Turkmen earrings gulak-halka : the memory of war and persistent traditions (Turkmenistan)
Today, as more than a century ago, according to the accounts of Western travelers, Turkmen women appreciate traditional silver ornaments. These ornaments are a part of everyday life: they are made by local silversmiths, worn every day or on special/ festive occasion, and are given as a gift or inherited. Each item of Turkmen traditional jewelry is worth describing in detail, and I would like to share my story about a pair of earrings - gulak-halka.
In 2011, before my departure to study in France, while collecting information about Turkmen traditional crafts and material culture, I met a young woman called Jahan from the Balkan region (Turkmenistan). Jahan said that her family had a pair of gulak-halka that had belonged to her grandmother. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Turkmen women, including Jahan’s grandmother, had donated their jewellery to the Defense Fund. Not only jewellery, but money and valuable bonds were also donated to the Defense Fund. One can find numerous testimonies of Turkmen women donating silver and gold jewelry in the Turkmenskaya Iskra newspaper: “At the Zakhmetkesh collective farm, Gek Amanekova, a 62-year-old female collective farmer, donated her silver bracelets weighing 500 grams and said - 'Let my bracelets turn into bullets and crush the murderer Hitler’.” Not only women, but also men donated jewellery. For example, another notice in the same newspaper dated August 1941 described how Mukhamedkuli Chapar, a collective farmer, donated a horse harness covered with silver jewellery to the Defense Fund at a meeting at the Voroshilov collective farm in Ashgabat District. At the same time, Bekmurad Annamurad, deputy director of a cattle-breeding farm and participant of the horse-run between Ashgabat and Moscow in 1935, as well as another participant Ashir Kulibek, donated their personal gold watches to the Defense Fund. The pair of earrings - gulak halka - belonging to Jahan’s grandmother were also donated to the Fund to become a Soviet weapon. Silver and gold items received from Turkmen men and women were transformed into military equipment and weapons, including a squadron of combat aircraft and bombers "Kolkhoznik of Turkmenistan" and "Komsomolets of Turkmenistan", and the tank columns "Kolkhoz youth of Turkmenistan" and "Young pioneer Turkmenistan."
After the war, in the early 1950s, Jahan’s grandmother bought similar earrings because they reminded her of the earrings that she had donated to the fund. She gave them to her daughter. Thus, Jahan’s mother and Jahan herself received the gulak-halka as a gift after she got married. She will give them to her daughter when she grows up and gets married. Therefore, the gulak halka reflects not only the memory of the war, it symbolically unites several generations of Turkmen women, it also demonstrates continuous traditions in Turkmen society and the artisanal skills of Turkmen silversmiths.
Ring-shaped earrings - gulak-halka - (Turkm. “ring for the ears”) had been used by Turkmen women of the Yomud tribe (northern and western) at least since the 19th century. Earrings similar in shape were also worn by the Turkmen women of Ata and Ersary tribes along the middle section of the Amu Darya. The gulak-halka of the northern and western Yomuds differed in size. The large ones were preferred by western Yomuds, reaching 11-16 cm in diameter. Women of the Yomud tribe from the Caspian shore wore gulak-halka together with a hasava headdress. Since by the beginning of the 20th century, the hasava was gradually falling out of use, the gulak-halka also ceased to be worn. My informants said that the Yomud Turkmen women of Iran wore gulak-halka exclusively on holidays. Starting around the 1920s in Soviet Turkmenistan, more modest gulak-halka earrings began to be made. Despite the similar designation, they differed significantly from the gulak-halka of the 19th century. Brand-new gulak-halka can also be made of gold (not only of silver), decorated with turquoise (not only cornelian), and are popular among Turkmen women.
Snezhanna Atanova, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences/ French Institute for Central Asian Studies
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Author’s Field Materials, May 2012, Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan.