Posted by Wendel Swan on 07-01-2005 05:24 PM:

A conversation on the mall

I visited the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Capital mall today to see what was billed as “camel decoration” in the Oman exhibition. In the image below, Ibrahim, a two year old Arabian camel is on the left and I am on the right. The way to really tell is that Ibrahim is wearing the headdress.

While Ibrahim had been attracting attention, he had hoped for something a bit fancier than what he had been given. So I put on him a Luri camel headdress from my collection with an inscribed date of 1906 and he began to strut his stuff. He was hoping that his borrowed duds would let him get lucky with a young female camel, but none happened by.

Ibrahim was accompanied by a larger, mature male camel, but the headdress wouldn’t fit him. In our conversation on the mall, Ibrahim said that trappings are often custom fitted to the individual camel, as there are 51 varieties of different configurations.

Two days ago, the docile older camel got out of the pen for perhaps two minutes, but stories circulated that the “escaped” camel had trampled children.

You never know what you might see in Washington. Happy Fourth.


Posted by R. John Howe on 07-02-2005 10:14 AM:

Hi Wendel -

Great fun.

And just to put the obvious in words, that's one very attractive camel trapping.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 07-02-2005 10:49 AM:


For the folks who don't know what it is: The Smithsonian Institution runs a folklife festival every year, for 9 or 10 days including the weekends around July 4. Each year has a different theme, which ranges from the Appalachian region of the US to the Andes to various parts of Asia, Africa, etc. Representative foods, music, dancing, demonstrations of arts and crafts, etc. are presented in booths and tents.

It generally draws tens of thousands of people each day, every one of whom is surprised to discover that the termperature is well into the 90's (around 35 C) with high humidity. Being on a treeless expanse, giving $2 to $4 to a vendor for a bottle of water seems frugal and sensible to even the thriftiest visitor.

And, you never know who or what you'll meet there.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-02-2005 12:20 PM:

Dear folks -

They've both said that "you can never tell what you will see or meet at the Smithsonian folklife festival" and I can produce proof.

As a result of some lapse in their selection process I was asked to speak in one of the folklife festival demonstration tents a few years ago explaining how Turkmen rugs were woven.

Here I am holding forth while our Ersari Turkmen weaver, Abdul, from Chicago ( ) wove on the demonstration loom. Abdul did not consider himself to be a weaver and had never actually woven a rug but had watched the women of his family weave sufficiently that he could in fact (at some speed) weave an Ersari Turkmen rug. He sometimes (but quite infrequently and in a nearly cursory way) referred to the cartoon that is seen in front of him.

The heat is real. But as a "staff member" I demanded (and got) repeated glasses of "mango lassie" from the Bombay Bistro food tent that was nearby.

Strategies of survival are important during the folklife festival.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marvin Amstey on 07-04-2005 02:46 PM:

Hey Wendel,
Until you told us who was who in explanation, the headress and the shirt had me confused.

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-04-2005 09:09 PM:

Dear folks -

As Wendel has noted, the "country" of interest in the Smithsonian folkslife festival this year (literally about the only point of potential interest in the entire festival) was Oman.

The festival closed about two hours ago and right-thinking Americans are still down there celebrating their patriotism.

I spent a little time this morning taking some photos of the goings on in the Oman section of the festival and can regale (or bore) you with something like 160 images, from which I will try to chose wisely.

This message is just to forewarn you of what may come.


R. John Howe (celebrating his tentative patriotism rather more quietly on this July 4th)

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-05-2005 09:31 AM:

Dear folks -

Here are the images from the Oman exhibits at the Smithsonian folkslife festival most directly related to rugs and rug making.

First, it may be convenient to remind ourselves of where Oman is.

It is on the far southeast side of the Arabian pennisula. Saudia Arabia is to its west, Yemen next door on its southwest.

I arrived before the official opening time and this lady looked like she had not yet had her morning tea/coffee.

She was not yet weaving, but had in front of her a small band on which she was working. The red and black striped items that she is sitting on are the most usual type of larger piece that is woven. They are woven in strips about two feet wide and then sewn together. Usually two strips to a piece to make a rug.

I suspect that the tradition of using tin cans in this loom setup is fairly shallow.

Eventually, near her this lady was weaving a wider band.

I was struck by the way this woman worked directly with her hands apparently to create a shed in patterned parts of this band.

