When RK first began to write about engsi for the Weaving Art Museum exhibition in 2002 we were already long curious and highly skeptical about the rug-lore that stated these woven articles were "door covers for the yurt"
Since RK collects and studies only the earliest period weavings we found this explanation wanting in many major ways -- not the least of which was the following.
The engsi, and the tent band as well, are the most culturally significant weavings in the Turkmen oeuvre; both exhibit the most complex and detailed iconography of any Turkmen woven objects.
This is fact, there is no discussion on this point, as there are no other Turkmen weavings which display such a variety and multitude of amulet, talisman and icon.
In all cultures, large scale or small, historic or contemporary, there is one very unifying element when it comes to complex patterned iconography -- it only appears on the most important and sacred objects. These might be called cult objects for wont of a better, more specific descriptive term.
These objects were solely intended for non-secular use. They are non-domestic and non-mundane.
And while we know relatively nothing about the 'spiritual' life in Turkmen society, especially during the early periods, it is stupid and ridiculous to imagine the Turkmen had no spiritual component to their existence.
The engsi and tent-band are also visually very different from other Turkmen woven articles as anyone with two eyes can immediately ascertain -- they do not have gol or the repetitive arrangement or framework of major and minor gol seen in almost every other type of Turkmen weaving.
For these two reason -- the complexity of icon, amulet and talisman embedded in their patterns and their lack of a repetitive gol framework -- it became apparent to RK the engsi and tent-band were surely part of the spiritual, religious and magical world of the Turkmen, a world by the way that remains undeciphered but not unknown (well at least to this author).
RK then began to hypothesize what these complex patterns on engsi are all about and the some of the results of this research was then published on the Weaving Art Museum website in the Turkmen Trappings exhibition, which remains linked on the Weaving Art Museum homepage.
We urge all readers interested in this topic to read what we have written.
Here are some samples from what we published in 2002 on the Weaving Art Museum online exhibition "Turkmen Trappings":
"The earliest examples of engsi present the most archaic and interesting visual iconography found on any type of Turkmen weaving. Their individual designs, symbols and icons are often the archetypes for those found on other types of trappings, like chuvals and torbas, and naturally for those found on the many later examples of engsi as well. All Turkmen groups made engsi.
......Engsi are perhaps the most intriguing trapping made by the Turkmen.
To date all the literature dealing with their ethnographic history and weavings has described the engsi as a door-rug.
Supposedly hung in the doorway of the yurt, the engsis main function was to keep the cold winter wind and summer heat from entering the Turkmen dwelling.
However, there is no evidence of any engsi being used in this manner prior to the end of the 19th century when this idea was first popularized.
No drawings or descriptions in any travel accounts or letters before that time exist to place an engsi in the doorway of any yurt.
Recently several authors have suggested engsi were only used during the marriage ceremony and while this might possibly describe a post-Islamic period function, it does not explain their historic use.
The question still arises : How did this attribution and function become attached to these weavings?
In all cultures, whether sophisticated or primitive, objects decorated with important iconographic designs and sacred symbols were always reserved for religious/cult ceremony or highly important socio/political occasion.
They were not used everyday nor were they part of normal daily life.
Bearing this fact in mind, it would then seem highly implausible for the engsi, the most complex and iconographic weaving made by the Turkmen, to have been used as a normal covering for a frequently entered doorway.
In the next two Plate descriptions some of the icons found on archaic engsi and their connections to ancient and even prehistoric objects and mythology will be discussed.
These explanations and the remainder of this preface will place the engsi in an entirely new perspective and present what this author believes to be the proper historical framework
In the 10th century the first Turkmen were converted to Islam and during the next 800 years the Islamic religion became the primary religion of many more groups.
Some of these converts were already settled peoples and others surely became so afterwards, as their conversion was motivated by political as well as by religious reasons.
Settled Turkmen were much more easily controlled and organized into the useable military units their new Islamic leaders required.
There has always been a division between settled and nomadic groups, see the archaeological prehistory of Turkmenistan that has been included with this exhibition, and the differences in these respective lifestyles are very germane to the function of the engsi and to the study of Turkmen weaving in general.
During this time period, circa1000-1800 A.D., other Turkmen groups remained in outlying areas and continued to follow a nomadic lifestyle.
Little is known about the religious/cult practices these groups held, however, it is highly probable they were similar to the culturally and genetically related nomads living in neighboring southern Siberia.
Extensive documentation exists to show these Turkic groups, like the Yakut, Kirgis and Tuva, followed pantheistic and animistic worship centered around the cult of the shaman.
