Colors Through Eyes and Hands Through Anatolian Weavers

Weaving activity in Anatolia dates back at least 9,000 years and is practiced by Anatolian men and especially women in parallel to the daily needs and requirements, but always with wisdom, experience and aesthetics proper to this very land. The aesthetics of Anatolian weaver is based on the technical properties of the weaving itself and mostly to different designations created by them in terms of different pattern vocabulary and composition differentiated between each other by the only visual effect possible for distinction; the color.

In this simple and humble article, we will try to pass over the meaning of distinctive colors very much used by the weaving communities for more than 9,000 years. One should not forget that Anatolian weavers have the historical and anthropologic background of the indigenous archaic civilizations lived in Anatolia and the Turkic newcomers who brought very impactful weaving and graphic properties from central Asia. We will make some allegories between the meaning of the colors used in the old weavings and the Turkish

The Red

Red is one of the often used colors if not the most often, is generally obtained from madder plant roots. The red symbolizes the life and essence of life in the weavings, as it is the color of human blood. Also red is the color of maturity, and wisdom, always related to the blood and menstruation of a woman who passes to maturity from childhood. The red is the symbol of the heart also who beats more powerfully in the human body in case of extreme emotions, the most often, love. Also the red symbolizes the devotion of oneself, self-sacrifice. The practices often fund in shamanism such as blood giving or blood brotherhood always runs around the self-sacrifice concept. The term Kizil-bash or Qizil-bash in some Turkic dialects symbolizing the love of the Muslim saint Ali, is symbolized by wearing a red turban or putting a red ribbon around the head in order to be distinguished among other Muslims as a loyal lover of the path of Ali, created some tribal affiliations always related with Sufism and Muslim mysticism which have roots also dept into shamanistic beliefs and applications of the Turkic tribal people in the mystic perception of the religion by nomad minds. So in that meaning red is the color of the devotion to the holy path, a divine color, the color of the protector (god itself and ancestors who devoted themselves to the holy path) who protects the family and the lineage. The red is also the color of the flag, especially the war flag that is named “Sanjak” in the Turkish language. Always related to the blood the red flag was and is very important and holy in pre-Islamic and Islamic Turkic cultures. Sanjak is an object to be respected and to be afraid of exactly like an idol and should behold and kept when one is clean. It is believed that the red sanjak protects its believers, able to end off the big fires or bless people as being a non-living object which has a soul in it. One can see these applications during Karbala martyrdom ceremonies of Shiite and Alevi Turks.

In villages the wedding dresses were red and not white, and also the head wearing Turkish women worn obligatorily after being married should definitely contain red and green in it. So it is at the same time the color of being a mother, which means a semi-divine creature. Interestingly fatherhood has no such a property in Turkic cultures but motherhood is very different by its protective, caretaking, and forgiving properties and symbolized by red.

The red is also the color of the fire, the warmth, another source of life beside the water. The human body is cold after being dead, to fire gives light and shelter during cold and dark nights, so it should be respected. So one never pours water of the fire, it is a big sin, a reason for the curse to fall upon sky on the encampment. So red is to be respected as the life itself.

The Apricot-Pink

in this article apricot and pink colors are held together because formula wise they are obtained from the same plant (madder root) with the same recipe, just differentiated by little additions and always possible to turn one into the other during the dyeing process. Time to time the color is in between.

The pink apricot is a symbol of love and affection. Compared to the meanings of the red, this color is more light as content, having to maturity or self-devotion subjects being too severe for this very enthusiastic color. The pink and apricot is the color of a heart of young being, as the real sense of the word. So it is no mature but more volatile, more intuitive such as love of adolescent persons, it has the property of strong and evocative passion and affection. A Turkish proverb says “Pembe-gönlüm sende!” meaning “Pink, my heart is at you!” very typical saying to describe the love of young people for each other. This color is at the same time the color of the many flowers especially those who open during the spring season, if we make allegory with the spring and the youth of the human lifetime the pink will be the state of blossom of the flowers like the blossom of the soul with the love first time experienced by the young being. In Turkish rural and nomad communities, pink is a color only allowed to be worn by young girls, and old women would be severely criticized if they wear pink and apricot despite, their age and wisdom. So the apricot and pink is also the color of the unexperienced and pure thinking, and feelings. Young boys also are allowed to wear only some small ornaments from apricot or pink such as a tissue, a piece of textile in their headwear. Or an apricot-amber color prayer beeds.