Her veil arrangement also caught my eye and asked another lady in another booth what the basis was for some being heavily veiled and some not at all.

She said, "Oh those with the veils are Bedouin people from the country. Their veils are to protect from the desert sun."

So this is not a practice rooted in Moslem modesty but seems entirely based on protection from the sun.

Here is an image scanned from their brochure of another man spinning with a drop spindle near a loom set up for weaving a similar band.

Some indications I have seen in their handouts suggested that most weavers were men, but the country women were weaving. It may be a city/country distinction in practice.

Here is a man who was weaving a simple blue cloth of a quite different sort. He worked very quickly.

His co-worker in the tent said that he weaves about a meter of cloth in two hours.

In what I think was a "story telling" tent, I encountered this setup

The pillows on which folks sit surrounding the rug have the sort of commercially produced coverings that should give pause to anyone tempted to type "yastik" into a Google search.

Toward the back there was a bag standing that caught my eye and I asked if I could photograph it more closely.

The person setting up the booth said that it is a bag that a woman in Oman might carry for her personal things.

I said that it looked quite heavy and she said no it was rather light. I asked if the basket weave top was typical and she said that it was.

Anyway, that it my effort to give you a bit more of a flavor of what the Oman area of this year's folklife festival was like.

Maybe someone like Chuck Wagner, who travels to this part of the world, will have additional things to say.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-05-2005 01:22 PM:

Hi John,

She said, "Oh those with the veils are Bedouin people from the country. Their veils are to protect from the desert sun."
So this is not a practice rooted in Moslem modesty but seems entirely based on protection from the sun.

I rather doubt it.
A person sometimes takes some “liberties” with the truth in order to please (or not disturb) the listener’s sensibilities…


Posted by Chuck Wagner on 07-05-2005 02:24 PM:


Hi John,

Yes, Filiberto is on to something there. In fact, it's the bedouin women who generally do not wear veils except in the presence of strangers (if the husband requires it) and during trips to towns & trading centers. And, it's not unusual to see them driving vehicles out in the desert.

I'll post a few images in a little while.


Chuck Wagner

Posted by Fred Mushkat on 07-06-2005 12:08 AM:

In the photo showing the bag with the basket weave top, there is a design element which appears nearly identical to a common image on Bakhtiyari bands. THe icon appears in both of the decorative strips, and is the bottom most image on the right, and second from the bottom on the left. The image is also very similar to jewelry common in the near east.

I find that I can often find such similarities in iconography between areas separated by great distance. The two most likely explanations are first, that the limitations of of the weave result in structure driven designs; and second, that a common design tradition centuries or millenia old, has been maintained through the ages in different groups with a common ancestry.

Wendel and John, thanks for the images.

Fred Mushkat

Posted by Steve Price on 07-06-2005 09:21 AM:

Hi Fred

There's one more alternative: coincidence.

Andean textile motifs include something that looks a lot like a boteh. I don't see how it could be a reflection of technical contraints on the weaver, and the likelihood that it crossed the Pacific Ocean hundreds of years ago is pretty remote. Maybe it came with the migration from Asia to North America before global warming submerged the land bridge between Asia and Alaska, but coincidence seems to me to be the most likely explanation for that one.


Steve Price

Posted by Sue Zimmerman on 07-06-2005 10:54 AM:

A few things. The Andean "Botehs" are proven Pacific Ocean commuters --gourds. All camels are originally from the Americas. Wild Bactrian camels have the ability to survive 6 months without nourishment and have the unusual capacity to digest brackish water. There is more than a little resemblance of Ancient Chinese design and that found in South America. There are a lot of Mexicans, here in the midwest, with Oriental eyes. There is no evidence that we moderns are any smarter than the ancients. Fred's option #2 seems most reasonable in light of ever growing evidence. For example this-


Posted by Chuck Wagner on 07-06-2005 10:58 AM:

Hi John, et all,

Here are a few images from Oman that you may find interesting, from a trip we took with some friends several years ago. It's a very different environment from the Persian Gulf; geography isolates the place from much of the rest of the Arabian peninsula. And, centuries of trading with Africa, Persia, Pakistan and India have made the folks a little more open-minded about foreigners and generally, quite friendly. I think that an awareness of the smaller oil reserves present in Oman has kept the egos in check as well.

