Tubeteika (Uzbekistan)

Tubeteika (Uzbekistan)

The Uzbek name is ‘doʻppi’, but generally skullcaps worn by Muslim communities, including those worn by Tatars in Ukraine, were designated by the collective Russian term “tubeteika”. The word itself was formed out of the Tatar ‘tubetei’, meaning ‘elevation’ or ‘top’ and the suffix ‘-ka’. There are six main regional types of the tubeteika that differ from each other in embroidery technique, colour palette and patterns.

After the takeover of the Soviet government, Lenin proclaimed that “backward Central Asia” needed modernization. New borders divided ethnic groups and families into nations in a European sense. In 1927 the Hujum, an unveiling campaign, started which targeted primarily the paranji, the full body robe worn by women with a dark horsehair veil (chachvan), as it was incompatible with soviet modernity.  Within this process the tubeteika, a small Muslim round or canonical skullcap worn by men, children and young girls became the symbol of the new soviet Uzbek citizen and the symbol of modernity in contrast with the turban or chalma.

Soviet modernizers organized mass unveilings and forced party members to unveil their wives, even though many of the unveiled were murdered. However, before the Soviet Hujum, local Jadid reformers had already advocated for women’s emancipation including unveiling. Through the Hujum the tubeteika was adapted by the local population and became widely spread. In the posters of the 1920s and 1930s and in women’s magazines of the 1950s and 1960s the tubeteika and the veil appear as antipodes. While the veil is framed as a sign of backwardness, that endangers the woman’s health and keeps her locked away from society, the skullcap is referring to the new modern nation. Again the entanglement of the female body, the nation and clothing can be observed, as the tubeteika was only worn by young women at a reproductive age. The photograph captures May Parade in Tashkent in 1965-1966.

However, during Soviet times not only was the symbolism subject to change, but also the working process itself. Artisans were forced to form cooperatives, where the quality and patterns were dictated from the outside. New styles, materials and synthetic colors were increasingly invading the local market and displacing the local craft and knowledge.  

Today the tubeteika continues to shape the national identity of the independent Uzbekistan, where discourses about appropriate national clothing are still proliferating as a second ‘Hujum’ is taking place against the hijab, which is banned from public institutions.

Further Literature

Irina Bogoslovskaya and Larisa Levteeva, Skullcaps of Uzbekistan 19th-20th Centuries (Tashkent: Mega Basim, 2006).

Greg Castillo, "Soviet Orientalism: Socialist Realism and Built Tradition“, Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 8, Nr. 2 (1997).
Douglas Taylor Northrop, Veiled Empire: Gender & Power in Stalinist Central Asia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004).

Nika Timashkova is researcher and an artist working at the intersection of history, aesthetics, language and art. She is a PhD candidate at the Zurich University of the Arts/University of Zurich. In practice she examines the connection between textiles and gender, (cultural) identity and originality as well as bodily representations and ways of seeing.