Part 1

The Karakalpak Kiymeshek
Role of the Kiymeshek
The Aq Kiymeshek
The Qızıl Kiymeshek

Part 2

Different Qızıl Kiymeshek Patterns
Distribution of Qızıl Kiymeshek Patterns
The Dating of Qızıl Kiymesheks
Pronunciation of Karakalpak Terms

Part 3

Other Kimeshek-Like Garments
The Qazaq Kimeshek
The Uzbek Lyachek
The Tajik Lachek and Kuluta
The Turkmen Esgi, Lechek and Chember
The Kyrgyz Elechek and Ileki
The Khimar and Similar Islamic Veils

Part 4

Previous Ideas on Kimeshek Origins
A Short History of Veiling up to the 16th Century

Part 5

The History of the Kimeshek
Where to see Karakalpak Kiymesheks

The History of the Kimeshek

In 1990 Z. I. Rakhimova published her study of the evolution of Mawaran-nahr female fashions in the 16th to 17th centuries from the miniature paintings included in manuscripts held at the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Library, the Leningrad Division of the Institute of Oriental Studies and the Institute of Oriental Studies named after Beruni in Tashkent.

Rakhimova concluded that girls braided their hair into two plaits, whereas women always concealed their hair. In Bukhara and Samarkand, in the first half of the 16th century, girls wore skullcaps and a shawl or rumol decorated with a peshonaband. The latter was a long and thin embroidered or bejewelled panel that was sewn to the front of a folded shawl to decorate the forehead, the shawl ends being twisted into a tape and then tied behind the head. Women also wore the peshonaband but with a chockkap, or kultapushak, a cap that included a rear plait cover. In the 17th century girls wore a pointed or dome-shaped embroidered cap on the front of the head, with an aigrette of long feathers fastened at the back. Women meanwhile wore a round cap with a shawl fastened at the back which wrapped around the sides of the head and the chin to hide the neck and upper arms, falling down at the back to the shoulder blades. In some cases this was translucent. Once again, an aigrette of feathers was fastened at the back.

When it came to the headdresses of elderly women, Rakhimova found that they were quite different. These were formed from a folded rectangular shawl draped over the head with the two opposite corners tied under the chin and the two other corners freely hanging down the back and covering the upper arms. These shawls are depicted with a circular opening for the face. During the 17th century they were sometimes also worn over a peshonaband.

Rakhimova added that:
"A similar shawl, called a kimeshek (in Kyrgyz) or lyachak (in Uzbek) is depicted in the 17th century miniatures not only of Mawaran-nahr, but also of Herat, Tabriz, and Qazvineh, and probably, generally for the entire Middle East region."

Illustrations from Rakhimova
Illustrations from Rakhimova. Upper left: Mawaran-nahr 1540s; upper right: Samarkand 17th century;
lower left and right; Bukhara 17th century.

Unfortunately only a limited number of Mawaran-nahr miniatures have been published, insufficient in quantity to confirm Rakhimova's conclusions. However we do have access to a wealth of additional images from Iran and Iraq and together these provide a rich source of material. In examining these miniature paintings we must first remember that they were designed to illustrate works of history, poetry, and fable, not to accurately depict contemporary costume. Garments that look like kimesheks may not necessarily be kimesheks. The devil is in the detail. Secondly we must not fall into the trap of assigning different styles of headdress to married and unmarried women, having in the first place interpreted the woman's marital status from her headdress!

The conquest of Bukhara by Shaybani Khan in 1500 coincided with the emergence of the powerful Safavid dynasty in Iran. In Iran the transition from the Timurid to the Safavid period (1502-1736) coincides with further changes in female costume. The Uzbeks attempted to seize Khurasan on numerous occasions, forcibly relocating craftsmen and artists to Bukhara. The city of Herat, which at that time was a leading centre of fashion, frequently changed hands from Safavid to Uzbek control.

Young women's costume increasingly became more feminine and sophisticated. They now wore a small skullcap with one or sometimes two plain or decorated veils pinned to the top, revealing the front of the cap and hanging down to at least the shoulders. This image from Tabriz shows a girl wearing just a simple long rectangular head veil looped back over the head:

Zahhak receives the daughters of Jamshid
Detail from "Zahhak receives the daughters of Jamshid", from the Houghton Shahnama, Tabriz, about 1530.
The Nasser David Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.

Another contemporary image shows a girl with a red cap surmounted by a white kerchief and a translucent veil wrapped under the chin and falling down to her shoulders:

Sindukht comes out of Kabul with gifts
Detail from "Sindukht comes out of Kabul with gifts", from the Houghton Shahnama, Tabriz, about 1530.
The Nasser David Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.

Many girls just wore a cap and a small kerchief, leaving their plaits fully exposed:

The Golden Chain
Detail of a miniature from "The Golden Chain", calligraphy by Baba Shah, dated 1570.
Gulistan Library, Tehran.

By the middle of the century the length of this head veil became longer at the back and the corners hanging down each side of the face were sometimes pulled back to reveal long earrings, or temple decorations. Sometimes an additional small white veil was tied under the chin like a kerchief, concealing the neck.

The costumes of the young women of Central Asia at this time were illustrated by the so-called Bukharan school of miniature painters, brought from Khurasan and patronized by the Shaybani Uzbek Khans. Unmarried aristocratic women were shown wearing two types of headdress. In one there is no head veil even though the women are shown in public, just a long ribbon is fastened in the hair and hanging down to the lower back, a style that seems to have originated in pre-Safavid Herat. In the other the women wear tiara-like headdresses with an ornamented coloured kerchief, folded in two and fastened at the back, exposing the ears, long earrings, and temple plaits:

Young women
"Young Women", painted by Mahmud Muzahhib, who was born in Herat and brought to the
Uzbek court in Bukhara by Ubaydallah Khan, about 1550. Topkapi Sarayi Library, Istanbul.

Other images show women, assumed to be married, wearing a cap covered with a larger diagonally folded kerchief, the two opposite corners falling down towards the breast and the two aligned corners falling down the back to cover the hair:

Detail of a page from a Shahnama
Detail of a page from a Shahnama commissioned by Shah Isma'il to be inserted into an earlier copy of
a Khamsa (Quintet), Tabriz, 1505. Topkapi Saray Museum, Istanbul.

Meanwhile older women appear to have forsaken the khimar-like head veil in place of a tailored kimeshek-like garment. However the images need careful interpretation. The following detail shows an old woman facing a young woman in an open window, apparently wearing a kimeshek-like headdress over a black cap. Yet she could equally be wearing a headscarf draped across the front of the neck, over the head, with the free end concealed as it falls dawn the back:

Zahhak receiving the daughters of Jamshid
Detail from "Zahhak receiving the daughters of Jamshid", from the Houghton Shahnama, Tabriz, 1520s.
Nasser David Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.

Likewise in the following detail of women under attack in Isfahan while one woman wears a cap and kerchief another wears a black head veil, tied under the chin and held in place with a bandeau. However the old woman wears either an old style khimar-like head veil or possibly a kimeshek. There is insufficient detail to make a decision:

Timur's sacking of Isfahan
A detail from "Timur's sacking of Isfahan", from a copy of the Timurnama by Abdullah Hatifi, 16th century.
From book on Tamerlane.

A painting ascribed to Mir Sayyid 'Ali shows a nomadic encampment with several women, clearly married since one has a child on her knee. They wear white head veils that completely cover the hair. An old woman enters Layla's camp with Majnun shackled with a chain. She wears a white cowl over her cap, with detailing around the face opening and folds around the neck which show that this is a tailored kimeshek-like garment and not a khimar-like shawl:

Majnun brought in chains to Layla's tent
Detail from "Majnun brought in chains to Layla's tent", from a copy of a Khamsa, Tabriz, 1539-43.
The British Library, London.

