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Treasures of Karun

Language of Motifs in Turkish Carpets and Rugs

Some time ago newspapers reported that there is only one man left in the world who speaks a certain language and that when he dies the language and that when he dies the language will be forever lost. It will not be, the first or the last language to be lost, but it is sad to know it happens. Turkish weavers are not quite so close to the loss of the language of motif and colour but there is concern that the end may not be too many years hence.
Most new carpets and kilims are produced in factories or in cattage industry situations where the motifs and colours are dictated by producers and distributors. The colours and motifs are being changed to suit the western market and its influence. To be a success in the market place, the product must suit the colours and furniture styles used by a different culture. Small woven signs or simbols are called motifs and overall pattern is called the design.
As one deciphers the symbols of a small prayer rug one discovers, for example the unbearable agony of losing a child; the grief is as real and as fresh as when the weaver knotted the patterns of her sorrow over forty years ago and one becomes intenesly aware of the human expression in the carpet or kilim. Working on such a carpet becomes therapeutic. The carpet becomes a kind of supreme cominication reaching out to God and men in one spontaneous proclamation.
There are also happy kilims and carpets telling of joy and dreams of lasting happiness though always with an understanding of fate's fickle ways. There may be embedded in the carpet or kilim a motif the evil eye repeated throughout the carpet or kilim. Whether an eigth square meter kilim for the long winter or a shopping bag to carry to market. The kilim is always an expression of the artistic skils of the weaver and a public message to the outer world of the family's own history.
The nomad women did not have to leave home or change her life still to find herself. With her weaving she could make a statement that would outlast her own lifetime and posibly those of her children and grand children. It would be seen by family, friends and visitors for generations and might even end up in the home of some Western stranger. She would have been proud to have them exclaimed over her clever design, colour sense and weaving skill. If they could not read the message she had written so clearly in the colour and motifs she had used, they could at least apprreciate her betiful work.
To own a carpet or kilim means two things. Firstly, it is having a beatifully crafted piece of art, with harmonious colours and exciting patterns, with which to decorate the house. Secondly, it is like taking a page out of an Anatolian native's life a page out of a history of a rich, though sadly dyeing tradition. For those who enjoy the art of old nomadic pieces and would like to learn a little of their language, the following basic motif vocabularry is provided.

Status of Weaver
Hair Band (Single) : This sing expresses the yearning of a young woman to get married. Traditionally in Anatolian vilages the girls keep their hair long and will not cut it until they get married.
hair band 1 hair band 2
Ying and Yang : This motif singnifies that the weaver is married as well as love and unity. Inherited from the Far East, this symbol denotes love and unity between a man and women. A dot of the opposite colour in each half shows that nothing is pure in nature.
ying and yang 1 ying and yang 2
Hands on Hips : The mother Goddess of ancient Matriarchal beliefs. At an early stage all superhuman powers were represented by goddesses. This motif is only shown when the weaver gives a birth to a boy. The hands on hips shows that she is very proud.
hand 1 hand 2

Motifs such as evil eye and ram's horn signify that the weaver is happy and she is thanking God for her happiniess.

Eye (Evil Eye) : This signifies a bad, or nasty look, which is believed to be encountered by an object which looks similiar to an eye. In its most simplified form a triangle is used.
Ram's Horn : The ram's horn denotes fertility,heroism and power.
horn 1 horn 2

The chest, comb, fetter and fertility motifs express a weaver's relationship with her husband and her in-loves. Chest Comb : The chest and comb motifs are symbols of the bridge, marriage and happiness in Anatolian folklore. The chest, or clothes sack among wandering tribes, represent the girl's longing for marriage, since they contain her trousseau or dowry.
chest comb 1 chest comb 2
Fertility : The relationship between the sexes, and proliferation. Stylised versions of multigrained plants, for example, wheat and pomegranate which denote fertility.
fertility 1 fertility 2

A fetter is used to prevent horses from running away. In kilims, it represents harmony and togetherness of lowers.
Family Signs and Birds
Family Sign : Family, or clan signs are used all tribal people, to mark their sheep, kilims and other possesions.
family sign 1 family sign 2
Birds : Bird motifs have various meanings. Birds of pray, such as eagle falcon and hawk represent strength and power. These bird symbols can be found on the Selcuks and Ottomans. Birds can also symbolize the celestial messenger and longevity. The phoenix and the dragon fighting symbolize the comming of spring rain.
bird 1 bird 2

From the earliest times people have beleived that by imitating, or weaving part of a dangereous animal, they will have power over it and protection from it. Carrying a wolf's paw, a crocodile's tooth or a dried snake or scorpion is remmant of this ancient belief which is still practised in some places today.
Scorpion scorpion 1 scorpion 2
Dragon dragon 1 dragon 2
Wolf's Print wolf print 1 wolf print 2

Hand (Religious Motif)
The hand of Prophet's sister. This combines the concepts of fertility and good luck. The hand often has an "evil eye" symbol on it, etc. protection from evil.


This site prepared by Tayfun Kalyoncu on 28.02.1997 and last updated on 01.05.1999.
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