The napramach – an ancient suitcase and chest

Category: Editors choice,General

by Dr. Elmira Gyul

In everyday life we often use objects, without reflecting about their history and occurrence in our environment. Such objects could be a suitcase or a chest; their distant ancestor is a capacious carpet bag for household utensils – the napramach.

A complete Napramach from the Collection of Reinhard Blanck and Stefan Dobadka. The front and the two sides are knotted, the back and the bottom are made of simple but strong woven cloth.

The napramach is invented by nomads of Central Asia, whose way of life have been connected with constant moving: at their journeys these bags were used for packed cargo, and when the nomads settled the napramachs became parts of the yurt interior.

Napramach from the Collection of Reinhard Blanck and Stefan Dobadka.

These bags are known under many different names:

• Among Samarkand Uzbeks: napramach, maprach
• Uzbeks from Nurata region: karchin
• Uzbeks-Lakai and Kungrats (Kashkadarja, Surhandarja): mapramach
• Turkmens: mafrach, maprach
• Karakalpaks: maprach, karshin
• Kirghiz: chavadan (the Russian word “chemodan” – a suitcase – originates from this word)
• Azerbaijanians: mafrash

Despite different names, all of them have form of a rectangular box.

Napramach from the Collection of Reinhard Blanck and Stefan Dobadka.

Another kind of bags from two sewed pieces of a fabric suspended directly to a lattice of a yurt or a pack animal by leather belts. Such pendant bags are known as chuval (Turkmens), kap (Uzbeks) and kosh jabik (Kirghiz). Anyway, both forms were rather functional and depended on requirements of the moment.

Napramachs were produced in both pile and non-pile weaving; also bags from a fabric (Lakai basically) have been popular among the nomads.

Carefulness of manufacture is characteristic for these products because of the heavy wear they are exposed to.

The traditional design includes three identical medallions in the central field, a narrow border decorated by simple geometrical motives – S signs, small rhombuses, horn-shaped motives etc. Nevertheless, we won’t meet two identical products – a variety of their decor is reached by variations of details and colors.

Napramach from the Collection of Reinhard Blanck and Stefan Dobadka.

The basic types of the main medallions are straight or stepped rhombuses, in a frame of curled horns. Cross-shaped motives, eight- pointed stars can be seen in the centers of the rhombuses.

A cross with a rhombus in the center and in a frame of horns is the most ancient motive in textiles of Central Asian nomadic people; we meet the earliest example on a felt carpet from the burial grounds of Pazyryk with the image of the regal horseman and the Goddess (6 – 5 centuries B.C.). Semantics of this motive are really global: a rhombus – a classical symbol of fertility, a cross – the Sun, fire; horns – a productive force. Thus, one motive as the universal symbol of life, comprised the major values that has been claimed in many centuries.

Another popular motive is the stepped medallion in a frame of horns; on napramachs of Uzbeks-Turkmen (Nurata area) it is known as the Chodor muyiz (Chodor horns); this motive reflects a cultural contact between Uzbeks and Turkmens of the Mangyshlak area, the Yomuds and Chodors.

Napramach from the Collection of Reinhard Blanck and Stefan Dobadka.

The same medallion we will meet in Azerbaijani (Mugan, Nahichevan; it is known as the Mugan-gul) and Anatolian carpets which testifies the nomads migrations (Oguz-Seljuks tribes). This medallion is known in Europe as the Memling-gul as it is embodied in a picture by the Flemish painter Hans Memling «The Virgin and Child with St. James and St. Dominic presenting the Donors and their Family» (truth, there were only 8 instead of 12 horns, but we will forgive him the discrepancy of drawing). A remarkable way of migration for a motive!

“The Virgin and Child” by Hans Memling.

It is a known theori, that this given motive is an image of the ancient nomad’s calendar based on a 12-years cycle (L. Kerimov), which was symbolized by 12 curls of horns. Such calendar was inherent for the Tengri cult and known among ancient Turkic tribes as muchal (or mushel).

This symbol was also an embodiment of repeatability of life cycles; it defined the rhythm of life of the steppe people, morally-ethical standards of life, and was important for all tribes without exceptions. That’s why this motive was repeated in centuries on ware bags, though they were everyday objects, and marked the idea of eternal and infinite movement personifying the nomad’s life.

Napramachs practically aren’t produced today, but amazing old samples are of true value for collectors and fans of Central Asian nomad arts.

A special thank to Reinhard Blanck and Stefan Dobadka for given us permission to use their images. Their collection is one of the finest and most comprehensive and can be seen at

Dr. Elmira Gyul, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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