A second idealized painting of a nomadic campsite shows another old woman wearing a white kimeshek held in place with a bandeau, while the younger women wear small head veils over their caps, one tied below the chin:

Life in the camp
"Life in the camp", from a copy of Nizami's Khamsa, painted by Mir Sayyid 'Ali, Tabriz, 1540.
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

However we would be wrong to assume that the kimeshek was only confined to the old. The following slightly later illustration shows a group of four women, two wearing head veils hanging down to the shoulder blades over a cap, and two wearing cowl-like garments over a cap. The object of the painting is Haftad's daughter, a maiden who lives with her seven brothers in Gozaran. She is depicted in a purple cowl, which is clearly a kimeshek because it has a line of decoration along the bottom at the front:

Haftvad's daughter spinning in the garden
"Haftvad's daughter spinning in the garden", Tabriz, about 1570. Mashhad and Qazvin school.
John Rylands University Library, Manchester.

In the illustration of "the shoemaker who rode a lion" we are shown the headdresses of not only the shoemaker's wife, but also his mother-in-law. The former wears a small kerchief below the chin and a larger kerchief tied with a bandeau over the head, concealing her hair. The latter wears a large shawl, wrapped around the head with the tail hanging down to thigh height. In the same miniature two women look down on the scene from a window. One of them, who appears to be neither a girl nor an old woman, wears a white kimeshek:

The shoemaker who rode a lion

The shoemaker who rode a lion
Details from "The shoemaker who rode a lion", from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, probably Tabriz, about 1530.
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

Another image of an old woman's headdress appears in the painting of a group of young aristocratic women preparing a picnic. All of the girls wear colourful and ornate kerchiefs over their caps and some wear a second kerchief tied under the chin and colourful ribbons hanging down with their plaits at the back of the head. Such headdresses are frequently depicted in miniatures painted by the Qazvin school. Of particular interest is the hunchbacked old woman wearing a bukhnuq, somewhat similar to a modern chador:

Ladies preparing a picnic
Detail from "Ladies preparing a picnic", from a copy of a Khamsa, Shiraz, about 1575.
Bodleian Library, Oxford.

By the mid-17th century, there were strong cultural links between Central Asia and Mughal India. One of the fashions taken to India by the Mughals seems to have been the kimeshek. A miniature painted in the Deccan shows two women wearing either khimar-like head shawls or more likely kimesheks, judging by the patterning on the headdresses. The only caveat is that the latter could just be a stylized form of painting:

The ladies of Zulaykha
Detail from "The ladies of Zulaykha", from a Falnama, the Deccan, India, about 1610-30.
The Nasser David Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.

Meanwhile a new style of headdress seems to have been in fashion in the new Safavid capital of Isfahan, depicted in wall paintings decorating reception pavilions at the huge new royal residential quarter:

Maiden Reclining in a Landscape
"Maiden Reclining in a Landscape", wall painting in the Music Box of the 'Ali Qapu Pavilion
on the west side of the Maydan-i Shah, Isfahan, 1610-1620.

Feast in a Garden
"Feast in a Garden", wall painting in the Chihil Sutun Pavilion
in the garden west of the Maydan-i Shah, Isfahan, 1640-1650.

It appears to be a large cape-like kimeshek, worn below a diadem or headband, wrapped tightly around the sides of the head and below the chin, falling across both arms to completely cover the chest down to the waist. In both images the rear tail falls down to reach the ground.

At about the same time in Central Asia and Khurasan we observe the emergence of a new style of costume, with tight-fitting dresses - possibly influenced by the fashions of India – ornately decorated takhiya or taqıya caps for girls and a new type of hair veil for married aristocratic women. In the following detail of a Mawaran-nahr painting, Pari, the daughter of a Tatar chieftain, goes to meet her husband Bahram Gur. She wears a flat-topped cap with her hair and neck entirely concealed under a cowl or wimple-like shawl. Her three attendants wear taqıya-like caps with pointed tops and bejewelled sides and a plume of feathers rising from the back:

Bahram Gur in the Green Pavilion
Detail from "Bahram Gur in the Green Pavilion" from a copy of Nizami's poem "Khamsa", possibly Herat, 1648.
Saltykov-Shchedrin Library, Saint Petersburg.

Such fashions remained popular for princesses and notables, townswomen, servants, and musicians at least until the final quarter of the 17th century. At that time the only centre of miniature painting in Mawaran-nahr was at the kitab khana in Bukhara, the royal library of the Ashtarkhanid dynasty. According to Galerkina, this ceased to function during the 1670s, eliminating a vital source of information for the monitoring of costume changes during the 18th century.

Interestingly the miniatures studied by Rakhimova show the initial signs of the emergence of another new form of head veil in the 17th century – the ubiquitous paranja. When Baron Meyendorff was stationed in Bukhara in 1820 he recorded the public costume of the Uzbek and Tajik women:

"In the streets, the women wear a long mantle, whose arms join behind, and a black veil which hides their face completely; they see badly through this veil, but the majority raised a corner of it furtively, when they met one of us."
Two years later Nikolay Muravyov wrote that the Uzbek women of Khiva: "... dress in a very strange costume and generally go about veiled". Married women were strictly segregated and according to Muravyov, "condemned to a life of strict solitude". In 1863 Vambery found that the crime of casting a look upon a thickly veiled lady in Khiva could lead to hanging. Henry Lansdell found it virtually impossible to come into contact with women in Bukhara and Samarkand in 1874. The all-encompassing paranja and the accompanying chachvon horse-hair face veil were now firmly established and would continue to be worn in public until the 1930s:

Uzbek Woman in Tashkent
The paranja and chachvon illustrated in "Uzbek Woman in Tashkent",
painted by Vasiliy Vereshchagin, 1873. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

However Fedor Fedorov Grushin, who was captured by Turkmen off the coast of Mangishlaq in 1819 to be sold as a slave in Khiva, saw another side of Uzbek female headwear:

"Female head-gear in Khiva somewhat resembles the kokoshniks of Kostroma [a town on the east bank of the Volga], or the earlier fashion of the grenadier cap. This attire is called "kabavy", and pearls and stones are set [in those of the] rich."
Such headdresses are kept in the Ichan qala museum today, where they are described as a tax'ya duziy, and are somewhat similar to the Qazaq kasava. Grushin's comments warn us to differentiate between the Uzbek female costume that was worn in public and the headwear that was worn in private. It is likely that kimeshek-like cowls continued to be worn at home and under the paranja, although few Western travellers would have ever had the chance to see them. George Curzon commented in 1889 that he had never seen the features of a Bukharan woman between the ages of ten and fifty because they were always concealed behind the paranja and chachvon.

At this point we need to pause and draw some preliminary conclusions. Images portrayed in miniature paintings show that the fashion of head veiling was continually changing. At some time during the first half of the 16th century a tailored head veil resembling the 20th century kimeshek developed as an alternative to the khimar–like headscarf in both Iran and Central Asia. It was soon imported into northern India by the Mughuls, who were expelled from Central Asia by the Uzbeks in 1501. A white version seems to have been worn by old women, whereas young unmarried and possibly married women seemed to prefer a coloured or patterned version. However the majority of married women are depicted at this time wearing the head kerchief and cap. The kimeshek was sometimes worn over a cap or with a peshonaband and sometimes held in place with a bandeau. Some kimesheks reached down to shoulder height with a tail falling between the shoulder blades, others entirely covered the upper arms, falling down to the floor at the back.

We also need to emphasize that although we have referred to these garments as kimesheks, there is no record to indicate the actual name or names given to them at that time. Indeed the word kimeshek does not appear in any historical document from this era.

Yet we do know that a lachak head veil existed in 15th century Timurid Central Asia, since the name occurs in the works of Alisher Navoi (1441-1501), the Herat-based poet and advisor to the Sultan of Khurasan, Husayn Bayqarah. At that time it may have been nothing more than a kerchief, possibly folded diagonally with its two corners fastened under the chin.

