Mordovian national costume
Mordovian national costume
Traditional costume of Mordovians (Mokshanians and Erzyanians), the most numerous Finno-Ugric people of Russia, gives a perfect conception of the national ideal of beauty. It unites all kinds of art creativity: embroidery, weaving, making adornments of glass beads, beads, cowries. The ways of putting on and wearing national clothes, were hereditary skills passed from a parent to a child. Local varieties of Mokshanian and Erzyainian clothes and specific details appeared in ancient times. Art aptitude of the people and originality of their creative thinking are embodied in national costume.
While studying traditional rural wear one involuntarily notes that all forms and the technique of doing components belong to the remote times quite unlike the present. Mordovian women, custodians of cultural patrimonial traditions, have saved up the ideals of the nation in clothes for centuries. Using ancestors’ costume woman showed affinity, relationship with her tribespeople. Adherence to customs of ancestors manifested itself in national clothes.
The majority of materials for clothes were homemade: silky linen and slightly rude hempen for dresses, woolen fabric for warm wear, woolen threads painted by vegetative dyes for embroidering.
During the centuries up to the beginning of the 20th century, the geography of settling affected the complex of national clothes. Generated in the centre of the European part of Russia, Mordovian costume consisted of underwear, light over clothing, a set of warm and winter wear. Detachable details and adornments, original headdresses and footwear completed national costume.
A set of adornments was the pride of a Mordovian woman. By adornments people judged of the family’s wealth. They were carefully kept and passed from a parent to a child. The decayed details were updated by new materials. An inquisitive person can see in decorations of Mordovian costume old glass beads, rarities of Russian and foreign numismatics, old military awards, amulets from pilgrimages to the Sacred Earth and sets of original trifles that by unknown ways got in Mordovian villages.
Woman wear was more expressive and remarkable for its adherence to original forms of national clothes. In comparison with menswear, woman clothes reveal features of local originality more brightly. For this reason, the articles of woman clothes dating back to the mid 19th — early 20th centuries prevail in museum collections. In this period traditional techniques of embroidering, weaving, threading adornments were enriched with new materials and technical opportunities. National costume played an important role in rural and family ceremonies, was a guarantor of moral principles, a determinant of the family and social status and of the person’s age, a parameter of mastery and wealth.
Menswear lost features of national originality earlier It is more rational and so a parameter of its smart and festive character was better quality of handmade or manufactured fabrics. The articles of Mordovian menswear demonstrate a definite uniformity typical for all local groups.
Many elements of Mordovian costume up to the 20th century had old-fashioned styles and forms. During many centuries, the design of national clothes depended not so much on features of a body as on characteristics of homespun cloth. A width of cloth was a measure for making wear. Clothes that open down were cut out of two or three widths. Details of clothes were sewed along straight lines and had rectangular or cut on the skew gussets. The majority of Finno-Ugric people of Russia have known this specific cut since ancient times. The significant length of the clothes regulated with a belt is typical for old-fashioned clothes. In the past, the type of clothes consisting of several put one on another pieces was designed.
A tunic from white linen cloth sewed without shoulder seams was a basis for Mordovian woman wear. This long loose chemise had a direct silhouette and a characteristic arrangement of ornaments allowed to define the place where the chemise had begun to exist.
Erzyanians chemises were sewed of two linen widths. They were folded in half across to form a silhouette. A chemise had a hole for a collar along the central seam and a slit up the front; sleeves were sewed in side seams under the right angle. This kind of cut is considered to be the most old-fashioned.
The cut of Mokshanian chemise differed from the cut of Erzyanian one. A basis was a one-piece linen cloth folded in half across a shoulder line. Chemise had two square armholes for long straight sleeves. The people of the Volga region widely used this kind of cutting out clothes. Erzyanian used it for woman linen dresses that open down and for man shirts.
A wide, tunic-shaped Mordovian chemise had a set of additional details that helped women to give desirable silhouette to costume. The ways of weaving woolen belts on fingers and planks came from the remote past. Original fibulae syulgam to spin the edges of a cut for a collar have not gone out of the use for a thousand years. As memory of seamless clothes, Mordvinians kept the tradition to cover hips with layers of cloth strips and adornments to form monumental size. Moral and art principles required that an obligatory set of elements was available. It was improperly to wear clothes without either a belt or a sash, Woman were ashamed of going out without headdresses and Erzyanian women – without hip adornments poulais.
