Saturday, February 19, 2011

Costume of the Anatri Chuvash

Hello all. Today we are going to cover the folk costume of the Anatri Chuvash. The Chuvash live in the mid-Volga region, like the various peoples we have been covering. They live in the Chuvash republic, which is indicated in dark blue on the map above, south of the Mari, shown in red, north of the Mordvin Republic, shown in brown, and west of Tatarstan, shown in bright green. In fact, they also live scattered over a wide area south and east of the Chuvash Republic as well, as shown by the following map.
In these other areas, they live in enclaves surrounded by Tatars, Bashkir, Moksha and Russians. The capitol of the Chuvash Republic is Cheboksary, and this is their flag.
The Chuvash, unlike the other Volga peoples we have so far addressed, are a Turkic People, but one that has been seperated from the other Turkic peoples for a very long time. Their language occupies a separate branch from all other extant Turkic languages, and their culture and folk art makes it clear that they have been in close contact with the Finnic Peoples of the Volga for a long time as well. The costume we will address today is that of the lowland, or Anatri Chuvash, who live in the southeastern part of the Chuvash Republic, as well as some of the scattered areas shown in the map. Here is the costume of a couple of young unmarried Anatri Chuvash.

As you can see, the girl's costume is based on the chemise, as we would expect, with the addition of an apron, ornaments hanging from the sash, neck and shoulder, and a helmet shaped headdress covered in beads and coins, which is called a tukhya, which sometimes has a point on top. This seems to be a very ancient Turkic custom, the headdress for girls in Turkmenistan is similar, and the Kazakh and Kirghiz equivalent seem to be derived from the same.This may be connected with the very old Turkic legend of the Princess Gulaim and her fourty maiden warriors, known as the Kirk Kiz. [Sounds like a Disney Movie waiting to be made.]
Here is another view of a tukhya, showing more closely the decorative coins and jewelry.
You will notice that the girl's chemise is ornamented with minimal embroidery, but has applique of red ribbon And if you look closely at this photo, you will notice that the design on the chest is asymmetrical, which is often the case for the Chuvash girl's costume, and very unusual elsewhere.  Here is an old photo of some Chuvash children in everyday clothes, notice the distinctly asymmetrical design on the chemise of the girl on the left.
And here is a modern example, this is the work of the well known embroiderer, Evgenia Zhacheva. This girl is holding some of the embroidery for which the Chuvash are famous.

In contrast, the woman's chemise is embroidered, as in this example drawn by Max Tilke from a museum specimen in Germany. You will notice the rosettes embroidered over the breasts, these are very typical, only found on the chemises of married women, and are known as keske.
As you can see, the tunic is of the typical cut of the region. The keske are very famous, and were often cut out of chemises and exhibited in Russian and other museums. Here i will pet one of my peeves, that the collectors would cut right next to the embroidery, so that the placement was lost, and the cloth ravels.
[unprintable expletive] Here is an example of such collected keske, of which the designs were many, as you can see.

Here is another example of the woman's chemise worn alone, the keske being very visible.
And here is an example of a woman in full dress, with apron and the headcloth known as the surpan wrapped around the head over an embroidered headpiece called the masmak. You will also notice that she is wearing footcloths and birchbark shoes over them. This was worn by those who could not afford boots.
Here is an example of an embroidered apron, although, as you can see from the above photos, sometimes the apron was made of cloth with woven designs.

Another type of woman's headress was more widespread and is known as the khushpu. This takes many shapes, and may look similar to the tukhya, but is always open on top, and has a long piece which hangs down the back. It is worn over the surpan, which is wrapped around the head, with both ends hanging in back. Here are front and back views of a full woman's costume.

You will also notice the beaded, embroidered and coin covered ornaments hanging from the neck and the sash, as is so typical  of this region.
The Mens costume,  as for the other peoples in the mid Volga region, consists of a shirt, linen or woolen pants, a woven sash, and footwear, as shown in the photos above and here
You will notice that the shirt opens on the right side, opposite that of the Russians, and the same as the old Persian shirts, although shirts that open in the center are also known. Here is a schematic drawn by Max Tilke of a shirt, closeup view of the embroidery, as well as part of a keske. This was also drawn from a museum specimen in Germany.
On special or ceremonial occasions, men would wear a caftan over the shirt, which was highly embroidered, and had designs made by applique of red ribbon, as in the following example. He is a accompanied by a girl in full costume holding a bridal veil over her head.

Thank you once more for visiting my blog, this will conclude the series on the Volga peoples. The Tatars and Bashkir also live in this area, but their costumes are derived from central Asia, as they arrived in the region much later, although they undoubtedly mixed with the indigenous people who lived there previously.

I am always open to suggestions as far as subjects to research, or commissions to make or embroider folk costume pieces or other items.
Take these traditions and create from them, do not let them be forgotten.

Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals.
Roman K.

Source Material:
V. Nikolaev et al 'Chuvash Tume Avallakhran Payanlakha' [The Chuvash Costume from Ancient to Modern Times] Cheboksary, 2002
Evgenia Zhacheva, 'Chuvash Terri' [Chuvash Embroidery], Cheboksary, 2006
E. Medzhitova et al. 'Chuvash Khalakh Iskusstva' [Chuvash Folk Art], Cheboksary, 1981
Max Tilke, 'East European Costumes' London, 1926
N. Kalashnikova et al,  'National Costumes of the Soviet Peoples' Moscow, 1990
T. Razina et al, 'Folk Art in the Soviet Union',  Leningrad, 1990
L. Molotova et al, 'Folk Art of the Russian Federation', Leningrad, 1981


  1. Ooh! I just discovered your wonderful site today (popped on my pinterest board. It is so beautiful, thank you! I will explore it more now that we have to stay at home for a while...
    I have a gorgeous Bedouin Dress hanging on my Living room wall, I also made some pillows and a small stool cover, using scraps from another dress. I love them and get many compliments. (I live in NYC but grew up in the middle east). Cheers :)

  2. Lovely--and thank you. I found your site while researching Catherine II's Volga trip in 1767. I have also been to Cheboksary myself, but wanted to refresh my memory about the attire. I hope to encounter another one of your postings as I continue the book I am writing!

  3. I forgot to ask, but if you come across any additional info about Catherine's visit to this region, I'd love to know. The biographies are all quite contradictory.