The lachak is also mentioned in a short passage in the Humayun-Nama, written by Gulbadan Begum, a daughter of Babur and sister of Sultan Humayun, Babur's successor in Mughal India, who was overthrown in 1540 and forced into exile in Kabul. Earlier that year Humayun suffered a major defeat at Chausa on the Ganges by his adversary Shir Shah Afghan, losing 8,000 of his best Turkish troops. He fled to Delhi by way of Agra, where he met up with his sister Gulbadan who was then seventeen year old. He told her he did not recognize her at first because when he left with his army in 1537 she was wearing the taq, and she now she wore the lachak - in other words she was now married. Clearly a taq or taqi (taqıya) was the headdress of a maiden and a lachak was the headdress of a married woman. Was this still a headscarf or was it like the kimeshek-like garment we see illustrated in the above Indian miniature some 80 years later?

We have already seen from the work of the miniature painters that the kimeshek was worn by some of the nomads of Iran even before the middle of the 16th century. The question is whether it was also worn by the nomads of Central Asia? This is an almost impossible question to answer before the 18th century since local authors, commissioned by the ruling elite, had little interest in costume per se, never mind that of the surrounding nomads. Much depended on the spread of Islam into the steppes, which was a slow and patchy affair. It had begun in 10th century under the Samanids, and was advanced by Sufi shaykhs, such as the followers of the 12th century saint Ahmed Yassawi, who could exploit their understanding of the nomad's pre-Islamic traditions. Of course with Islam came the requirement for modesty and female veiling. We know, for example, that in the 1520s Baron von Herberstein found that among the Muslim Tatar nomads of the Volga region the women already covered their heads with a linen veil and their queens covered their faces in public. However the final conversion of the Qazaqs did not even begin until the 1780s, helped by pro-Russian Kazan Tatar missionaries and the encouragement of Catherine the Great, who hoped that Islam might bring order to the unruly steppe nomads.

Once we reach the 18th century we gain access to the first ethnographies of the rural and nomadic populations of Russian Tartary composed by European and Russian explorers who criss-crossed the steppes with the encouragement and support of the enlightened Tsarina, Catherine the Great. Information also began to be accumulated by regional administrators such as Peter Rychkov, the Governor-General of Orenburg, and later by Alexis de Levchine, a local overseer of Qazaq affairs.

We also benefit from an early and crucial description of the peoples of the Aral Sea region prepared by Ivan Muravin, a surveyor attached to the Russian embassy that travelled from Orsk to Khiva in 1740. It was led by Lieutenant Dmitry Gladyshev and had been sent at the request of Abu'l Khayr, Khan of the Qazaq Lesser Horde, who sought Russian protection from the aggressive Kalmuks. Abu'l Khayr also held sway over the Lower Karakalpaks living in the lower Syr Darya and along the north-eastern shore of the Aral Sea.

None of these observers recorded encountering a kimeshek or lyachak-like garment across the northern steppes at this time. Instead they discovered that the majority of headdresses incorporated some type of shawl or scarf, wound and tied in a particular manner.

Ivan Muravin prepared an inventory describing the costumes of the four main ethnic groups he encountered – the Qazaqs, Karakalpaks, Aralians (Aral Uzbeks), and the Khivans (Khivan Uzbeks) – all of which were remarkably similar. The married womenfolk of both the Qazaqs and the Karakalpaks wore a coarse calico shevkeli headdress surmounted by a round kasava, forerunners to the 19th century sa'wkele and to'belik. Above this they wore an uramal – a length of white byaz (bo'z) and taffeta, wrapped over the top of the kasava and tied under the chin, the two ends thrown back over the shoulders to cover the upper part of the plaited hair, which remained visible being intertwined with byaz ribbons that hung down to the ground. Instead of a shevkeli the wives of the Aralians wore a round decorated chepech, tied around with a small piece of byaz or a kerchief. The corresponding Khivan headdress was similar, only more prosperous in appearance.

The wife of Abul Khayr Khan and her children
The wife of Abu'l Khayr Khan in her uramal with her children.
From Materialien zu der Russischen Geschichte seit dem Tode Kaiser Peters des Grossen, Volume 2, 1730-1741, Riga, 1784.

In 1767 the Berlin naturalist Peter Simon Pallas was invited to Saint Petersburg by Catherine II, just in time to lead the first of five major scientific expeditions to Eastern Russia and Siberia planned over the coming few years. Pallas left in June 1768 and in the following year reached the Qazaqs of the Lesser Horde pasturing on the North Caspian Steppe. Not only did he record the construction of the Qazaq turban-like headdress, made from several white or multi-coloured cloths, but he arranged for it to be sketched and subsequently published as an etching. The completed item was called a dshalot:

"First they put a corner cloth [diagonally folded square cloth] over the head, two to three ells long [1 ell = 1.135m], around which they wind their two hair plaits. They cross the corners of the cloth under the chin, and put them over the head again, so that the neck is covered in front, and also at the back by the hanging down corner of the cloth. Then they wind a similar folded strip of cloth, 4 to 5 ells long and in the middle nearly two hands broad, around the top of the head to form an almost cylindrical turban."

The costume of a high-status Qazaq woman
The costume of a high-status Qazaq woman.
Plate 8 in Peter Pallas's Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen Russischen Reichs, Volume 1, 1771.

A second expedition left Saint Petersburg in the same year of 1768, heading for the Caspian, Orenburg, and Hungarian steppes. It was led by the Swedish botanist Johann Peter Falk, who was assisted by Johann Gottlieb Georgi and Christoph Bardanes. In September 1770 they visited the Khan of the Qazaq Lesser Horde on the Ural River near Orenburg. Falk's notes describe the costumes of both the common and the distinguished Qazaq woman. The former wore a large cap with a kerchief tied under the chin. They then tied a large cloth known as a tashtar around the cap, which hung down over the back of the shoulders falling towards the ground. It was decorated with braids, ribbons, and hanging pendants. From the rear of the neck was suspended a set of cords decorated with tassels, ribbons, and "jingle-work". Higher-status women wore an elegant vest-like garment, known as a ruster, which went over the head, covering the breast and the back down to the waist. It was decorated with corals or small silver plates, as well as Bukharan gold and other coins. On their head they wore a tall decorated saukele-like cap with a long wide plait cover hanging down the back to the calves. Fortunately both costumes were illustrated in Falk's published travelogue:

Common Kirgis woman

Distinguished Kirgis woman
Engravings of a common Kirgis [Qazaq] woman and a distinguished Kirgis woman.
From Falk's Beyträge zur topographischen Kenntniss des Russischen Reichs, Volume 3, Saint Petersburg, 1785.

In the following year, Christoph Bardanes, who was a member of Falk's research team, travelled to the Jungar steppes for an audience with Sultan Mamet, the leader of the Qazaq Middle Horde. The Sultan sat with his younger consort, who wore a silk scarf wrapped around her head "as is common with the Tatars and Armenians" according to Bardanes.

The final account is provided by Johann Gottlieb Georgi, who maintained the expedition after Peter Falk's suicide in 1774. His ethnography, published a couple of years later, provides another similar description of the Qazaq head veil:

"The veil is their daily headdress; to dress themselves up they put on bonnets covered with small medals etc., similar to the bonnets of the Bashkir women. Several of them, especially the women above the common run, cover the head with a type of tall turban and composed of some fabric, which they wrap several times around the head."
His coloured engravings appear to be based on the same source used for Pallas's slightly earlier engraving:

Coloured engravings of the front and rear views of a Kirgiz [Qazaq] married woman from
Georgi's "Description of All the Nationalities that Inhabit the Russian State", Volume 2, Saint Petersburg, 1776 to 1777.