Some of these pics are mine, and a couple were taken by my friend Don, who is still over there. It's a place rich with history and quite scenic, in a stark and rugged way. We weren't hunting textiles while we were there; the gold handiwork done in the old souk in Muttrah was the primary target of shopping on this trip.

These gals came into a silver shop that we were in, laughing and yelling at each other. When they saw our wives, they chased the dealer from behind the counter, grabbed big pieces of jewelry and put them on the wives, shoved their babies into the wives arms, and insisted that we take their picture together. Not a phenomenon you'll often see in Saudi Arabia:

Here's a veil like the one John saw at the festival, in ethnographic use. They are commonly seen in the smaller towns in the interior, and far less so in the cities:

As this photo (and the first one) shows, the veils are often discretionary and driven more by family traditions than the society as a whole:

Muscat is an interesting combination of very old and very new; here's an old Portugese fort overlooking a new mosque near the royal palace. Note the lapis lazuli inlay on the minaret:

This is a village at the edge of an oasis in the Omani interior; classic mud brick architecture, rugged countryside:

The coastline is striking; mountains right down into the Indian Ocean. The beaches are to die for:

Travel tip - the Al-Bustan Palace hotel was built as a palace for royalty attending a GCC conference years ago. Now it's a hotel. You need a taxi to get from there into Muscat & Muttrah, but it's worth it (this pic from their postcard):

The interior architecture speaks for itself. This is the 7 story interior hall:

As for the bag, here's a Saudi piece that has similar characteristics: two strips joined in the middle; red-orange wool, dark brown goat hair, and white cotton; hand-picked geometric designs. Similar pieces are found in Yemen as well:

Hope you enjoyed the minitour.


Chuck Wagner

Posted by Richard Tomlinson on 07-06-2005 11:27 AM:

hi wendel (and all)

nice camel headdress.

i note some blue beads as part of the decoration. stone?

i was wondering if these light blue beads are specific to any region or group in persia?

i have a grotty saddle blanket that has similar beads.

they are made of stone though i think most have broken and fallen off over time. i believe there are also beads that are synthetic.

i think the blanket is kurdish, C1930-40. the soumak is rough - the roughest i have ever seen, though the colours are good (except the one rewoven selvage)

i have not read much about beads, coins, etc. that are sometimes added to rugs and textiles from the persian / caucasian region. might make for an interesting mini-salon??

any comments would be really helpful.

richard tomlinson

Posted by Steve Price on 07-06-2005 11:28 AM:

Hi Sue

I'll put your words in italics here.

Andean "Botehs" are proven Pacific Ocean commuters --gourds.
I've seen the boteh interpreted as a candle flame, blossom, and an assortment of other things. I guess a gourd is as good as any other, but I'm curious about what makes you certain that this is the correct reading.

All camels are originally from the Americas. Wild Bactrian camels have the ability to survive 6 months without nourishment and have the unusual capacity to digest brackish water.
I'm not sure I see the point here, even assuming that most of it is correct. Neither camels nor any other animal digest water.

There are a lot of Mexicans, here in the midwest, with Oriental eyes.
I think it's pretty widely understood that Native Americans are of Siberian ancestry, the migration having occurred across the land bridge that existed until about 10,000 years ago.

There is no evidence that we moderns are any smarter than the ancients.

Fred's option #2 seems most reasonable in light of ever growing evidence. For example this-

That news report suggests that immigration from Asia to North America was happening much earlier than usually believed. Are you suggesting that the motif to which Fred refers has gone unchanged on both sides of the Pacific Ocean for 10,000 to 40,000 years? If so, what leads you to this remarkable conclusion?


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-07-2005 12:12 AM:

Dear folks -

There is one thing more I probably should mention about the Oman installation at this year's Smithsonian folklife festival.

As I was walking around that morning I came onto a tent that had this gentleman sitting in it.

He did not speak English but the booth identified him as a dyer of indigo. He had a number of samples of the shades of blue that he had produced. Notice that one shade behind him in the first photo above is actually a kind of purple.

When his translator arrived (a young American whom some other staff person pointed out to me as "Mr. Indigo") I asked whether this indigo dyeing was a "high tech" dye process as it often seems to be.

The young American said that this approach to indigo dyeing was fairly low tech. He said that no heat was applied in the process but that the dye liquids get very hot from sitting in the sun.