The green

The green has two main properties which is thought to impact and feed one the other. The first property of the green is being the color of the vegetation. Fertility, abundance, the resurrection of the new life after the winter period for rural people, the youth and healthiness, are always subjects related to the color. If we look at the lexicology of the word, it is always related to the water and this property links the green to blue color. In reality, from time to time it is difficult to differentiate these two colors visually and linguistically also, which shows us the perception way of the two colors by Anatolian people.

Yeshil or Yashil in some Turkic dialects the meaning of the word is “the color of the wet”. “Yash” in Turkic languages means the wet, the waterful but also the year that one person gets while aging. “Yeshillik” means vegetation, “Yashamak” means to live, have some ages, so it is related to the water to be the source of life in anywhere and for any living creature on the globe.

The second property is that green is the most loved color by the Muslim prophet Muhammad. So it is put on every religious object or building, symbolizing there is something religious around. The village’s wedding headdresses should definitely contain two and generally only two colors, red and green. That means that the marriage is a holy event and the woman had been taken promise about her belief upon the institution of the marriage as being a holy institution (wearing green on the head) and devotion of hers to the family and husband (wearing red on the head). To be married is described in rural areas by this proverb “being bride with red and green”. For the green color, there is even a specific saint named Khidir or Khizir whose name is meaning “the green one” in Arabic and which disguises in unexpected guests to check the goodwill and good intentions of the householders, who then will leave the prosperity to the house. The stains of his steps are green grazes; the sign of his arrival is the sudden vegetation over the path he passes. But in the simplest way of thinking of Anatolian weaver, “the green is the desire” “Yeshil murattır!” the desire for a young girl who weaves is to be married to a good-hearted, rich, brave and handsome young man, in a society where girls cannot choose for the future groom to be for themselves. This issue is left to the wishes and desires to be wished during the weaving, from god, from saints like khizir, from the green huge holy threes in pilgrimage centers.

The Dark and Light Blue

The modern Turkish the blue is “mavi” a word is taken from the Arabic, “mai” the water color. But going towards the rural area means some time going to the passed centuries like a time machine, and blue means “gök” “the sky color” in the places just distant to 20 km to the main cities, like last 3,000 years, during the period that proto-Turks worship the sky-god in their steppes. The blue was a divine color and describing the oneness of Turkic peoples’ deity in the sky. This is not only the color of the sky but also the color of the water coming from the sky, the rain and the big dark blue rivers on the endless steppes which take source from the rains coming from the sky. This is where the vegetation is also being described as “göklük” the things related to sky, besides “yeshillik” mentioned above. The sky means the place where the ancestors of Turks go after passing away, so the land of holy ancestors, heaven, the place where god lives. Also, it represents the pre-eternity and the past-eternity, the endless horizons, the dimensionless. It is also the color of the water, the live giver, the prosperity provider, the source of life. Hence in the weavings, blue is always related to the “other side” of life, afterlife or before life, the side of god, the house of ancestors who help and provide the continuum of the tribe. So it has to be respected, something not to be dirtied, and to be afraid of. It is the color of the wise people who have blue eyes who are accepted as capable to see the unseen, talk with souls of the universe, make spells, protect or curse others with some spells. It is the color of the evil eyes from glass to be hanged here and there for protection from evil, the eye of the sky god.