The surprise is that Alexis de Levchine's monograph about the Qazaqs, based on his role as Russian administrator of the Qazaqs at Orenburg in 1821 and 1822, makes no mention of such head veils, although it does describe the Qazaq saukele. However such headdresses must have still been popular. When the military topographer, Ivan Fedorovich Blaremburg, left Orenburg to visit the Qazaqs of the Inner Horde pasturing between the Ural and the Volga, he took along headscarves as presents for the Qazaq women.

An illustration published in Germany in 1844 depicts a married Qazaq woman without the turban-like uramal. She wears a saukele over what appears to be a kimeshek, although in the absence of any commentary it is impossible to be certain:

A Kirgis [Qazaq] couple, from Vollständige Völkergalerie in getreuen Abbildungen aller Nationen mit ausführlicher Beschreibung derselben,
Friedrich Wilhelm Goedsche, Meissen, 1844.

However just twenty years later we gain our first historical record of the kimeshek being worn by the Karakalpaks and perhaps a similar garment being worn by the Qazaqs. The source is the Hungarian Orientalist Arminius Vambery who, in 1863, travelled from Persia to Khiva and onwards to Bukhara disguised as a dervish. His original travelogue is silent on the matter but in his addendum, published in 1868, he noted that Qazaq women wore a sheokele, which was more conical than the Turkmen headdress and "allows the veil to fall not before, but down the back of the loins." They braided their hair into eight thin plaits, four on each side, and covered their heads with a letshek in cloth, which covered the head and neck.

His comment on the Karakalpaks is equally concise:

"... the [Karakalpak] women have a cape like a cloak round the throat,"
This cannot be a jegde and it is therefore most likely that Vambery is referring to the aq kiymeshek, since it is unlikely that the Karakalpaks had access to significant quantities of Russian woollen broadcloth (ushıga) at that time. Of course Russian textiles were being imported by Khivan merchants from Nizhniy Novgorod and Orenburg, but ushıga would have only been affordable to wealthier Karakalpaks as evidenced by its use on the tumaq of the 19th century sa'wkele. As Vambery was well aware, the Khanate of Khiva was a dangerous province for foreigners and no Russian merchant would dare to trade there directly. The majority of Karakalpaks were desperately poor, maintaining a self-sufficient subsistence economy. The primary textile was homewoven cotton bo'z and silk was readily available in the form of cocoons sold on the pilla bazaar at major markets such as Kunya Urgench, Qon'ırat and Shımbay.

An interesting question is why Vambery was the first 19th century observer to record the lyachek and the kimeshek? Obviously the isolated Karakalpaks were rarely if ever visited by foreigners, but this situation did not apply to the Qazaqs. However the travellers who ventured into the steppes east of Orenburg in the years following the expeditions of Pallas, Falk, Bardanes, and Georgi, such as Blankennagel (1793), Meyendorff (1820), Levchine (1821-22), and Blaramberg (1841-56), were selective in the observations that they recorded and left us no further description of the Qazaq women's head veil.

Despite the absence of historical information it is still possible that the Karakalpak kiymeshek had been in existance for some time prior to its reporting by Arminius Vambery. This is because the kiymeshek was not only a traditional garment for the Karakalpaks of the Aral delta, but was also worn in the past by the Karakalpaks of the Samarkand region as well as the Karakalpaks of the Ferghana Valley. In 1723 a violent and destructive invasion by Mongol Jungars irreversibly divided the Karakalpak nation into two - the Lower Karakalpaks escaping westwards into the lower Syr Darya and the Upper Karakalpaks fleeing eastwards along the Syr Darya towards Tashkent, accompanied by members of the Qazaq Middle Horde. Some Karakalpaks continued onwards to the banks of the Zeravshan east of Samarkand. Following their subjugation by the Qazaq Middle Horde in 1748 many of the Upper Karakalpaks moved even further east into the Qazaq territories of the Ferghana Valley, a process that continued until the early 19th century. Meanwhile the migration of Upper Karakalpaks into the Samarkand region continued until the 1840s. The Karakalpak populations of Ferghana and Samarkand were extensively studied by Sergey Tolstov's daughter, Lada Sergeyevna Tolstova, in the late 1950s.

It is tempting to theorize that the existence of the kiymeshek in all three communities must indicate a common origin in the pre-1723 unified Karakalpak population. Of course the main weakness of this argument is that there were undoubtedly subsequent contacts between the different populations - for example the Karakalpaks of Ka'nimex, near Navoi, provided a stepping-stone between the Aral delta and Samarkand. We know for example that the young Karakalpak women of Samarkand region also wore the qızıl kiymeshek, which must have been introduced at a much later date since it only appeared among the Aral Karakalpaks at the end of the 19th century. It is of course perfectly possible that the Karakalpaks already had the kiymeshek in the early 18th century - similar garments must have been present in Mawaran-nahr at this time. The main concern is that Gladyshev and Muravin did not record the existence of such a garment when they visited the Karakalpaks in 1740. They were of course primarily focused on fulfilling their responsibilities as a political embassy, gathering military intelligence on the way. Nevertheless they stayed at Abu'l Khayr's headquarters among the Karakalpaks for a reasonable time - from the 18th to the 26th October - gathering information from Abu'l Khayr's interpreter, Muhammed Nurlin. They then spent a further 17 days travelling south before reaching the Aralians at Shahtemir (modern Shımbay) in the Aral delta. They then revisited Abu'l Khayr's headquarters on their return in early 1741.

Muravin's report makes it clear that the universal headwear of the Karakalpak (and Qazaq and Aralian) married woman was not a kiymeshek but a sa'wkele-like headdress, secured with an oramal wrapped over the top and tied under the chin. The implication is that the kiymeshek was at that time still unknown among the Karakalpaks, the Qazaqs of the Lesser Horde, and the Aral Uzbeks, although we know that all three ethnic groups adopted this form of costume at a later date. Our general impression is that the Karakalpak kiymeshek was a later rather than an earlier development. This also seems to have been the case with the Qazaq kimeshek, which only seems to have evolved in the latter part of the 19th century, achieving widespread acceptance in the first half of the 20th century. As we shall see during the 19th century many Qazaq women still constructed their headdresses from kerchiefs and turban cloths.

Of course the use of the headdresses was different in each group. As already noted in Part 1, Nina Lobacheva proposed in 1984 that the aq kiymeshek originally fulfilled the same role as the later qızıl kiymeshek – the wedding costume of the Karakalpak bride. This assumption is supported by the fact that the kiymeshek was used as a bridal costume not only by the Aral Karakalpaks but also by the Samarkand and the Ferghana Karakalpaks. However the Qazaq aq kimeshek and the Uzbek lyachek were traditionally worn only after the birth of the first child.

Of course we do not know whether Vambery's letshek was a simply a head wrapper or a tailored garment. The difference was one of practical convenience for the owner, but of minimal importance to the visiting observer. The problem of identifying the date of the introduction of the Qazaq kimeshek is that it did not stand out as a distinct garment compared to a white cotton oramal head and neck wrapper, especially when the majority of Qazaq women's heads were surrounded by an additional swathe of calico. The situation is analogous to the difference between the tailored khimar and that wound from a shawl. This difficulty is made abundantly clear from the early photographs taken on the orders of General von Kaufmann, the Governor-General of Russian Turkestan. Organized by A. L. Kun, they appeared as part of the Ethnography section of the Turkestanskiy Albom of 1871-72, a ten-volume compendium of some 1,200 images from this new Russian Kray:


Two Kirgiz-Kazak women, Kyzy-Gyul' above and Tunuk-Ay below.
Are they wearing a kimeshek or a shawl below the oramal?
From the Turkestanskiy Albom, produced by A. L. Kun in 1871-72.

