Dala Shiypon in Jarqurgon District (Surkhandaryo Viloyat, Uzbekistan)

Dala Shiypon in Jarqurgon District (Surkhandaryo Viloyat, Uzbekistan)

For Oylar Momo and the other women in Namuna, a village in southern Uzbekistan, the dala shiypons of the village (boshishgoh in Tajik) were a “second home,” a place for men and women to relax and escape the hot sun and hard work in the nearby cotton fields. While such structures existed prior to the 20th century, they became ubiquitous particularly in the post-WWII era. Massive production of cotton began in the 1930s, alongside Soviet collectivization and large-scale irrigation projects. Oylar Momo was part of the generation to follow such transformations. Born in 1940, she worked as a childcare provider in the Namuna village collective farm (kolkhoz) primarily from the 1960s onward. Their construction was part of a larger process to improve working conditions for kolkhoz workers in the 1950s and 1960s. Oylar Momo recalled that in the 1950s and 1960s, several well-equipped dala shiypons were built in her village and provided an important space for cotton workers in the field. The building of the dala shiypons in her village was part of this broader post-war trend. Another respondent, Qurbonmurod Bobo, provided more exact information about the particular dala shiypons of this village. At the time of their construction (in 1953-54) he was in the fifth grade. He said that the dala shiypons' construction was “provided for by Moscow but was built by Azerbaijani workers who had come to the region to work for two years.” The initial materials (including the cement) were provided to the kolkhoz by Moscow, but later maintenance became the responsibility of the kolkhoz itself. 

Given the hot temperatures in Central Asia and back-breaking nature of cotton labor, the dala shiypons played an important role in the daily lives of kolkhoz workers. Soviet Central Asian journalists presented idealized versions of the dala shiypon in newspapers like Sovet O’zbekistoni (Soviet Uzbekistan) as a place where workers gathered, listened to political propaganda on radio, heard lectures from party activists, shared meals, sang songs, listened to concerts, and held important meetings. The reality was not far off, but perhaps less romantic. Oylar Momo recalled that each brigade in her village had their own dala shiypon. She explained that kolkhoz chairman would hold meetings and pay workers in the dala shiypon and sometimes organize concerts to boost morale.

The dala shiypon came in two varieties, each serving a slightly different function. While first version (image 1) mentioned above served as a place for workers to relax during their breaks, the second version, located not far from the first one, served primarily as a nursery and daycare for young children in the village. The second type (image 2) was primarily a space intended for and largely managed by women. For many women of the village, this dala shiypon served as an anchor. While they worked in the fields, they left their children under the watchful eye of Oylar Momo. This dala shiypon was even fitted with several state-issued cribs for the children to lie in during the day. Yet, the proximity of the two structures allowed women to easily move between the two. During the hottest hours of the workday, women would come back from the fields, breastfeed their children, eat lunch, and rest under the cool shade of the first dala shiypon.

When asked about the fate of the dala shiypon today, Oylar Momo remembers the Soviet period with a tinge of nostalgia, recalling how it brought people together and provided women an important source of childcare while they worked in the fields. Now women often stay at home or take their children to a neighboring village, equipped with a proper kindergarten. Oylar Momo’s dala shiypons are typical of the Soviet period, but unique for the present. In many villages, the dala shiypons have been torn down. Others have been converted into residential homes or even serve as shelter for tractors used in the fields. The dala shiypons themselves, those that remain and the ones that have disappeared, speak to the continuities and ruptures that link the last century with the present one.

Nicholas Seay is a PhD student in history at Ohio State University, preparing to research and write a dissertation on cotton production, environment, and labor in Soviet Tajikistan.

Alisher Khaliyarov recently defended his PhD in history at Ohio State University. His dissertation explores the economic history of the Khivan Khanate.