These Siberian nomad had similar clan-based societies, spoke a Turkotartar dialect and maintained other cultural affinities, like the worship of the hearth.
This evidence overwhelmingly supports the probability the Turkmen also maintained similar religious/cult practices to theirs and the belief weavings, especially archaic period engsi, were a part of that cult is based on that assumption.
A distinct set of designs associated with the cult of the shaman, and intrinsic to those engsi, have led to and support this connection.
The shaman was the intermediary between man and the world beyond and this cult respected and worshiped his ability to do so.
He communicated directly with the gods on behalf of ordinary individuals through his ancestor shaman and special animal spirit guides.
At all stages of existence, from birth to death, his connections, power and knowledge were indispensable.
These Turkmen engsi clearly express an iconography related to this spiritual environment and display symbols derived from the cult of the shaman, from related mythology and the supernatural.
The shamans powers and connection to the world beyond separated him from the group and the shamans yurt must have been a sacred, special place.
It is only fitting his yurt entrance had a covering decorated with sacred symbols.
The engsi was the shamans curtain separating his world of spirit from the ordinary.
This context not only explains the original use and purpose of engsi but also how the engsi became known as door-rugs and, in post-archaic times, became (ordinary)portal coverings.
As the remaining, non-Islamic nomadic groups were absorbed into the settled populations, so too were their cult icons and weaving styles.
It is highly believable an important and sacred iconography would be the first co-opted by the settled groups who had become familiar with its original function and power.
Eventually it was restated as the pattern for a purely decorative accessory by later weavers, who had completely lost touch with the cultural context the engsi once maintained.
And, as the archaic nomadic lifestyle became practiced by fewer and fewer Turkmen and their shaman were replaced by a monotheistic god based religion, the original sacred cult status of these weavings became obliterated, just as their lifestyle would soon become.
Supposedly engsi were hung in the doorway of the yurt as protection from extreme weather.
Another possibility purports the existence of the mirhab-like niche seen in most examples, like fig.1, signified the engsi was a prayer carpet.
This might have been the case for some examples made for or by Turkmen converts to Islam and likewise both of these suggestions may be more valid when considering examples from the post-conquest or colonial weaving periods.
But archaic period engsi were different.....
Weaving group nomenclature, like C14 dating, is problematical.
Unlike the emphatic nature of structural analysis, the names are at this point highly speculative and based on the assumption if a design was used at the end of the 19th century by an identified weaving group, that same group had always used it.
Unfortunately, as the comparisons offered with these Plate descriptions demonstrate, all post-archaic period weavings exhibit design alterations that negate these types of extrapolations.
In addition during the archaic and classic periods far fewer groups of Turkmen, whether nomadic or settled, had the available resources and/or cultural connections required to produce (complex)patterned cut-pile weavings and it seems many post-classic period weaving groups did not weave complex patterned cut-pile weavings at earlier times.
Names, like Arabatchi, Yomut, Tekke, Ersari, Saryk, Salor, etc., will be referred to, however, this author recognizes the possibility that new, in-depth ethnographic and forensic research (like that proposed by the [Weaving Art] Museum) will redefine and possibly even invalidate of these labels...
Icons and symbol content have received the least amount of attention of any topic related to Turkmen weaving and although their meanings are often not possible to positively determine, the following should be considered the primary theme of this exhibition.
The engsi and possibly other as yet unidentified symbol rich trappings were never intended for domestic use but rather as accessory for non-secular/cult aspects of the Turkmen lifestyle.
Seen within this framework, as cult items, the reason and purpose for their complex iconographies becomes clear and eminently more explainable.
Beginning at least 50,000 years ago, during the Late Paleolithic, there are scattered indications pointing to the important (societal) connection art and spiritual/ religious belief maintained.
The subsequent prehistoric periods of man's development provide further proof of this relationship and since the inception of recorded history, it has become indisputable.
With this in mind, how can we consider the Turkmen and their single most important art form, weaving, to have existed outside this continuum?
There is little information to explain the religious practices of the Turkmen, and none available concerning the groups who produced archaic period weavings.
But to assume they had no ritual, religion or cult activities, and that certain historic examples were not made expressly for and used only during these ceremonies, is rather shortsighted and illogical.
Birth, coming of age, marriage and death are crucial life cycle events all cultures and peoples celebrate with special rites and rituals, invariably held in places reserved for and used only for these activities.
It is possible, and in this author's opinion highly probable, engsi and other trappings with complex content were present and played an integral part in such events
The question - whether a weaving was produced by a nomadic or a settled group - is very much like - was it produced for domestic or cult use.