The majority of travellers entering the Qazaq steppes in the years following Vambery's visit report head veils wound from lengths of cotton cloth. Januarius MacGahan, on his journey from the Syr Darya to the Amu Darya east of the Aral Sea, referred to the "high white turban of all the Kirghiz [Qazaq] married women", while Eugene Schuyler, who passed through the territories of the Qazaqs of the Lesser Horde beyond Orenburg in the same year of 1873, commented:

"The women ... have their heads and necks swathed in loose folds of white cotton cloth, so as to make a sort of bib and turban at the same time."

Etching of two Kirgis [Qazaq] women inside a yurt. From Schuyler, 1876.

In the summer of 1882 Henry Lansdell crossed the northern Qazaq steppes from Omsk to Kuldja (Yining) in Xingjian via Semipalatinsk, finally reaching Vierny (modern Almaty). He noticed that while wealthy Qazaq women wore the tall saukele:

"The poor women swathe their heads with calico, forming a compound turban and bib; ..."
Similar comments were made by Henrich Moser in the following year:
"What characterizes the costume of the married woman, who never shows her hair, is a large white scarf with which she surrounds the head, the bottom of the face and often the bust."

A Kirgis [Qazaq] family. From Moser, 1885.

From their later ethnographic studies, Zakharova and Khodzhaeva have suggested that the Qazaq kimeshek had two initial forms. In the western regions, corresponding to the territories of the Lesser Horde, it was a cowl that was pulled over the head, but in the eastern regions of the Middle and Greater Hordes it was a length of cloth tied up under the chin. From the above observations this does not seem to have been the case. The western Qazaqs of the Lesser Horde also used a length of cloth rather than a cowl in their 19th century headdresses.

In 1873 General von Kaufmann finally commanded the Russian invasion of Khiva, annexing right bank Khorezm and its Karakalpak population as the Amu Darya Otdel and incorporating it into the Syr Darya Oblast of Turkestan. At last we get reports about the local Karakalpaks from Russian officers who were part of the invasion force and by civilian advisors and visiting writers and artists. The remarkable thing is that none of their reports – from Maksud Alikhanov-Avarskiy, Leonid Sobolyev, Aleksander Vasilyevich Kaulbars, Herbert Wood, and Nikolay Karazin – mention much about their appearance and none mention the kiymeshek. Sobolyev came closest by noting that Karakalpak women hide there hair under shawls. An anonymous Russian author, whose account of the Russian campaign was translated by Spalding, added that the Khivan Uzbek women wore long conical turbans, made of from fifteen to twenty Russian cotton pocket-handkerchiefs.

There are probably several reasons for the lack of information on Karakalpak costume. Firstly the members of the initial Amu Darya expedition entered the region from the Aral Sea and their first encounter was with the Karakalpak fishing communities in the northern delta. At the time of the Russian conquest the Karakalpaks were generally poor and oppressed, having been worn down by heavy taxes, forced labour, and the deliberate flooding of their lands. However the occupants of the northern delta were even poorer still. The Russian conquerors therefore initially encountered the most depressed section of the Karakalpak nation. For example, Karazin described a Karakalpak woman "all in rags, dirty and barefooted". Secondly, as was pointed out to Karazin by a local mullah, the faces of their women could not be seen by outside men. The women were also shy and fearful of strangers, so they either ran away or were hidden from view. Thirdly, for the Karakalpaks the kiymeshek may not have been an item of daily wear but a ceremonial costume, as it certainly was later on, only worn by newly-weds (or possibly first-time mothers) and at festivals.

After the Russians pressurized the Khan into signing a favourable trade treaty their merchants soon arrived in Khorezm, establishing their main trading centre at Urgench. Russian manufactures began to be imported into the region in growing quantities over the coming decades, especially textiles such as plain cotton, coarse calico, striped tick, printed calicos, woollen cloth, silk, and brocade. Market research was conducted to ensure that fabrics were selected to satisfy local tastes. One textile in particular struck a cord with Karakalpak women – red and black woollen broadcloth that had been machine-hammered so that the surface became felted, thereby concealing the warp and the weft.

Another highly desirable luxury textile was also being made locally in Khiva – ikat-patterned adras. In the first half of the 19th century a small number of families of Jewish dyers were expelled from Bukhara and chose to relocate in Khiva. Ye. Kileveyn recorded that in 1856 there were approximately ten families of Jews living in Khiva engaged in dyeing and viniculture. They had re-established their craft of silk tying and dyeing, producing just three adras patterns for the manufacture of chapans for the Khivan market. Some of this cloth, or the chapans made from it, found its way into Karakalpakia. It was used for making a special pashshayı ko'ylek wedding dress and somehow became the fabric of choice for sewing kiymesheks.

As we know from our work on dating, the Karakalpaks were already making cross-stitch qızıl kiymesheks during the last decade of the 19th century, embroidering a strip of chequered shatırash and attaching it to an aldı of red ushıga . The first description of such a kiymeshek was written by Anna Rossikova who travelled down the Amu Darya to visit the Amu Darya Otdel in 1902. Rossikova first observed that the local Qazaq women wore only one form of headdress – the dzhaulyk turban. She applied the same term to the Karakalpak oramal:

"As far as the costume of the Karakalpak woman, especially where the headgear is concerned, it is unique and extremely original. Usually like Kirghiz [Qazaq] women, they wind around the head a "dzhaulyk" – turban, but for going out and on all festive occasions they put on the caps, known by the name of "kimeshek-keste". Each Karakalpak woman has this unique head detail. It is sewn as follows. A right-angled triangle is cut out of some material, into which a circular opening is made, the size of the face of an adult person. The opening is trimmed with something, and all the vacant spaces around it are embroidered with multi-coloured silks; moreover the sewing is completed in such a way as our Ukrainians embroider – with the smallest of crosses, but the patterns of this sewing have nothing in common with our Russian or Ukrainian ones. Whoever saw Asian carpets, they would find much in common with the Karakalpak embroidery patterns. According to their means, a large silk shawl of Bukharan production or a woollen one is sewn to two sides of the triangle, in such a way that the corner of the shawl aligns with the corner of the triangle: the free ends of the shawl fall on the back down to the hem [of the dress]. The result is something resembling a Caucasian hood. The "kimeshe-keste" is slipped over the head, covering the breast at the front; all that is revealed is the face for which the opening is made. I saw no other special features in the costume of Karakalpak women."
It is absolutely clear that Rossikova is referring to a cross-stitch qızıl kiymeshek, from the nature of the stitch and the length and material of the silk tail. Clearly Rossikova had no idea that the "Bukharan silk" was actually made in Khiva.

Whereas the coarse woven structure of bo'z makes it ideally suited as a base for cross-stitch embroidery, broadcloth or ushıga, with its smooth featureless surface, is ideally suited to chain-stitch embroidery. It is interesting therefore that the earliest qızıl kiymesheks still attempted to maintain the Khorasanı mu'yiz cross-stitch decoration of the aq kiymeshek. Because this could not be executed directly onto the surface of the ushıga it had to first be embroidered onto a strip of chequered cotton shatırash, which was then sewn onto the aldı as a horizontal band. The distinctive vertical decorative bands of the aq kiymeshek disappeared since they were impractical to reproduce.

It did not take long for embroiderers to realize that it was possible to embroider onto the ushıga aldı directly using chain- rather than cross-stitch. This permitted greater freedom of expression and led to the introduction of a completely new set of free-flowing floral and zoomorphic motifs. We believe that it was the availability of the new materials – ushıga and adras – that primarily inspired the design and form of the chain-stitch qızıl kiymeshek.