He said that no urine is used in this indigo dye process but that instead "acids" are produced and used by fermenting dates.

I did not talk to him for very long but this approach to indigo dyeing seemed different from what I have heard described previously.


R. John Howe

Posted by Fred Mushkat on 07-07-2005 01:55 AM:

Hi Steve,

I place the appearance of similar imagery between near Eastern textiles and weaving of the Americas in the catagory of structure driven designs. Triangular and cruciform designs are ubiquitous to humanity. It would not be surprising to discover that unrelated peoples independently came up with similar designs. I do not believe that there is any known credible evidence that there is an ancient cultural link between these groups.


Posted by Steve Price on 07-07-2005 07:28 AM:

Hi Fred

I agree, although it doesn't seem likely to me that the boteh (a term that actually covers quite a range of motifs) arose as a technique-driven design on either side of the Pacific. That's one that I chalk up to coincidence.


Steve Price

Posted by Sue Zimmerman on 07-07-2005 01:00 PM:

in the future there will probably be those, who, while pondering the ubiquitous skeletons of our civilization's skyscrapers, consider them some sort of coincidental blueprint driven thing that people decorated the landscape with. Oh well. Sue

Posted by Steve Price on 07-07-2005 03:36 PM:

Hi Sue

In another thread, I addressed the following to you:
What you wrote may not reflect your intentions. But if it doesn't, the burden is upon you to express yourself more clearly. It is not my responsibility (or anybody else's) to read your mind.

It is as appropriate here as it was there. While your riddles may amuse you, they provide little information for anyone else. This forum is intended to be a venue for exchanges of opinion and information, not as a blog for personal musings.


Steve Price

Posted by Bonnie Petry on 07-12-2005 01:29 PM:

Omani Weaving at the Folklife Festival

Good morning to all…

I’m a Washington, DC area resident of modest means and humble life experience who has been developing an interest in the rugs/textiles of Central/Southwest Asia/the Middle East over the last few months.

I also visited the Smithsonian Folklife festival this summer, and while I did manage to get close to the camels, I did manage to have a rather nice chat with one of the volunteers in the weaving tent. She was a British woman who had lived in Oman with her husband for about nine years. She explained that the three looms in the weaving tent were representative of different settings/ broad cultural areas.

First, there was a loom with a man weaving the cloaks like the one pictured behind the dyer in the above picture. The man weaving was from the interior mountains in Oman. My source reported that, among the herders who live in the mountains, both the men and the women spin and weave. I believe I remember her saying that people will sit and spin wool as they look after their sheep.

The next loom was smaller and lower to the ground. The weaver wasn’t around at the time. It was a loom belonging to a Bedouin from one of the flatter desert areas. The British woman explained that, within Bedouin culture, only the women weave. On this loom was an example of one of the strips that goes into making the red and black rugs depicted in the pictures above.

Finally, there was a larger/ more permanent appearing loom with an older gentlemen (the white haired/bearded fellow shown above) weaving blue cloth. It was explained to me that he is a weaver from a village/town, a tradesman, and that the blue cloth he was weaving is Omani “underwear.” Apparently, Omanis, the men at least, wear these pieces of cloth as a “sarong” of sorts under their dishdashas and it serves as underwear.

Wow! I never expected to go to the Folklife Festival and find out what Omani men wear under their dishdashas! Now I know…

I asked the British lady about natural dyes, whether their manufacture and use is endangered/ disappearing, and she indicated that the use of natural dyes is alive and well, although the prevalence of various dying methods seemed to be getting beyond her area of expertise.

One final note - the Middle East Insitute’s quarterly journal featured a two part article within this past year discussing in great detail the varied ethnic groups within Oman. To provide a basic overview off the top of my head, there are numerous ethnic communities that are both long established as well as more recent… Among some of the distinct, yet well integrated groups of Omanis are Hindis, Sinhalese, and a large population of Baluchis. There are more commonly thought of African influences as well. The above picture of the Omani woman with the green headscarf would seem to possibly suggest South Asian influence in dress.

Anyway, I hope you don’t mind me butting in, and I’d like to thank Turkotek for this wonderful forum, I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been visiting it.

Bonnie P.

Posted by Steve Price on 07-12-2005 01:33 PM:

Hi Bonnie

Welcome to Turkotek.

