THE ILLUSTRATED RUG - Part 3
THE RUGS & WEAVINGS OF AFGHANISTAN
Although Afghanistan shares its western border with Iran, its carpets have more in
common with the tribal weavings of Central Asia in terms of color, design, and weave
than with their more sophisticated Persian counterparts. The Afghanis are a nomadic,
tribal population constantly traveling from one place to another. Their rugs, woven on
small portable looms, are mainly produced for use in their homes, namely to adorn
their tents. Therefore, it is not surprising that Afghan weavings are available in limited
quantities and generally in small rug sizes. Many feature vegetable-dyed handspun
Afghan wool. Various qualities of pile carpets are available, ranging from coarse to medium
in weave, in addition to kilims.
Afghanis strictly observe the principles of Islam, which forbid the depiction of human
and animal forms. Therefore, Afghan carpets are characterized by easily identifiable
geometric patterns. Several types of Afghan rugs exist. Most prevalent is the "Afghan
Bokkara," characterized by the gul motif, a large, quartered octagon also called
"elephant's foot," generally displayed in columns or rows and framed within a border.
Of all the carpet types available today Afghan rugs are probably the most truly authentic
expression of a weaver's culture. They hold a special appeal for buyers seeking truly
original ethnic expression in Oriental rugs.
Also popular are the nomadic Belouch rugs, generally prayer rugs with geometric
motifs. Most Afghan rugs fall into the dark red hues (occasionally blue) with black or
blue motifs and sometimes with touches of ivory or green.
Balouch rugs are more varied in style than
Afghans, but most have geometric designs with dark
brown, charcoal, rust and black as main colors. Balouchi
weavers produce many prayer rugs in scatter sizes.
The past decade has seen a much larger and more interesting supply of Afghan and Balouch
weavings than in previous years. Weavers in Afghanistan make saddlebags, tent bands, and purely
decorative wall hangings in addition to a wide variety of small and medium-size scatters.
The best Afghans are very desirable rugs - tightly woven and heavy, with extremely dense and
Most Afghans use old Turkoman-derived designs and are woven on wool warp and weft
Colors are usually madder red, ivory, and black with accents of rust
and sometimes green, Some very fine rugs in south
Persian Qashgai designs made in the refugee camps in
Pakistan are more colorful and even more intricate in
Afghanistan, strategically located along the ancient
"Silk Route", and geographically situated between the Middle East and the
Indian subcontinent at the crossroads of central, west, and south Asia,
has been described by British historian Arnold Toynbee as
"a roundabout of the ancient world" - and from that fertile and well travelled
yet turbulent ground has sprung a rich mosaic of ethnic and linguistic groups.
Despite it's rugged and forbidding terrain, and the threat of
fierce military resistance on behalf of it's populace, Afghanistan has nonetheless
suffered numerous invasions over the centuries - present history included.
This phenomenom is no better illustrated, perhaps, than by
the so-called "Great Game" - as (czarist) Russia and the British (Empire)
vied for influence and control of Afghanistan over 100 years ago.
It's recent history - in the latter part of the twentieth century
and the early twentyfirst century especially - has been marked by both political
and religious instability and controversy as well as civil war and military occupations.
Such developments have forced many skilled carpet weavers to attempt to carry on
their occupation in refugee camps and has driven others to the point of desperation
in finding new ways to market their products while compensating for an inflation
rate of near 200%.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Afghan weavers have recently produced an interesting
selection of "war rugs" exhibiting stylized depictions of military paraphernalia such
as tanks, grenades, and guns which are a vivid reflection of the war-torn environment
that has reigned throughout the 1980s.
Such trends, however, are dictated predominantly by a marketplace where, often-purchased
as novelties by occupying military officers, these types of rugs
fetch a much higher sum than traditional products - so in essence if any statement, in fact,
is being made - it is a financial one rather than a political one.
The infrastructure of the country - including the textile and carpet production capability -
is again in need of re-building following the most recent military actions imposed in 2001.
Despite international aid pledges to the country of more than $10.5 billion, a BBC
interview of people living just north of the capitol, Kabul, conducted as recently as June
of 2007, indicated an inabilty on the part of these local inhabitants - one, a carpet weaver
who happens to be a widow (life expectancy is now near 46 years) - to obtain employment of any
kind due to a lack of industry and/or available jobs.
The Illustrated Rug - Part 1 |
The Illustrated Rug - Part 2 |
The Illustrated Rug - Part 3