In fact the timing of the arrival of the qızıl kiymeshek was crucial, since it came into fashion just as the traditional and hugely expensive sa'wkele wedding headdress and its associated ko'k ko'ylek wedding gown were going out of fashion. The need for an affordable wedding costume and the stunning appearance of the new kiymeshek led to its instant popularity. We know from our dating that the next two decades witnessed a flowering of qızıl kiymeshek production, as it became the essential wedding costume of the Karakalpak bride. Although newly married women now wore the qızıl kiymeshek as their festival costume, older women continued to wear the aq kiymeshek. In time the aq kiymeshek became associated with only the elderly.

Sadly there were no outside observers to record these changing fashions. The world soon lost interest in Khiva and Petro-Aleksandrovsk after the Russian invasion and Karakalpakia remained a remote backwater. Even occasional visitors such as Rossikova or Ole Olufsen only travelled along its southern periphery. It meant that history failed to record one of the most exciting phases of Karakalpak material culture when, after a century of hardship, there was a magnificent flowering of female festival costume that lasted for a mere two or three decades. The overwhelming majority of qızıl kiymesheks were made between 1905 and 1930.

By the time that any serious outside interest had gathered it was almost too late. As the consequences of the 1917 Revolution spread out from Moscow and Saint Petersburg provincial governments began to take an interest in the culture and folk art of their local ethnic peoples. However Khiva became a bastion of anti-Soviet resistance and it was not until 1923 that a purge of the local Party finally led to the creation of the Khorezm Soviet Socialist Republic, dominated by Uzbeks and with little representation of the Karakalpaks. Ironically it was the implementation of Stalin's Nationalities Policy that finally resulted in the creation of the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast (of the Qazaq ASSR) with its provincial government based at To'rtku'l, formerly Petro-Aleksandrovsk, a decision that was formally approved at the 12th All-Russian Qurultay of Soviets in May 1925.

In May 1928 Solotskiy, the head of the Karakalpak Regional Studies bureau, and Duryshkin, his scientific secretary, wrote to the Executive Committee emphasizing the need to collect exhibits for a future museum. By September the funding and organization of a Karakalpak Ethnographic Expedition had been finalized under the leadership of Aleksandr Lavrentyevich Melkov. In that same year Anna Sergeyevna Morozova, an ethnographer from Tashkent, was contracted by the Regional Office of Education to write an ethnographic description of the Karakalpaks. She had already carried out some preliminary studies in the delta but now joined Melkov's expedition alongside a Karakalpak student of folklore, Qallı Ayımbetov, and three students from Moscow. Morozova commented in her later thesis that even at that time kiymesheks could not be found in Karakalpak families in the towns and southern agricultural regions of Karakalpakstan. However in the northern regions kiymesheks could be found in the sandıqs of many families.

Melkov photographed some examples of these kiymesheks for his Ethnographic Album:

Melkov kiymeshek photograph

Melkov kiymeshek photograph

Melkov kiymeshek photograph

Melkov kiymeshek photograph
Qızıl Kiymesheks from the rather weathered pages of Melkov's Album,
Courtesy of the Regional Studies Museum, No’kis.

The pattern on the uppermost kiymeshek image is unclear, although the Khorezmian adras is obvious. The second kiymeshek has the shayan quyrıq pattern, while the fourth has the qoralı gu'l pattern.

On 16 May 1929 the new Regional Studies Museum opened in To'rtku'l with an exhibition of some of the costumes, artefacts, and photographs collected by Melkov over the previous seven months.

Even in the late 1920s the kiymeshek was becoming something of a rarity, at least in public. Morozova mentions that she once saw a young woman in a kiymeshek when she was working in the Ko'k o'zek region near Qarao'zek in 1927. She was wearing a pashshayı ton, an expensive fur coat with an outer facing of pashshayı silk adras, with a kiymeshek over the top. Around her head she had a turban of red silk kerchiefs with a light floral wool kerchief with tassels tied above the turban. Morozova asked her why she was not wearing a jegde as well. She replied haughtily: "Who wears a jegde with a kiymeshek? It is not the custom".

However Lobacheva's field research from 1956 to 1959 established that the qızıl kiymeshek was still being used as a wedding garment as late as 1936, according to one of her informers from the Mu'yten-Teli clan in Moynaq region. Another Karakalpak woman said that she was married in 1935 in a kiymeshek made by her mother in 1918. Finally a Mu'yten-Samat women said that it was used on Mergentaw Island up to around 1926.

Woman modelling a qizil kiymeshek
A woman modelling a qızıl kiymeshek and jegde,
discovered in the archives of the Karakalpak Branch of the Academy of Sciences, No'kis by Svetlana Jacquesson.
No provenance. Local people tell us that the woman does not look like a Karakalpak.

According to Zakharova and Khodzheava, the more nomadic Qazaqs held on to their kimesheks somewhat longer. By the 1930s they were starting to go out of fashion in the northern and eastern regions of the Qazaq Republic, but were still preserved among the elderly.

There were several reasons why the kiymeshek gradually went out of fashion in the late 1920s. The first was socio-economic. Following the formation of the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast in 1925, young women were increasingly encouraged to leave the home and join the agricultural workforce. There was less time available for home-based crafts such as embroidery. For the first time ever Karakalpak women had a limited degree of financial independance. At the same time there was an increasing supply of affordable Russian-manufactured kerchiefs and other textiles for them to buy. Another factor that may have occurred at around this time is that the production of adras probably came to a halt in Khiva. In Bukhara many Jewish families had relocated to Ferghana in the last quarter of the 19th century and others escaped from Tsarist discrimination at the turn of the century by emigrating to Palestine. Following the Soviet takeover a second wave of emigration occurred between 1924 and 1935, firstly to Afghanistan and Iran and later to Palestine. It is possible that the small Khivan Jewish community also departed at some time during this period.

Married women continued to cover their hair with the oramal, tied in different styles according to region, over which they draped a large Russian-manufactured kerchief. This could be replaced by a qızıl jegde for festival occasions:

Married Karakalpak women with oramals and kerchiefs
Photograph of married Karakalpak women wearing oramals and Russian kerchiefs.
Probably taken in the 1930s. Courtesy of the State Museum of Art named after Savitsky, No'kis.

During the 1930s the Karakalpaks experienced an even greater transformation in their lifestyles. On International Women's Day in 1927 the Soviets launched the hujum, a campaign to eradicate the female veil, targeted in the Uzbek and Tajik population against the paranja and chachvon. It had no impact whatsoever in distant Karakalpakia (or even Khorezm for that matter), where Karakalpak women never veiled their faces anyway apart from during the wedding ceremony. However it was the start of a long process in which the State would take an ever-increasing control of the way people lived and even thought.

Karakalpak women with oramal and kerchiefs
A Karakalpak women with a Russian printed aydıllı oramal and Russian kerchief.
She is with a girl who just wears a kerchief. Probably late 1930s. Courtesy of the Savitsky Museum, No'kis.

Of far greater immediate significance was Stalin's first Five Year Plan, which was adopted at the 16th Party Conference in April 1929. It ambitiously targeted a 150% increase in agricultural production, along with cotton self-sufficiency, to be achieved through the collectivization and modernization of farms. The farmlands and property of the so-called kulaks, private landowners and farmers, would be expropriated and held collectively, eliminating the hard core of anti-Soviet resistance in the settled agricultural areas. In Karakalpakia collectivization was implemented in the early part of the 1930s. At the start of 1929 all farms were privately owned, but by the end of 1932, 88½% of livestock was held by either kolxoz or sovxoz collective farms. Of course before these changes most Karakalpaks in the delta lived within extended families that essentially operated as a collective unit anyway, and the collectivization process involved little more than combining several family groups into a single economic unit. For the wealthiest Karakalpaks however the changes were catastrophic - their property, including their festival costumes, was confiscated, although many attempted to conceal their possessions from officials.

Karakalpak cotton picker with oramal
Arzıxan O'marbaeva, a shock-worker in the Second Brigade of the Kirov kolxoz, Shımbay region.
In 1937 she picked 130kg of cotton in one day. Courtesy of the Savitsky Museum, No'kis.