The Yellow

Contrarily to what is being though, yellow is generally a sign of sorrow, grief and sadness color in Anatolian weavings, it is time to time glory and prosperity related with the idea of gold and golden color flowers blossoming during the spring but generally, it is the color of the end of life. Nature fades and dries out to yellow in the autumn, before passing to the winter stage where all of nature is black (bark of the trees) and white (covered with the freezing snow). So the yellow is a signal of the end, the loss of vitality, fading and losing the life energy. The human body is made an allegory with the state of nature during the autumn. One loses his vitality when he is ill and also becomes pale, the pink cheeks which show the healthy situation become colorless, which is described as “becoming yellow” by Turkish women. And this fact of becoming yellow is always used in the language in addition to other words, become pale, fade. “I become yellow and faded on your way”, meaning one spent all of his life energy, all of his health in order to join the desired one but alas, the life passed.

A folk song from Sivas city says:

“I became yellow, become yellow

I became yellow for you

The head-on the cushion (very ill), the eye on the road (waiting for you)

I was asking you from all who were passing from the road.

Abdals (a dervish group) wear always green

The ones going to foreign lands always cry

Are the roses and leaves of this Sivas blossomed?

Alas what to do! The soil and waters of this foreigner land attracted us (so that I am separated from you)! ” ( please watch: )

The Purple

The purple is very rarely seen in nature, especially in a steppe climate. The rarity of the color and the difficulty to obtain a real purple either from murex snails or from the madder root is very difficult besides its extremely high cost. Because of that, purple has always been a symbol of prosperity moreover a nobleness nearly untouchable. Because of that, the color is the symbol of the prophet Jesus, a divine man, or a semi-god especially for Armenians an Assyrians who have always been related either to weaving or to dyeing activities. These attributions of the very color should have been adopted by Turkish weaving ladies but since the color is not used for at least 100 years we had very limited information of them about the attributions they were making for this color contrarily to the other colors.

The Black, Light and Dark Brown

In this paragraph, we will describe the tones of black, light and dark brown shortly as “black” again knowing that they come from very similar dyeing recipes. In Anatolia, black, light and dark brown are not always been related to the concept of death and grief contrarily to what it is supposed to be.

Black can be considered as the color of death which is described as a monster that devours all the living creatures as black devours all of the colors. The black is the color of the grief in that meaning. Some of the tribes in Turkey apply this tradition of wearing black for the mourning time whereas some wear white. The proverb very common in Turkish, “karalari bağlamak” “attaching (a headscarf of) blacks” or “karalari giyinmek” “wearing the blacks” means one practice the mourning for a loss.

On the other hand, interestingly black is the typical color of the soil, the ground. The soil is described often with an adjective “black” in the rural area. “kara yer” or “kara toprak”. This is the land of old Turkic deity “erlik” or “yerlik” which is the hell, a completely black infinite place under the soil where bad souls are kept and punished until the eternity. So the people who are as much brave and powerful as this black diety “er-lik” or “yer-lik” is also described by black. In the rural anonym literature, there are many heroes with the adjective black in front of their name. Kara Murat Kara Yülük Osman, “Karaca Oğlan etc… the very much used term “kara yagiz” means “black and brave” or black and robust”. Another meaning of the black for the weavers is something well known, habituated, or familiar. This property of the word is used for the appreciation of this familiarity such as “kara saban” “black plow” that they use often,  “kara don” “black pants” that people wear every day in their rural life, “kara düzen” the “black arrangement or organization that they are every day”. Moreover, they add an adjective of possession in front of black in order to emphasize the emotion of the appreciation of the well-known one; such as “ah! Bizim kara Ali!” “ah our black Ali that we know for a long time”. So black is very much used to describe a well-known object or issue, a brave and robust person and also something to be afraid of or to be grieved about.

The White

The white is the easiest material for Anatolian weavings to be used is white wool coming directly from the sheep. Cheap and easy it is very much used in all kinds of weaving. The white is always the symbol of purity of the untouched and unspoiled, symbolizes these meanings and also the grief and death at the same time. The human skin is whiter after being dead so whiteness is one of the properties linked with the concept of passing away.  The death concept cleans also all kinds of struggles, chaos, and suffering related to this world, so many different colors; but the Anatolian women think that the white is a suitable symbol to depict the simplicity, purity and calm state of the other world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *