Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Overview of the Costumes of Turkestan

Hello all,
Today I would like to talk somewhat about the costumes of the region known as Turkestan.
This term means 'Land of the Turks, and consists of the continuous region inhabited by Turkic peoples from the Caspian Sea to the Gobi Desert.

 The map above gives some idea of the geographical extent of Turkestan, including parts or all of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Chinese Empire.
The map below presents the major peoples of the area. Click to enlarge. The white areas represent sparsely populated regions.

 All four of the major branches of the Turkic language family are represented in this region.

Oghuz Branch

This is also called the Southwest branch. Most of the peoples who speak these languages are found west of this region.


These people live primarily in Turkmenistan, but also over the borders in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran, as well as in scattered groups further west. They are represented by the bright red on the map above.

Here we see a couple of examples where the gown is fitted much more closely than is traditional, under the influence of modern cuts and fashions.

 The following two images are from a traditional Turkmen wedding.

A music video showing off Turkmen costume and jewelry


The Salar migrated to China in the 14th century, and are not properly inhabitants of Turkestan, being found further east, on the eastern edge of Qinghai and into Gansu province. Their language points to an origin far to the west. Today they are found between the Tibetans who inhabit Qinghai and the Mongols, Han Chinese and others who inhabit Gansu.

A chinese video about a Salar Wedding

Karluk Group

These are also known as the Southeastern Turkic Languages.


The Uzbeks, in contrast to many Turkic groups in the area, have been settled in Cities for a long time, and do not have a nomadic heritage. The famous cities of Bukhara, Tashkent and Samarkand are Uzbek. They are shown in yellow on the map at the head of this article. They live mainly in Uzbekistan, but are also found across the borders in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uyghuristan. They are especially known for Ikat woven silks in bright colors, which they call 'Abra', or cloud designs. The second image at the head of the article is the Emir of Bukhara, an Uzbek.

A dance performance by an Uzbek Folkloric group showing different styles and costumes.


The Uyghur [OOy gur] are closely related to the Uzbeks, but are found further east. They have also been settled for a long time, inhabiting Turfan, Kashgar, and Khotan, as  well as other cities along the Silk Road. They are represented in olive green on the map above. They call this region Uyghuristan, but it is currently completely within the Chinese Empire, and the Han Chinese call the region Xingjiang. Their neighbors to the west are Tajik and Kyrghyz, to the south and east Tibetans, and to the north, Kazakh. In recent years, many Han Chinese have settled in the region, which has set off resistance by the natives.



A performance of various Uyghur songs and dances.

Kipchak Branch

In their own language, they call themselves Qazaq. They live mostly in Kazakhstan, but also across the border in Uzbekistan, Russia, Mongolia, and Uyghuristan, where they live in the north, the region called Dzungaria. They have a nomadic heritage, and yurts are still a great part of their culture. The historical image at the head of the article is of Kazakhs. They are represented by lilac on the map above. Needless to say, the movie which came out a few years ago had absolutely nothing to do with Kazakh culture.



Kazakh folk song with good historical costumes


In their own language, they call themselves Qaraqalpaq. They are closely related to both the Kazakhs and the Kirghiz. Like them, they have a strong nomadic heritage, and have the yurt as a strong part of their culture. They mostly live in the former Aral Sea delta, in northeastern Uzbekistan. They are shown in dark green on the map above.

Karakalpak dance suite.

Also called Kirgiz, Kyrghyz, or some variant thereof. They are closely related to the Kazakh, and their costumes are similar. They are also of nomadic heritage. Their flag features the topcap of a yurt surrounded by a sun with 40 rays, representing the legendary forty tribes that they supposedly descended from. They live mostly in Kyrgyzstan, but also over the border in Uzbekistan,  Kazakhstan, and Uyghuristan in the Chinese Empire. They are shown in brown on the map above.



Kirghiz folk song and dance. Some of the costumes are modernized. This is social dance, rather than performance.

Siberian or Northeastern Group
 This is a group of smaller peoples which are found in the northeastern extension shown on the first map. They are shown as 'other' in the second map. They are all found in Siberian Russia just north of the area where Kazakhstan almost touches Mongolia. Here is a closer map of the area. I will give just a short presentation of the larger peoples. Their culture reflects Mongolian influence to various degrees.

Also spelled Altay. 

Altai folk song and dance 


The only video I could find about the Shor people. A short fable in Russian that shows some Shor vocabulary and costume. It explains why the Shors are known for being blacksmiths.


A Khakas folk song about the moon, Ymai.

The Tuvan people live next to the Mongolians, and their culture has been much influenced by them.

A Tuvan singer performing the 'throat singing' which is done in this area, not just by the Tuvans, but by their Turkic neighbors, and by the Mongols as well.

Also called Tofalar. These people live just north of the Tuva, and also speak a Turkic language, but their culture is Siberian, rather than Turkestani. They traditionally lived by herding reindeer, like other Siberian tribes. There are only a few hundred of them left, of which fewer than a hundred still speak their language.

A photo montage of the Tofa. For some strange reason, they are playing Londenderry Air over the photos.

The Yugur are a Turkic people who live in Sunan county near the city of Zhangye in Gansu province in China. They live to the northwest of the Salar, and border the Tibetan inhabited province of Qinghai to their south, and Inner Mongolia to their north, just a few miles away. The western Yugur speak a Turkic language, while the eastern Yugur speak a Mongolic language. The Yugur are unique among the Turkic peoples in being Buddhist.

Here is a Yugur folk song done on stage, rather too glitzy. I think that this one is in the Turkic language.

Honorable Mention

The Tadjik are not a Turkic people, but their territory is often considered to be part of Turkestan both geographically and culturally. They have cultural ties especially with the Uzbek. They speak an Iranian language, and are linguistically linked with Afghanistan and Iran. They live primarily in Tadjikistan, but also in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and across the border in Uyghuristan, in the Chinese empire, where they live west of the Uyghur. They are represented by fuschia in the map at the head of the article. 






A Tadjik dance.

Thank you for reading, I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative

Roman    K