As the area under cultivation was expanded, so more and more women were brought into the workforce. Women's rights became enshrined in law and various initiatives were launched to involve women in the social, economic, and political life of their district. Anti-religious pressure intensified, partly through a drive known as the "Movement of the Godless". Some attempted to resist these pressures and were persecuted by Bolshevik officials. Over time the wearing of any type of traditional costume became seen as a sign of rebellion. People became fearful and some deliberately destroyed their traditional costumes.

We have spoken to many old women over the last fifteen years who explained that in the 1930s they had less and less time to pursue traditional female crafts. Some had no interest in embroidery or weaving in the first place and found that work gave them increased freedom and their own independent income. By 1934 most women had ceased to embroider.

Women wearing kerchiefs
A group of women wearing kerchiefs going to vote at an election at Kuybıshev kolxoz,
Shımbay region, June 1938. Image courtesy of the Regional Studies Museum, No'kis.

Established in 1937 but interrupted by the war, Sergey Tolstov's Khorezm Expedition began its programme of ethnographical research in 1945 under the leadership of Tatyana Zhdanko with the support of Bella Vaynberg, Nina Lobacheva, Igor Savitsky, Xojamet Esbergenov and others. Zhdanko records that they discovered an aq kiymeshek at the kolxoz named after Axunbabaev in Shımbay district in 1949 as if this was a unique find. Described as a kempir or old woman's kiymeshek, it was illustrated but not published until 1958 – see later below. Qızıl kiymesheks were also located and beautifully illustrated:

Illustration of a qorali gu'l kiymeshek
Illustration of a Qoralı gu'l qızıl kiymeshek,
from Works of the Khorezm Archaeological-Ethnographical Expedition, 1945-48, published in 1952

Women modelling a kiymeshek
A woman modelling a kiymeshek, ha'ykel, oramal and jegde,
from Works of the Khorezm Archaeological-Ethnographical Expedition, 1945-48, published in 1952.

When Tatyana Zhdanko wrote about life at the kolxoz named after Axunbabaev at that time, she concluded that the equal participation of women in kolxoz work and the equal status granted to them by Soviet legislation had transformed family life. As regards the kiymeshek:

"The red cloth headgear, richly ornamented with embroidery, and also the local variety of yarmak have either gone out of fashion or are only surviving as a domestic relic".
Zhdanko's reference to a yarmak is confusing. Is she referring to a face veil similar to the Turkish yashmak or to the Uzbek chachvon? As we have already noted, ordinary Karakalpak women did not veil the face.

In 1958 Tolstov devoted the whole of Volume 3 of the Works of the Khorezm Expedition to Karakalpak Ethnography. It included Zhdanko's review of Karakalpak National Decoration and a number of coloured illustrations, including two kiymesheks:

The kempir or aq kiymeshek discovered at the kolxoz named after Axunbabaev in Shımbay district in 1949.
From Materials and Research on the Ethnography of the Karakalpaks, 1958.

Kiymeshek from Shomanay
A qızıl kiymeshek discovered at Shomanay in 1946.
From Materials and Research on the Ethnography of the Karakalpaks, 1958.
Note the adras quyrıq appears to be lined with printed cotton.

Surprisingly Zhdanko never published a serious study of these garments, although Lobacheva wrote a short paper some forty years later.

Lobacheva found that the kiymeshek was still well-known in the late 1950s and that a qızıl kiymeshek could be found as a family relic in almost every home. A little later Zhdanko found several Mu'yten families on the islands of the southern Aral Sea who still kept qızıl kiymesheks as valuable family heirlooms.

Woman modelling a kiymeshek, Moynaq
Karakalpak woman modelling a kiymeshek and oramal,
Murat kolxoz, Moynaq Peninsula. From Zhdanko, 1960.

The Khorezm Expedition collected examples of national costume including qızıl kiymesheks from 1956-1974, most of their finds being spread across the northern region of Karakalpakstan. However most old women refused to sell their kiymesheks, explaining that without that garment they would not only feel sinful but would be looked down upon by their family and neighbours. The kiymeshek had been an indispensable garment for all married women, without which they could not even approach their father-in-law or their husband's elder brother.

Although a relic of the past, the kiymeshek remains a powerful symbol of traditional Karakalpak material culture and frequently reappears in various forms:

Painting by Oleg
Painting of a woman wearing a kiymeshek inside the yurt. Painted by Oleg in 1952.
Courtesy of the State Museum of Art named after Savitsky, No'kis.

In 2002 we visited a small exhibition staged by a secondary school in the city of No'kis and were delighted to see reproductions of aq and qızıl kiymesheks:

School project

School project
Modern renditions of kiymesheks produced by schoolchildren in No'kis in 2002.
Part of a school project on traditional Karakalpak culture.

Families with an heirloom kiymeshek can still be found today, although their number is rapidly dwindling. The older generation remain nostalgic about their traditional culture and are keen to retain their heirlooms. However as they pass away their sons and daughters are more interested in trading the family kiymeshek for some ready cash to alleviate the family budget. Over the past decade kiymesheks have been turning up in Istanbul, in the tourist bazaars of Bukhara, and even on the internet.

Qazaq woman in a kimeshek, Shımbay, April 2001.

In the mid-1960s Shalekenov observed that among the Qazaq women of the lower Amu Darya the kimeshek was still being worn by the elderly. Surprisingly one can still occasionally see an old Qazaq woman wearing the aq kimeshek on the streets of Karakalpakstan today, at the start of the twenty-first century. However their days are numbered and they will soon be gone. The fascinating tradition of the kimeshek head veil will die alongside them.

Where to see Karakalpak Kiymesheks

There is only one place to see a good range of Karakalpak kiymesheks and that is in No'kis, the capital of Karakalpakstan. A selection of kiymesheks, both aq and qızıl, was displayed at both major museums.

The State Museum of Art named after Igor Savitsky has the largest collection of kiymesheks in the world - 171 complete qızıl kiymesheks, 165 qızıl kiymeshek aldıs, 105 qızıl kiymeshek quyrıqs, 1 complete aq kiymeshek, and 35 aq kiymeshek aldıs. Although only a minority are on public display behind glass in the first floor costume gallery, these tend to be their best. For detailed information on visiting this museum see our Sightseeing page.

The Regional Studies Museum had the second-largest collection – 108 complete qızıl kiymesheks, 56 qızıl kiymeshek aldıs, 1 complete aq kiymeshek, and 4 aq kiymeshek aldıs. Two of them were spectacular, one being the only example with a quyrıq made from Khorezmian sarı pashshayiı. They also had a complete Qazaq kimeshek. Unfortunately this museum closed in 2010 and the building was demolished. A new building housing this museum may open in the city centre in 2012.

One additional qızıl kiymeshek is displayed at the small but interesting Shamuratov House Museum, just around the corner from the Savitsky Museum.

In Russia the only kiymeshek on public display in the past has been at the Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow.

In Europe there is one qızıl kiymeshek in the Linden Museum in Stuttgart.


Alikhanov-Avarskiy, M., The March on Khiva (Caucasus Force) 1873, Steppe and Oasis [in Russian], The Russian Herald, Saint Petersburg, 1879, reprinted on the 25th anniversary by Ya. I. Liberman, Saint Petersburg, 1899.

Andrianov, B. V., and Melkov, A. S., Forms of Karakalpak Peoples Ornament [in Russian], Works of the Khorezm Archaeological-Ethnographical Expedition, Volume III, Materials and Research on Karakalpak Ethnography, pages 411 onwards, Academy of Sciences, Moscow 1958.

Bardanes, C., Tagebuch über seine Reisen in der Kirgisischen Steppe mit des Herrn Professor Falks [in German], addendum to Beyträge zur topographischen Kenntniss des Russischen Reichs, Volume 1, by Johann Peter Falk, Kaiserl. Academie der Wissenschaften, Saint Petersburg, 1785.

