Posted by R. John Howe on 09-23-2002 01:38 PM:


Dear folks –

In this salon, stimulated by the work I have been doing on the “engsi” only exhibition for ICOC X, I have asked what it is that we can say about the engsi, a distinctive western Turkmen format.

In the opening essay, I presented a variety of engsis and asked, and attempted initial answers to, some questions that are frequently posed about them. I acknowledged that despite the fact that we often seem assured about the engsi, there a great many open questions about it exist. I asked participants to share their own knowledge and views of the engsi.

A great many posts ensued and I can only characterize the major ones here.

I had presented in the opening essay a conjecture of Peter Andrews’ that door widths that he had measured in the field in the 1970s, were likely a maximum of about 120 cm. I pounced on this indication to wonder whether door width might permit us to suggest which engsi were actually made for use. I presented some published widths with inconclusive results.

Steve Price took up the question of whether the engsi was hung outside or inside the Turkmen tent door suggesting that the engsi fitted in and so hung neither inside or out.

Robert Alimi put up an actual photo from the Prokudin-Gorskii Collection in the U.S. Library of Congress, that seems to show a pile door rug wider than the door and suspended over it. If engsis were hung on tent doors in this manner no “fitting in” would be required.

At one point Robert Anderson suggested that “Rather than presenting the averages of the length to width ratio (or similar data) from engsis assigned to the different tribes, it might be more illustrative to plot these data together on graph paper, for example, length on the vertical axis vs. width on the horizontal axis. (Pinner and Frances in fact did such an analysis of Turkoman tent bags. See ‘Tent bags and simple statistics’, Turkoman Studies I). Then, any obvious clustering would become apparent, which might otherwise be “blurred” by averaging. For example, it might turn out that a subset of Tekke engsis lie outside of the main Tekke group and much closer to the Salors.” We presented some ratios from the Pinner article in issue 60 of Hali but did not take up this suggestion in the salon.

Marla Mallett asked “what evidence anyone has found in the way of damage at the upper corners of their ensis…or what evidence of any attached hanging apparatus has been found…” This led to a number of posts with images of both engsi and bags that either had “tieing ropes” attached or showed clear corner stress and damage. An incidental feature of this part of this thread was that Pat Weiler posted a Yomut chuval with tieing cords actually attached at the marks at the top that collectors have been for some time describing as “closure marks.” Daniel Deschuyteneer subsequently provided a second one. This seemed pretty conclusive evidence that that is what they are.

Chuck Wagner joined this thread suggesting on the basis of a 19th century traveler’s description and because the word “purdah” is sometimes used to describe the engsi, that perhaps the engsi was used as a divider inside the tent. David Hunt felt that the linguistic usage that Chuck mentioned was important. There do seem occasions when such division is required in Turkmen life but I argued that there was another textile, the “tutti” used for this precise purpose and that it was not a pile rug but rather more like, Ken Thompson’s characterization of it as a cotton “sheet” with decorations.

In the latter part of this thread Christof Huber put up images of a Caucasian tent with a very dramatic tent flap door covering and of a very unusual engsi with a “stepped” shape to its top, resembling for me the shape of some Tibetan or Chinese “throne backs.”

In the longest thread in this salon Sue Zimerman began by speculating that perhaps the devices on an engsi put up by Marvin Amstey might denote migrating birds in the sky. Sue subsequently gave a number of imaginative suggestions about how the various devices on engsis might be seen as the phenomena that nomads might observe in the sky, especially during important times of the year such as those when migrations occurred. Sue indicated that she was drawing in part on her knowledge of Egyptian heiroglyphics. Some of us admired Sue’s imagination but were doubtful, but Sophia Gates found Sue’s speculations compatible with some views of her own which she offered.

At one point Sue offered a “balance pans” interpretation of a Saryk engsi using two wonderful names which Ken Thompson subsequently explained: “"ZUBENELGENUBI (Alpha Librae). Dim Libra, which 2000 years ago held the autumnal equinox in its balance pans, is identified chiefly by two stars to the northwest of Scorpius that have delightful names, Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgenubi. They harken back to the ancient times when they were considered the outstretched claws of the Scorpion, making the two something of a double constellation. "Zubenelgenubi" derives from an Arabic phrase meaning the "Scorpion's southern claw," while the name of its mate (to which it is not physically related) refers to the northern claw. " Again, many of us remained skeptical. At the end of this thread Sue was talking again about Egypt, Julius Caesar and calendars.

In another longish thread Pat Weiler started us off by reminding us that the hatchli versions of the engsi are sometime seen to depict a garden. Pat said that if so, the “candlabra-like” forms are likely “pruned fruit trees.” Steve Price objected that it is unlikely that nomads had gardens. Yon Bard and Marvin Amstey joined this part of the discussion to suggest that the candlabra-like devices are most frequently seen to represent “bird heads.” Ali Tuna then suggested that there are some very old Turkish “animal” rugs that resemble the engsi. Ken Thompson and Steve Price explored the “bird’s head” possibility with a Tekke and an African example. I put up a few Tibetan door rugs and Filiberto provided an image that took us back to the possibility that engsi designs merely mimic paneled wooden doors. David Hunt concluding this thread returned to the “garden” theme with images of some classic Persian garden carpets.

Phil Lloyd put up a Saryk engsi and asked whether the seeming “sideway” orientation of the “candlabra-like” devices in it is typical of Saryk engs. We found on that did not have this orientation but it does seem typical for most of them. We could not discover the significance, if any, of this difference.

At one point I suggested that Dick Wright is currently researching a suspicion of his that perhaps the engsi is actually a rather recent format, without much ethnographic significance and may have been made mostly for sale. This led mostly to a discussion not of this thesis, but of the difficulty of distinguishing the “commercial” from the “made for use” textiles, especially since commercial influences seem likely to have been in play for a very long time for those living near “The Silk Road.”

Mark Traxler put up an interesting Kerman rug with an engsi design and we speculated about why a few of these should have been made.

In another thread Steve wondered further about the “hatchli” layout, taking us back to the notion that perhaps engsis with this design ape wooden doors. Chuck Wagner suggested that the wide cross panels in such engsis are very unusual and I tried to start a separate thread about that. Pat Weiler and Chuck made some further suggestions about other rugs with cross panels.

Pat Weiler, also imaginatively suggested, at one point, that perhaps the engsi was a particular kind of wedding rug, a kind of “Kama Sutra.” We managed to consider that possibility without veering too far into the salacious.

At the very end Ken Thompson provided us with an intriquing quote from a Central Asian traveler in 1839, that suggests that the engsi goes back at least that far. As Steve Price noted, this is further back than some have thought likely.

Despite the rather large number of posts in this salon, the conclusions we have managed here seem somehow less than satisfying. But perhaps that merely reflects the true uncertainties that still obtain about the Turkmen engsi and its use(s).

My thanks to all the participants here for their contributions.


R. John Howe