Tribal Persian Rugs and Nomadic Carpets
Nomadic Tribal Persian Rugs – A certain mystery and romance attaches to the concept of the oriental rug, but perhaps the most romanticized objects of this kind are the so-called nomadic or tribal Persian rugs. What distinguishes Persian rugs of this type is first of all the social and economic basis behind them.
They were produced by peoples whose identity was organized around various tribes and clans. Their economy was depended on domesticated livestock, especially sheep and goats. Their style of life was that of a nomadic, tent-dwelling population that periodically had to move in search of grazing for its flocks, as opposed to a sedentary population based on agriculture.
In Persia, the most well-known nomadic weavers are above all the Turkmen and Baluch tribes of the Northeast, the Khamseh, Afshar, and Bakhtiari, of the Southwest, and the Shahsavan of the Northwest Persia. In terms of Persian rug design, however, there is no single, unifying feature that one may define as nomadic. This does not include, of course, a taste for abstract geometric forms or highly geometric animal and floral rug motifs, a taste that is also typical of village weaving.
The tribal nomadic Persian rug design repertory has often been claimed to be incredibly ancient, involving motifs that stem from the timeless tribal culture of its weavers. But like those of village weaving, the designs of nomadic rugs originated as highly abstracted versions of city rug designs of floral, animal, or geometric medallion type. They represent the creative artistic side of the normal economic relations existing between nomadic peoples and their sedentary village and urban neighbors. At times nomadic rugs, especially those of Turkmen, also adapted the much finer technique of urban Persian weaving, in contrast to the coarser weave found in most nomadic work.
The truly distinctive aspects of nomadic weaving are primarily technical. As the products of tent-dwelling peoples they tend to be woven on horizontal looms set up on the ground rather than on vertical looms set up in houses. And as the products of nomadic sheep-herding peoples, they also tend to be made entirely of wool, including the foundation of the rug.
This contrasts notably with city and tribal village rug production, which utilizes spun cotton, a sedentary agricultural product, for the rug foundation since cotton enables a more consistent tension allowing for straighter, more perfectly rectangular weaving. The format of nomadic rugs is also distinctive. They are not simply floor coverings, or at time cushions, of variable size like urban and village rugs. Instead they are also woven as storage bags, both large and small, hung on the tent walls or used on pack animals, effectively serving as nomadic equivalents of closets, cupboards, and chests or boxes.