Elechek, Kyrgyz female headwear: traditional knowledge and rituals


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Inscribed in 2023 (18.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Kiyiz Duino Public Foundation, Kyrgyzstan, 2022

Elechek is a traditional female headwear consisting of a hair cap and a very long piece of white fabric that is wrapped around the head like a turban and adorned with embroidery, ribbons and jewellery. The practice is an integral part of the traditional marriage ceremony in Kyrgyzstan. A rite of passage, the ritual of wrapping the bride’s first elechek takes place at her family’s house before she leaves with the groom. During the ceremony, elders utter blessings to convey the community’s wishes for the bride and her new family, such as good health, fertility, and harmony. A married woman may wear the elechek at significant occasions, changing its styles accordingly. Many communities have developed their own styles and rituals, and the styles used can indicate a person’s age and her social and marital status. The knowledge and skills are usually transmitted informally during wrapping ceremonies, from mothers to daughters and from female elders to younger women. However, in recent years, groups of women have started transmitting the knowledge and skills in new ways, including through workshops, online video lessons and collaborations with local scholars and researchers. Elechek contributes to a shared cultural identity, strengthening intergenerational ties and promoting solidarity and empowerment.