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Schoolmaster and Kuba

July 2015


Carpets here, as in many other weaving districts, were a commercial item of long-standing.  The report of a local schoolmaster1 rather nicely delineates the dimensions and practices of an almost purely local trade in the mid-1880’s:

The Kuba District -- The production of rugs, sumaks, khurdzhins, and chuvals

The wealth and variety of natural materials of the Kuba district offers its inhabitants many means for making a living.  Besides farming, which is the people’s chief occupation, much of the rural population spends the time it has free from working in the fields engaged in various crafts and kustar’ industries, some of which are particular to a given locality, others of which are equally distributed over the entire district.  Of the latter, the most widely practiced industry is s the production of woolen goods, sumaks (pileless rugs), khurdzhins (saddlebags) and chuvals (sacks).  The development of this industry is fostered by the conditions of daily life among the Muslim population, in whose homes rugs take the place of bedding , furniture, etc. and khurdzhins and chuvals, being durable and water-proof, are far more valuable than the same articles made of hemp.

The production of rugs, sumaks, etc. takes place in the homes of crafts people for the most part in the living quarters; they do not make special equipment: they use an ordinary home-made apparatus similar to a weaver’s loom; a warp made of wool yarns of one color, usually white, is stretched over the loom; then, if a sumac is being made the warp is woven with perpendicular colored yarns that form a pattern; the ends of the yarns end up on the bottom side of the sumac (the back).  If it is a rug that is being made, then the procedure is that used in weaving a loose canvas, in which the holes formed in the fabric are “woven through” with yarns of various colors (the nap), which on the right side of the rug are cropped using ordinary scissors or shaved with a razor to make the nap even.  In rugs and sumaks both fine and thick yarn is used, while in khurdzhins and chuvals, to make them water-proof, a firmer yarn is used and the weaving is done as tightly as possible.

The  only material used in the production of the above-mentioned articles is the product of local sheep-raising wool from which yarn is spun on a wheel.  The yarn is dyed with madder (which at one time constituted the chief wealth of this people), sandalwood, and other dyes; alum is mixed into the dyes for added durability.

Weaving is the occupation exclusively of women and girls, beginning the age of 12.  The warp is usually stretched on [the loom] by two women, and the rest of the work is performed simultaneously by from 2 to 5 people, according to the width of the sumac.  The work itself is performed entirely without assigning particular parts to individual workers, and is particularly meticulous.  Thus, a rug or sumac of average size – 3 arshins long and 2 wide [ca. 84 x 56 inches] – takes one woman about 2—2.5 months to make; if she has two adolescents to assist her the job may be done in a month.  One woman can make a khurdzhin in 15 days and a chuval in 10.

The production of these articles, thanks to extensive sales, is gradually improving.  The industry itself has existed since time immemorial.  The articles are sold at the place where they are manufactured; the main buyers are Jews, part of whose trade in rugs is in kind, in which they barter rugs for chintz, buckram and wool cloth; in this, of course, they have their own interests in mind more so than those of the craftspeople.  The articles are bought up and sent in large lots to Baku, Tiflis and abroad; rugs going abroad are primarily second hand, since no duty is charged on them.  The prices for these articles vary, depending, of course, on their size, quality and materials: thus, for example, the rug-makers charge from 6 to 35 rubles for a rug (the Jews charge 1.5 times more), from 10 to 45 rubles for a sumac, from 1.5 to 10 rubles for a khurdzhin and from 1 to 4 rubles for a chuval.

The average income from rugs for one rug-maker can each 20 rubles as year.

Rug-making work begins after the grain harvest, i.e. around the middle of September, and continues until spring. The work does not have any appreciable effect on the workers’ health, since at every opportunity it is performed outdoors.

There are no cooperatives of craftspeople in the rug-making industry: each family works independently in its own home and produces all the materials it needs itself.

Since the craftspeople do not form cooperatives and do not have workshops, and each family works independently, this industry can have no ill effects on the morals of those involved.  They also cannot boast of particular material well-being, since in most cases they sell their products to buyers at paltry prices: especially when tax-paying time comes the villages are literally full of Jews buying up articles for whatever they feel like paying.

The ability and artistry of the craftspeople is manifested in the quality of the articles themselves: their designs [risuhki] are not without their beauty and originality.

There are no schools among the craftspeople: each daughter learns from her mother; the children learn first by watching their parents at work, and then little by little they start to take part themselves, and in this way, they gradually and imperceptibly learn the process.

Although the manufacture of rugs, sumaks, etc., does not constitute the sole occupation of the majority of the population, this industry is practically the leading contributor to their material well-being; for this reason the development of the industry is worthy of attention.  Initially it would suffice to arrange for the appropriate sale of articles being produced, for which one must open bazaars in the larger population centers of the district, and a trade fair in the city of Kuba, and at the same time inform people of the existence of he trade fair in the city of Kuba, and at the same time explain its significance.  In this way the craftspeople will be freed from the Jewish kulaks, will realize the value of the articles they produce, will start to respond to the demands and tastes of the buying public and, in this way, will gradually develop an industry which is still in its infancy.


Supervisor of the Kuba Municipal Two-year Elementary School, Vladimir Pyshenko

[1] Collected Materials for the Description of the Localities and Tribes of the Caucasus.

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Copyright � Richard E. Wright,  All Rights Reserved