Kyrgyz kalpaks

White kalpak from Kyrgyzstan, early 21st century, from the TRC collection (TRC 2013.0391).

White kalpak from Kyrgyzstan, early 21st century, from the TRC collection (TRC 2013.0391).

The Kyrgyz kalpak cap has recently been added to UNESCO’s list of Cultural Heritage! The TRC collection includes several kalpaks (TRC 2013.0390 and TRC 2013.0391). But what is a kalpak

It is a large cap made of felt with a black lining and rim. This type of cap has a long history in Central Asia and beyond. It was also worn in southern Russia and in the Volga region. It is known in Russian as the 'klobuk'. Wearing a kalpak often indicated the high social status of the wearer.

Nowadays the kalpak is still worn by Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Karakalpaks, ethnically related groups, all of whom are speaking a Turkic language and are living in Central Asia.

A white coloured kalpak (ak kalpak) is particularly distinctive for the Kyrgyz, who live in the mountainous lands of South Central Asia, along the western borders of China.

The Kyrgyzstan government has for some time actively been pushing for the recognition of the white kalpak as a 'typically' Uzbek headdress, and this has resulted in the recent UNESCO decision.

Type of kalpak worn by a Kazakh in Central Asia. The photograph was taken c. 1870 (courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-14240).

Type of kalpak worn by a Kazakh in Central Asia. The photograph was taken c. 1870 (courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-14240).

In the 19th century, ceremonial kalpaks were heavily embroidered. Nowadays there is usually a single, embroidered motif that is worked in chain stitch in black. It is generally made of four section sewn together, decorated with simple embroidery and a tassel on top.

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