Canby, S. R., Safavid Painting, The Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Safavid Iran, 1501-1576, edited by J. Thompson and S. R. Canby, pages 73 to 133, Skira Editore, Milan, 2003.

Dal', V., The Story of the Prisoner Fedor Fedorov Grushin [in Russian],

de Levchine, A., Description des Hordes et des Steppes des Kirghiz-Kazakhs, translated from the 1832 Saint Petersburg publication by Ferry de Pigny, L'Imprimerie Royale, Paris, 1840.

Dzhanderkin, K., The Prospects for Socialist Stock Raising in the Karakalpak ASSR, Karakalpakia: Work of the First Conference on the Study of the Productive Power of the Karakalpak ASSR [in Russian], Volume II, pages 113 to 130, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Leningrad, 1934.

Falk, J. P., Beyträge zur topographischen Kenntniss des Russischen Reichs [in German], Volume 2, Kaiserl. Academie der Wissenschaften, Saint Petersburg, 1785.

Fitzgerald, E., translator, Rubâiyât of Omar Khayyâm and Persian Miniatures, Productions Liber, Friberg, 1979.

Fitz Gibbon, K., and Hale, A., Ikat Silks of Central Asia, Laurence King Publishers, London, 1997.

Galerkina, O., Mawarannahr Book Painting, Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, 1980.

Georgi, J. G., A Description of All the Nationalities that Inhabit the Russian State [in Russian], Volume 2, Saint Petersburg, 1776 to 1777.

Gladyshev, D. V., and Muravin, I., Journey from Orsk to Khiva and back, completed in 1740-1741 [in Russian], Geographical Proceedings, Issue 4, published by the Russian Geographical Society, St Petersburg, 1850.

Karazin, N. N., In the lower reaches of the river Amu: Travel Descriptions [in Russian], Herald of Europe, Book 3, 1875.

Kaulbars, A. V., Lower reaches of the Amu Darya, described from his own research in 1873 [in Russian], Transactions of the Russian Geographical Society, Volume 9, Saint Petersburg, 1881.

Kubičková, V., Persian Miniatures, translated by R. Finlayson-Samsour, Spring Books, London, 1961.

Lillys, W., Reiff, R., and Esin, E., Oriental Miniatures: Persian, Indian, Turkish, Souvenir Press, London, 1965.

Lobacheva, N. P., On the History of Central Asiatic Costume - the Karakalpak Kiymeshek [in Russian], from Report of the Field Studies, edited by Z. P. Sokolov, pages 54 to 73, Miklukho-Maklaya Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 2000.

MacGahan, J. A., Campaigning on the Oxus and the Fall of Khiva, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1874.

Meyendorff, G. de, Voyage d'Orenbourg à Boukhara fait en 1820, Librairie Orientale de Dondey-Dupré Pere et Fils, Paris, 1826.

Morazova, A. S., The Domestic Cultural Life of the Karakalpaks [in Russian], Doctoral Thesis, Department of History, Academy of Sciences of the Uzbek SSR, Tashkent, 1954.

Moser, H., A travers l'Asie Centrale, E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie., Paris, 1885.

Muravyev, N., Journey to Khiva through the Turkoman Country [in Russian], Oguz Press, London, 1977.

Northrop, D., Veiled Empire: Gender and Power in Stalinist Central Asia,

Pallas, P. S., Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen Russischen Reichs, Volume 1, Kanserlichen Academie der Wissenschaft, Saint Petersburg, 1771.

Pallas, P. S., Kupfer zu P. S. Pallas Neuen Reisen in die südlichen Statthalterschaften des Russischen Reich in den Jahren 1793 und 1794, Martini, Leipzig, 1799.

Rakhimova, Z. I., Central Asian Women's Costume in the Miniatures of Maveranna from the 16th to 17th Centuries, Culture of the Middle East [in Russian], pages 135 to 157, FAN, Tashkent, 1990.

Rossikova, A. E., On the Amu Darya from Petro-Aleksandrov to Nukus [in Russian], Russian Bulletin, Number 8, pages 562 to 588, Saint Petersburg, 1902.

Sadykov, A. S., Economic relationship of Khiva with Russia in the second half of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th century [in Russian], Science, Uzbek SSR, Tashkent, 1965.

Sazonova, M. V., Women's Costume of the Uzbeks of Khorezm [in Russian], Traditional Clothing of the Peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Publisher Nauk, Moscow, 1989.

Schuyler, E., Turkestan, Notes on a Journey in Russian Turkestan, Khokand, Bukhara and Kuldja, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, London, 1876.

Shalekenov, U. Kh., Kazakhs of the Lower Amu Darya [in Russian], Fan Publishing, Tashkent, 1966.

Sobolyev, L. N., Letters about the Amu-Darya expedition [in Russian], The Russian Invalid, Saint Petersburg, 1874

Spalding, H., translator, Khiva and Turkestan, Chapman and Hall, London, 1874.

Sukhareva, O. A., Ancient Features in the Types of Headwear of the Peoples of Central Asia [in Russian], Central Asian Ethnographic Collection, edited by S. P. Tolstov and T. A. Zhdanko, pages 305 to 308, Academy of Science of the USSR, Moscow, 1954.

Titley, N. M., Persian Miniature Painting, The British Library, London, 1983.

Tolstova, L. S., Materials of the Ethnographical Inspection of the "Karakalpak" Group of the Samarkand Region of the Uzbek SSSR [in Russian], Soviet Ethnography, Volume 3, pages 34 to 44, Academy of Science of the USSR, Moscow, May-June 1961.

Tolstova, L. S., The Kara-Kalpaks of Fergana, Central Asian Review, Volume 9, pages 45 to 52, 1961.

Vambery, A., Travels in Central Asia, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1970.

Vambery, A., Sketches of Central Asia, Wm. H. Allen & Co., London, 1868.

von Herbestein, S., Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii, translated by R. H. Major, The Hakluyt Society, London, 1851.

Wood, H., The Shores of Lake Aral, Smith, Elder, & Co., London, 1876.

Zakharova, I. V., and Khodzhayeva, R. D., The Head-gear of the Kazakhs [in Russian], Traditional Clothing of the Peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, edited by N. P. Lobacheva and M. V. Sazonova, pages 216 to 227, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1989.

Zerrnickel, M., The Karakalpak Kyzyl Kiymeshek – a Head, Chest, Back Veil [in German], Tribus Year Book, Number 34, Linden Museum, Stuttgart, 1985.

Zhdanko, T. A., Everyday Life in a Karakalpak Kolkhoz Aul [in Russian], Soviet Ethnography, Number 2, 1949.

Zhdanko, T A, Karakalpaks of the Khorezm Oasis [in Russian], Works of the Archaeological and Ethnographical Expedition to Khorezm, 1945-48, Volume 1, edited by S. P. Tolstov and T. A. Zhdanko, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1952.

Zhdanko, T. A., The Survival of Feudal-Patriarchal relationships in the Private Life of Karakalpaks [in Russian], pages 505 to 519, Works of the Archaeological and Ethnographical Expedition to Khorezm, 1945-48, Volume 1, edited by S. P. Tolstov and T. A. Zhdanko, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1952.

Zhdanko, T. A., The Ornamental Folk Art of the Karakalpak People [in Russian], from Materials and Research on the Ethnography of the Karakalpak, edited by T. A. Zhdanko, pages 373 to 410, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1958.

Zhdanko, T. A., Life of the Kolkhozniks of the Fishing Artels on the Islands of the Southern Aral [in Russian], Materials and Studies on the Ethnography and Anthropology of the USSR, pages 27 to 43, Soviet Ethnography, Number 5, 1960.

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

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