Ak-kalpak craftsmanship, traditional knowledge and skills in making and wearing Kyrgyz men’s headwear

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Inscribed in 2019 (14.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Public Foundation 'Min Kiyal', Kyrgyzstan, 2018

Ak-kalpak craftsmanship is a traditional Kyrgyz handicraft. The Ak-kalpak is a traditional male hat made with white felt, which bears deep sacral meanings. Ak-kalpak craftsmanship is a cumulative, ever-evolving body of knowledge and skills passed down by craftswomen in the communities concerned comprising felting, cutting and sewing and pattern embroidery. Related knowledge and skills are transmitted via oral coaching, hands-on training and joint making in workshops. More than eighty kinds of Ak-kalpak can be distinguished, decorated with various patterns bearing a sacred meaning and history. Environmentally friendly and comfortable, the Ak-kalpak resembles a snow peak, with four sides representing the four elements: air, water, fire and earth. The four edging lines symbolize life, with the tassels on the top symbolizing ancestors’ posterity and memory, and the pattern symbolizing the family tree. Ak-kalpak unites different Kyrgyz tribes and communities and makes Kyrgyz people recognizable to other ethnic groups. It also fosters inclusivity when representatives of other ethnic groups wear it on holidays or days of mourning to express unity and sympathy. There are workshops all over the country where related knowledge and skills are passed down, and in 2013 a project entitled ‘From generation to generation’ was conducted on traditional Ak-kalpak-making techniques nationwide, resulting in an exhibition and published book.

Old men in Kyrgyz traditional headwear Ak-kalpak giving a bless at the holiday; Ak-kalpak symbolizes patriotic unity, especially in days of celebrations and ritual events
The process of felt making; to manufacture Ak-kalpak, there is a need of fine-fleeced sheep wool
Prepared felt cut depending of the specific kind of Ak-kalpak
The secrets of crafting transmitted from older generation to younger people. They learn the variety of Ak-kalpak's cut and sewing.
Embroidery of Ak-kalpak patterns; Ak-kalpak is often decorated with various ornaments, each of which has its own special meaning and can be interpreted.
The knowledge and skills of Ak-kalpak craftsmanship are transmitted from the older generation to the younger one through practical training in-person sessions. The training happens in craftswomen's workshops, from masters to trainees.
A groom and a bride in Kyrgyz traditional headwears, Ak-kalpak and Shokulo; the modern Kygyze wedding clothes organized in different ways; however, wearing Ak-kalpak is still safeguarded.
The craftswoman demonstrating different types and colors of Ak-kalpak for all ages
Children in Kyrgyz traditional headwear Ak-kalpak in everyday life regardless of age, weather as well as of fashion
The Kyrgyz traditional clothes and headwears Ak-kalpak and Elechek; the distinct features of Kyrgyz traditional clothes are typical to the nomad clothing. For many centuries, the traditional clothes are still safeguarded; and they have never changed its form.