Butting in? Don't even think that. We're open for discussion, and people like you who participate aren't "butting in", they're contributing.


Steve Price

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 07-12-2005 09:17 PM:

Hi Bonnie,

It may surprise some folks to hear that Arab men are working as weavers, but it's actually not unusual at all. With the exception of a couple tribal groups (that I'm aware of, anyway), their activities are usually limited to work done in workshops, on good quality wood frame looms; they weave bolts of cloth, plain and patterned.

In addition to Oman, male cloth weavers can be found in Yemen, Bahrain, northern Saudi Arabia, and Jordan (there may be others in the region that I'm not aware of).

I've read of one or two Saudi tribes within which the men weave items on staked ground looms. But they only do the weaving the women always do the spinning.

In this region, men have been heavily involved in the dyeing business for centuries. There used to be indigo dye works in Yemen and Oman (Jenny Balfour-Paul has some images and writeups in her book 'Indigo') right up to the latter part of the 20th century; I don't know if they're still active today.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Amir_Aharon on 07-13-2005 09:00 AM:

Hi Bonnie/Chuck,

These are scans from Tanavoli's Persian Flatweaves. Tanavoli says that if there is one weaving loom women don't even get close to, it's this zilu loom.

As you can see work is done standing up and you need the upper body strength of a man to move the heavy beams and the pulling of levers.

These 'unappreciated' zilus which are weft faced patterned by alternating float weft with cotton warps and wefts (as the Indian dhurries are) come in blue and white only. There are quite a few old ones in mosques in the Dashte-Kavir area, nearby central Iran Yazd.

The two zilus depicted are actually safs dated 1810 AD (1225 Higra).

This 60 year old, 'last of the Mahicans' master craftsman operates with a comb beating apprentice who sits on the front side of the loom. The weaving is done from the back of the loom manipulating the warps with the help of levers. The apprentice pounds down with a heavy comb every time a shoot of weft passes the warps.

In the case of these Persian zilus the women's role is limited to spinning the yarn. As Chuck said about Arab weavers, men's activitiies are usually limited to work done in workshops not only in Oman but also in other gulf Arab countries. These men are more in the plain weave business than the pile. By the way, our Beduins in the southern Negev of Israel do very pretty modern high piled small rugs which are sold at the Tel-Aviv museum shop.

As far as I know no Beduin male ever got any close to a loom, since most of them still live in tents and exposure to neighboring friends can ruin one's macho image.

Bonnie, I haven't heard the word dishdasha for a long time. It's refreshing to remember; I was born in Iraq, and in those days many men wore them in public. Underwear wasn't exactly necessary or popular in the 42 celsius summers, even if you had your own palm tree to hide under.So I suppose underwear weaving was not so lucrative in my Iraqi days as it is today in Muskat.



Posted by Wendel Swan on 07-13-2005 11:52 AM:

Hello Amir, Bonnie and all,

Zilu weavings are rarely seen in collections, even though they represent a very old tradition. While there are other blue and white cotton flatweaves from the Zagros (notably those of the Bakhriyari), the zilus are distinctive urban products.

Tanavoli points out that they are woven from memory. My introduction to them came a dozen or more years ago when Annette Ittig showed a video of a BLIND weaver working on one. She described how the loom had been set up in such a manner that the weaver could do his work entirely alone.

Although many of them have asymmetric calligraphy, the field patterns are repetitive and quite regular.

Bonnie, if you are interested in learning about and seeing textiles, you should join The Textile Museum and the local rug society, the International Hajji Baba Society.


Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 07-14-2005 06:34 AM:

Origin of Notion

Hello Amir and All

Is it just me, or do thesen zilu weavings, in the least with their diminuitive mihrab, resemble the Turkmen "mihrab" as demonstrated by the Turkmen Engsi?

Could this explain the notion that the engsi is a prayer rug?


Posted by Steve Price on 07-14-2005 07:40 AM:

Hi Dave

I think the simple explanation for the notion that ensis were prayer rugs is that people thought anything with an arch form at one end was a prayer rug. In fact, some people still do.


Steve Price

Posted by Amir_Aharon on 07-14-2005 12:05 PM:

Hi Dave, Steve and all,

Here is a Kizyl Ayak ENSI without an arch, and you have probably seen others with different layouts, with or without dimunitive mehrabs.

