The Perpetual Picnic – The nomads black tents

Category: General

by Jean – Paul Peters and Ludwina Akbulut

When I was a little boy I was allowed to build a tent in our garden with old pieces of cloth, rope and sticks.

In the confinement of my tent an imaginary world of freedom wandering around and discovering developed.  Maybe that is the reason why my imagination easily runs wild when I hear about nomads.

 Shasevan sumac collins - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents
 In the Stone Age men made a very important step when they gave up a migrant life of hunting, fishing and gathering.  By the Neolithic Age most men had settled.  They built houses and grew corn themselves.   In some regions men began breeding cattle.  They did not grow more food for the animals but traveled with the animals from one pasture to another.  As shepherds they always had to move to other regions with their animals to find enough food.  Therefore their houses also had to be mobile. 

The donkey as a pack animal was domesticated early. The donkey also proved to be a good guide.  Otherwise donkeys were not very useful as they did not produce anything useful such as wool for clothing or milk to make cheese or yogurt.  Nor is their meat eaten.  For these reasons the nomads kept the number of the pack animals to a minimum.  In this way the nomadic pattern which still exists today was born. 

During his wanderings the shepherd only carries the strictest necessities.  The nomadic cycle starts in spring with a ‘transhumance’ to the closest green meadows.   The entire family travels together for safety taking as much time as required depending upon the weather, up to several months.  

When they reach green meadows, a camp of tents is built where the nomads live for several weeks until the vegetation is consumed.  From there they move to higher regions where the snow has more recently melted and the meadows are still green.  The same pattern occurs every year with the family groups always returning to the same places not only for animals’ food but, more importantly, for the wells of potable water. 

During each move, the entire inventory of the houses are transported so the families have all they require.  They keep these items to the minimum.  For example, during the evening everyone finds comfort near to the fire, the same fire which is used to cook all their meals. Meals are not elaborate and not cooked in several pots, but only ONE stew is cooked in ONE kettle.  To wander with chairs, tables and cupboards is not possible.  Everything needs to be light and mobile and if possible the nomads carry things they can make themselves. So we see that what seems so romantic on the outside is only a pure necessity.  The perpetual picnic consists only of hard facts.

Tables and chairs are replaced by carpets and kilims, cupboards and wardrobes by all kinds of bags, beds by thick carpets…and the house itself?  They also used to weave that themselves. 

The black goat-hair tents, found mostly in Turkey and the Middle East, creates an ideal living area.

Under the warm summer sun the warm air can circulate and the tent gives cool shade in the inside.

In the rain the fibers of the handspun goat wool swell and the tent is transformed to a waterproof shelter.

The nomads used to take their loom during their travels.  Today they usually still carry their own loom but only to weave carpets or kilims which they can sell during wintertime.  Our interest in carpets changed their live.

Shasevan sumac collins - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents

To make these tents true professionalism is required as many very particular preparations are necessary.  Also the modern economy changed the traditional ways.  The black tents are still woven in the traditional way today but only by a small group of people who are working on them during the entire year.  They produce these tents not only for their own country, Turkey, but also for the entire Middle East from a few small villages at the feet of the Taurus Mountains, 50 km away from the provincial capital Aydın.

the pe3 - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents
 In the Başoluk and two other neighbouring villages in the county of Nazilli, every house has a loom.

From all over Turkey goat hair is sent to these villages.  It first is washed and than spread on the roads to dry in the sun, before the carding.   Carding is usually done today by machines.  The spinning is women’s work and is done in a very unusual way.  You can find a ‘spinning wheel’ near to every house.

 the pe4 - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents

The woman is bound to the wheel with a rope around her waist.  By stepping backwards she turns the wheel.  The woman spins with both hands from the carded goat hair bound in a ‘pack’ on her waist.

the pe5 - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents

In each hand she spins a separate yarn.  When she comes to the end of her path the two yarns are immediately twisted together to one plied yarn, and put on the ground between two pickets to form  the warp needed.  Nowhere else have I seen such an inventive system of preparing the thread and the warp at the same time.

the pe6 - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents

To prepare the loom and to weave the pieces to form the tents is men’s work.  They weave larger bands in a warp-faced plain weave to form the tent.  They add narrow bands to fortify the structure.  These can have ‘design’ by using a combination of white and black colored yarn in the warp.

the pe7 - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents

In open spaces between the village houses the tents will be assembled.

  the pe8 - The Perpetual Picnic - The nomads black tents

I agree, in this little village in the mountains of Western Turkey,  I felt again like a little boy who loved to build tents and who carried his blankets to sleep there.  When I would awake in my bed in the morning I could not remember having moved.  In our garden we had no scorpions or snakes and I think, no I am sure, that I now prefer my orthopedic mattress to the unsure life in a nomad tent.

And the nomads?  I am sure they have no stress and they never heard of ‘de-hurry’.  I can understand their fierce self-assuredness and I daydream for awhile during their hospitality.

Jean – Paul Peters and Ludwina Akbulut ( Dekorativ Carpets and Kilims), Turkey, 20 June 2003

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