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“Qara U'y: the Qaraqalpaq Yurt and its Decoration”


David and Sue Richardson
Independent researchers, Nottingham UK

The Qaraqalpaqs are an ethnically diverse Turkic-speaking people who mainly inhabit the isolated delta region of the lower Amu Darya, situated to the south of the Aral Sea. Their exact numbers are unknown but are probably close to 600,000. Their homeland is the Autonomous Republic of Qaraqalpaqstan, formed by the Soviets in 1925. Despite its Autonomous Republic status, Qaraqalpaqstan is effectively little more than just another province within the independent Republic of Uzbekistan, albeit the largest province, accounting for over one third of Uzbekistan's land area.

Qara u'y means “black dwelling,” which is the word that the Qaraqalpaqs used to refer to their yurt. A fully decorated Qaraqalpaq yurt is a joyful sight – one of the most delightful nomadic dwellings in the whole of Central Asia. However Qaraqalpaq weavings have never been properly researched and remain relatively unknown compared to those of their Qazaq, Uzbek, or Turkmen neighbours. Many items that are described as Qaraqalpaq are not Qaraqalpaq at all, while genuine Qaraqalpaq weavings are frequently mislabelled and incorrectly dated.

After introducing the Qaraqalpaqs and describing their unusual formerly semi-nomadic lifestyle, David and Sue Richardson will describe the special features of the Qaraqalpaq qara u'y and how it was made. The key focus of their talk will be the various structural and decorative weavings associated with the yurt, along with Qaraqalpaq storage bags, rugs, and carpets. They will explain how they were woven and how they were used. They will end by attempting to resolve the long-standing controversy that has surrounded Qaraqalpaq carpets for over a century.

David and Sue Richardson have been studying the Qaraqalpaqs full-time for the past fourteen years, making frequent visits to the Aral region and working with local academics, archaeologists, and museum curators. Their richly illustrated large-format book, Qaraqalpaqs of the Aral Delta, was published by Prestel in July, 2012. It is the first definitive account of the Qaraqalpaqs and their stunning textile arts available in the English language. David was trained as a scientist and holds a doctorate in quantum physics from Cambridge University. He spent his career as a senior manager in the British chemical, pharmaceutical and scientific equipment industries. Sue is an English literature graduate with a love of the English language. She spent her career in personnel management and training in the British retail industry. They have both travelled extensively throughout the developed and the developing world. The Richardsons invite TMA/SC members to bring examples of Qaraqalpaq weavings for show & tell (and this can include costumes.)


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