In the Dovodov Turkmen State Museum carpet catalogue "ensi" is described as "Curtain shielding the entrance of the yurt from outside". Although this custom lapsed a hundred years ago, scholars tend to believe that this was its original purpose. In fact some see the panelled layout of a wooden door in most of the ensi field design.

I looked through the 10th ICOC Eiland catalogue and I noticed there is a similarity between the ensis' tiny mehrabs and those of the zilu safs I posted earlier. This by itself should not indicate that ensis were woven for prayer purposes, with or without the arch(s). I have heard Iranians call the ensi, "chahar fasl" meaning four seasons, which is probably because of the four quarters layout in the field. They don't regard it as a ja-namazi or sojadeh or anything having to do with prayer.

Having said all this, I believe that the "prayer issue" of the ensi is not settled yet, and someone can come up with a new theory any day.


Amir Aharon

Posted by Steve Price on 07-14-2005 12:27 PM:

Hi Amir,

You wrote, Having said all this, I believe that the "prayer issue" of the ensi is not settled yet, and someone can come up with a new theory any day. In Rugdom, new theories come up constantly. What's almost always missing is supporting evidence.

Turkmen ensis inspired the legend of flying carpets. Rolling them up to the top of the yurt entrance suggested flight to the storytellers of old. That's a new theory that I made up five minutes ago. It's easy to do, and this one even has a hint of plausibility. Besides, nobody can disprove it. If it had been said in a bazaar 100 years ago, it would probably have found its way into the conventional wisdom by now. It's ridiculous, of course, but I threw it out just to illustrate why I don't take new theories seriously unless they are accompanied by evidence or strong arguments showing that they should be taken seriously.


Steve Price

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 07-16-2005 01:34 AM:

From General to Specific

Greetings All

My intention was not to assert that these Zilu are the origin of the engsi w/mihrab design, but to suggest there could be some form relationship between the disigns, if only interpretative.

1) Zilu as model for engsi w/mihrab.

In reading this Survey of Zilu Weaving we read

"for a long time, they (Zilu) covered the floors of most mosques and shrines throughout Iran", and that "As Zilu production depends entirely upon agricultural production, and since the latter has undergone changes resulting in an increased migration of the working rural population, the reduction of labor power caused the wages to rise, in turn making Zilu production costlier. Therefore, being no more a cheap floor cover for low-income villagers, Zilus have been replaced with less expensive industrial products".

Is it possible that the Turkish, machine made prayer mats of the present have supplanted the Zilu as a prayer mat? We know that there exists a relationship between the designs of knotted pile prayer rugs and these Turkish prayer mats, as evident by a prevalence of architectural themes. Could the apparent similarities of design found in both this Zilu and the Turkmen Engsi proceed from similar phenomena?

2) Zilu prayer mat as adjective

Is it possible that the similarities evident between the engsi design and the zilu design give rise to the mistaken belief, or description of, the engsi as a prayer rug?

No proof but enough to give pause.

And Amir, what of these Zilu saf? Does Tanavoli provode any images of the entire piece, and any description of a range in size?


Posted by Amir_Aharon on 07-16-2005 08:37 AM:

Hi evertbody,

I'm sorry David, Tanavoli doesn't provide a complete image of my last zilu saf post. But here is some more from the same source.

Dimensions of mosque zilus are related to the architecture of mosques and are usually woven in bigger sizes than the home zilus. Their length as much as 45 ft., their width 10 to13 ft. Three or 4 such sizes can cover the hall or veranda of an average mosque. Smaller zilus (10-20 ft long, 5-6.5 ft wide) are used for the 'minbar' area and also the courtyards where they have to be carried back and forth.

The image with the prostrating men is from the Friday mosque of Ardestan, east of Kashan, built at the time of the Seljuks. There are some 60 blue and white zilus, mostly kenarreh formats, on the hall ground. The patterns are similar to brickworks of the Seljuk era.

The other image is a detail of another dated saf zilu dated 1618 AD from the Sareh Kucheh mosque in a village around Nain. Notice the tiny swastika motif inside the diminutive mehrab, an acient Aryan motif and a symbol for the Orbit of the sun. Some saf zilus have Zoroastrian fire temple motifs too.

The oldest dated zilu is probably the one spread on the floor of a village 'khanaqah' in the vicinity of Yazd dating 1520-1521 AD which is even earlier than the earliest date inscribed Ardabil carpet (1539 AD). Zilus from the 16th century and later can be found in dozens of towns around Yazd.

To answer David's question about the size of the zilu saf from the last post, Tanavoli says there are 24 mehrabs in two rows, equally sized but all with different patterns. Quite a rare piece. I suppose it's 12X3 meters, imagining one worshipper per mehrab.

Endowers commissioned and donated zilus to their favorite mosques. Usually more than one zilu at a time, since this would reduce costs per piece; the design programme and loading on the loom being the larger part of the cost. The fact that on most of these zilus there is an inscription of the endower's name, the weaver and date of completion, attributions are facilitated.

Most of the commissioners see to it that the weaver adds some curses to whoever dares to remove the zilu from the mosque (except for cleaning purposes) which accounts for almost zero thefts and permanence of zilus. I suppose these curses can be understood by and apply only to those who read Farsi, ruling out western tourists who have no idea of what is written .


Amir Aharon

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 07-16-2005 03:25 PM:

Amir wrote:

Most of the commissioners see to it that the weaver adds some curses to whoever dares to remove the zilu from the mosque (except for cleaning purposes) which accounts for almost zero thefts and permanence of zilus. I suppose these curses can be understood by and apply only to those who read Farsi, ruling out western tourists who have no idea of what is written .

Which leads me to wonder whether one must know about a curse to be cursed. Does the conscious act of defying a curse activate its power? Conversely, does ignorance of a curse leave it dormant? (I'm not sure it's a good analogy but in the U.S. ignorance of the law is not considered a defence.)

Yeah, yeah, I can hear you saying, "But what does this have to do with rugs?" To which I respond, "Why don't you just add one of those curse-protected zilus to your collection, wise-guy?"

From sweaty, semi-tropical Chicago,


Posted by Amir Aharon on 07-16-2005 05:37 PM:

Hi Jerry,

I was only trying to be funny. I didn't mean to arouse your
ethics' nerve. I absolutely agree with "ignorance of the law
does not exempt". Maybe the joke was in bad taste, but I
honestly did not intend to offend anyone. I apologize!

Now back to zilus; from Tanavoli again "In the khanaqah of Shah
Vali in Taft there were once three zilus all dated 1556. One is now in Cairo's Islamic Museum, one in Tehran's Carpet Museum,
and the third is MISSING."

So you see Jerry, things like that happen. You wrote in your post
that maybe I should add a curse-protected zilu to my collection.
Why do you have to be so nasty? Of course you can always blame the semi-tropical weather in Chicago. Over here we in
fact have full-tropical (34 degrees celsius) weather, but we
still understand a joke when it's meant to be one.


Posted by Steve Price on 07-16-2005 05:58 PM:

Hi Amir

I don't think Jerry was being nasty, just way that his sense of humor is expressed.

I hate to explain jokes, but will do so anyway because feathers are ruffling.

You wrote (joking) that the curse only applies to people who can read it. He wrote (joking) that if you think not being able to read it makes you immune, why don't you own one yourself?

Back to my nap.

Steve Price

Posted by Don Ruyle on 07-16-2005 08:11 PM:

Jolly Hello to All:
Another lively post. Amir is probably still stinging from his recent entry into the unknown and trying to lighten things up a little. My best regards for a wonderful read on a rug.

Don Ruyle

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 07-16-2005 11:47 PM:

Dear Amir,

I, too, was only trying to be funny - albeit in a sort of pedantic fashion which I flavord with a Chicago-ish smart-alecky-ness.

Maybe if I threw in a smiley my intent would be more immediately obvious.

But that would spoil it.

Sorry you thought my remarks an attack on you personally. They were not intended as such.

Besides, I like curses - especially the ones where the cursed individual is consigned to jump between an infinite number of beds each infested with an infinite number of fleas.



Posted by Sue Zimmerman on 07-17-2005 02:45 PM:

Thanks, Amir, and Dave, for your posts. Fascinating stuff! Lots to think about. Sue

Posted by Amir Aharon on 07-18-2005 10:56 AM:

Hi Jerry,

We have achieved something at least, in our wierd way of expressing humour. For proof see Sue's last post.

TOO sensitively,