even if history were silent on the subject, that the Circassian specialty was belligerence rather than decorative art, but in the devices themselves there is evident effort to copy, or possibly to reproduce from memory, both Caucasian and North Persian elements. Everything is positive and abrupt, an effect which is heightened by the lavish use of white.

    A prayer rug of this type, which may be taken as representative, has the central field divided transversely into two parts by an attenuate form of the Mongolian cloud-band, which also, from its peculiar shape, forms the arch. Above this ground the line is black. In it, arranged in diagonal rows, are small diamond shapes. Their edges are heavily indented, which gives them a cruciform effect, and in the center of each is a small figure of like shape, but another color. Precisely the same device is found covering the central field of Kazak odjakliks and elsewhere in the Caucasian and Kurdish fabrics. The colors used for it in the Cherkess rugs are many, but all rudimentary. Whether or no these small devices are here intended for stars, shining upon the blackness of night, it is difficult to say. They give that suggestion. A like idea, but more artistically wrought out, is to be found now and then in Asia Minor prayer rugs.

    At the very top of the field, and on either side of the ends of the spandrel, are heavy trees of the cypress shape, but with jagged outlines. The two lower ones are in dull red and the upper one in green. All are heavily defined in white. The middle of the foliage area is variegated by the small, particolored patterns. In the field, underneath, the tree principle, which in some form is found in almost all prayer rugs, is presented in the same fashion as those above. The center tree is blue, outlined in white, and the ground-color of the field is dull red. The foliage of the tree is set off into perpendicular stripes, in which are repeated the small figures found above. Beside this, one on either side, are two smaller trees of a yellow shade, and above them two small shapes woven in red, like ladders of three rounds. The border has a heavy, flowerless, yellow vine on a ground of blue. The ends carry a well-made knot-fringe, and the sides an added selvage of cotton. The rug throughout is of wool and is excellent in point of quality. The impression it conveys is that of large feeling and inspiration, and of infinite care; but the breadth of the conception is neutralized by dearth of executive skill. The lack of manual facility and of schooling in the weaver's finer art is manifest. There is no touch of even semi-professional dexterity about it. It is the home-made product.

    An odjaklik of the same sort, offered for sale as "Malgaran", had great triangles of black, blue, red, yellow and green upon its central field of time-stained white, so arranged as to effect the "double-end" formation. Both these and the space remaining in the field were strewn with minute patterns like those in the prayer rug, rudely woven in many colors. The inner border was a simple key pattern; the outer, or main stripe, the vine.

    Among certain dealers in rugs in America the term "Malgaran" has also been used to indicate these rugs, as well as certain of the Samarkand rugs and other Central Asia products allied to them. The reason for this is plain. The Malakan or Malgaran people, another element in what Leroy-Beaulieu calls "The Babel of the Caucasus", have always been and are today the carriers of the region. In the early days of rug exportation from the Caucasus, when the railroad ran only as far as Tiflis, the Malakans brought the rugs there in their four-wheeled fulgons for shipment, and no name being then forthcoming, they went out under the distorted title of Malgarans. Their coming to the West from that section led to the belief that they were made somewhere in Central Asia, and since that time the Armenian dealers have made of "Malgaran" an omnibus name for all the odds and ends of unidentified Asiatic weaving.

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