These topics are extremely pertinent and it is surprising they have never before been raised or considered by any other researchers or authors."
So in 2002 RK was already long involved with trying to decipher the engsi and its significance to the Turkmen.
Remember this is what we wrote then:
"The shamans powers and connection to the world beyond separated him from the group and the shamans yurt must have been a sacred, special place.
It is only fitting his yurt entrance had a covering decorated with sacred symbols.
The engsi was the shamans curtain separating his world of spirit from the ordinary."
RK is the first researcher to describe the engsi in these terms, ideas which today some turko-idiots are claiming are theirs.
Nonsense, they are plagarizing RK and we would appreciate having credit given where credit is due.
"Nuff said but please realize RK did not release all our research at the time of publishing the Turkmen Trappings text, nor have we made public other components of our research we have since discovered.
So in closing let RK disseminate another piece of our engsi research.
Almost all engsi have a four-panel setup for their field containing rows of 'Y'-shaped, forked-like designs (there are a very small number of weavings, called engsi by other writers, with one panel but RK believes most of these are not engsi, rather they are just later, ordinary, smaller format weavings).
These usually have 'bird heads' at the terminal of each of the two forks.
RK traced, as other authors did before us, this design to Siberia, where certain ethnic group worshiped the "great bird" in many various forms, these birds being a significant part of the Shamanic practice.
However, RK would like to now release what our research into these 'Y' in the four panels demonstrates.
Each of the panels represents a type of jalousie window which prevented anyone from seeing inside the area the engsi was hung in front of that being the Shamans yurt as described above.
Here is a definition of jalousie for those who are not familiar with the word:
a blind or shutter made with horizontal slats that can be adjusted to admit light and air but exclude rain and the rays of the sun.
RK is using this term in its strictest sense a jalousie, which prevented all light from entering a place on the other side.
The jalousie is not a fixed blockade but rather one that can be opened at will by those who know how.
This point, which we make metaphysically, properly defines our concept of the Y as it pertains to its use on engsi.
And dont forget RK believes all early period, complex patterned, Turkmen rug were spiritual tool, part and parcel of the metaphysical and magical universe all indigenous cultures we have studied worshipped and respected.
RK does not believe every Turkmen group was privy to such a universe but we are positive some surely were.
So, what then happened to this magical metaphysic in the later periods of weaving?
Simply put it vanished and in its place a polyglot of foreign religious tenet was grafted.
Just as semi-nomadic transhumance among Turkmen groups was replaced by settled habitation so, too, were the ancient socio-religious practices.
RK believes some group, those being the most sheltered and isolated, preserved their cultural traditions like the one we hypothesize for the engsi.
In closing we need to make one additional point, which is very important and central to our concept.
By the end of the 19th century the engsi was, no doubt, a door-cover for the yurt the huge multitude of examples extant bona fides this idea.
Probably every yurt had one but this surely was not the case for earlier times when engsi were not a item of domesticity but rather one steeped in the most precious and significant idiom spiritual consciousness.
In addition, for all you future plagarists, here's another RK hypothesis.
The kejebe is, no doubt, an icon with potent meaning.
However, almost every Turkmen weaving with kejebe appear to RK to be post-archaic.
Here is the one and only Turkmen kejebe trapping we believe to be archaic:
Saryk panel with kejebe; Plate 5; Tent Band Tent Bag; 1989
Here is a detail of the kejebe in that panel:
This is not the time and place for RK to expound on our opinion all the S group kejebe, which are considered by other author to be the best kejebe representation, are, like those of the later Ersari and Kizil Ayak, not archetypal.
All the S group examples published, and we have owned several of the best, form a rather too homogeneous group for us to consider them archetypal and the Saryk panel from our old collection gets our nod as late archaic period.
We mention the kejebe design so we can, like we have done with other Turkmen icons, show its possible source:
detail Archaic Period Turkmen Engsi; published Weaving Art Museum Turkmen Trappings plate 2; 2002
Here are two details of the kejebe this ancient engsi displays:
RK finds it quite obvious this mysterious design, the kejebe, would have its roots in the engsi, not in a large format trapping.
All those trappings present kejebe after it had become conventionalized and changed from an icon to an ornament.
The progression From Icon to Ornament could well be the title for the next book on Turkmen weaving RK might someday author and publish.
So let us leave you all now with the following proviso meant for those turko-plagarists we mentioned earlier: Remember where you heard our copywritten views on the kejebe and engsi, as well as the rest of RKs work and research published in books and on the internet, we do not appreciate nor will we allow you to copy or reproduce our work without proper and due credit.