It was difficult for a strange to realize why Erzyanian women completed costumes with many details. However, Mordovian costume charmed, surprised and required to solve it. It is not mere chance that in the works of scientist we can read the next: «Mordovian woman costume is a crowning point of Mordovian women’s creativity. It has quite significant variety of forms and can be an object for an original ethnographical study».
In historical aspect the development of national costume is similar to human life. In the early of its existence costume selected simple and convenient forms suitable for vital functions of people. While developing, national costume became a part of the ceremonial system of the society, got symbolic features. The period of blossoming and maturity of national costume is associated with its multifunctionality that was taken as a law of cultural tradition. A refusal to follow this tradition in costume demonstrates the act of its destruction, becoming obsolete or degeneration, and as a result the cessation of its existence: national costume becoming simpler and can disappear from the arena of ethnic culture.
Together with a person, costume passes all stages of growing up. In the traditional environment such course of changes is ritual; each stage is sensible and surrounded by ceremonial actions or symbols. It is very important that the first baby’s clothes were made from old clothes of its parents. Worn fabrics, friable and softened were considered to be not only practical material for diapers, but clothes passing power from adults to a newborn: from father – to son, from mother – to daughter. A rectangular rag of fabric for a baby’s diaper is the most ancient form of clothes. Up to the 20th century, Mordvinians carried babies in a long shawl puton over a shoulder. A baby was close to a mother’s body, and the shawl formed a sacral bosom protecting a kid. There was used a special ceremonial detail – a bridal shawl saved by a woman after the wedding. A Mordovian bridal shawl was considered to be an amulet for a child and used as cradle curtains.
Usually the first clothes are children’s shirts. They were unisex, but it was the rule to wear them with belts. Children wear was made from bird’s eye fabric and did not have embroidery. It means that a little baby was not included in a patriarchal community and under a certain age was only protected by the family.
The transition in a new age group began at the age of 5 — 7. It was a turning point, because children started to take part in the affairs of adults getting certain independence. In this important period children began to wear man and woman clothes. Though boys continued to wear shirts from bird’s eye fabric in their wardrobe pants appeared. Girl wear included a white chemise embroidered with traditional for the district ornament and a smart homespun belt. An opportunity to have a beautiful necklace was compensated by children’s fashion or avery ancient tradition to wear beads of berries and seeds. Though the first real beads, ear rings or bought ribbons were longing signs of growing up.
It was very important to learn to wear neat and clean clothes. Practical skills to belt clothes, to make getters and pleats under a belt were acquired in the process of watching adults. However, the factor of encouragement, of mother and grandmother’s delight, changed the putting on clothes into a certain cult, which was a rule, a norm passed from generation to generation.
From the age of 7 — 9, girl wear was in complete accordance with traditional cannons. Clothes informed that a rural community got a new member. From this moment, a girl had a number of duties in order to become an equal member of a society by the marriage time. The main care of the future mistress was to learn how to spin, weave, and embroider. Until the age of 14 — to 16, girls prepared trousseau. In so-called «months of sitting», family released her from any sort of house and agricultural works to weave cloth, embroider and make chemises for herself and to prepare for wedding gifts for the future relatives and guests.
This process of preparing trousseau had its periodicity, course and order. On harvesting in autumn peasant women processed flax and hemp, made the fibers from the steams of flax plans. Late autumn was the time when they spun. Until late at night in log huts a chip burned, spindles and distaffs buzzed, making thin threads. It was necessary to spin enough threads until Christmas. Up to March days, women weaved cloth. Alkaline solгtion and bright sunrays helped to make fabric snow- white. When days became longer women and girls began embroidering. The skill of embroidering was especially encouraged in Mordovian people. During warm seasons the most comfortable place for work was a porch, in a dark hut heated by a chimneyless stove, it was difficult to make coloured stitches on pieces of clothing and it was easy to soil white fabric with soot. Therefore, needlewomen sewed, embroidered and weaved smart belts in the yard. All members of the village community estimated the quality of made dresses hand.
In the clothes of Mordovian maiden and woman the stages of ageing process are traced more distinctly. On attaining the age of majority, significant elements appeared in maiden clothes. In Erzyanian girl costume an obligatory detail was hip adornments, and Mokshanian girls worn long pants under chemises; the pants were seen a little from under over clothes. In the past, the clothes of Mordovian girls had special decorations. The maiden chemises had brighter trimmings on the skirts or special embroidery.
By the age of majority the whole costume complicated breast adornments and necklaces had special significance.
Indispensable attribute of Mordovian costume was a breast fibula – syulgam. The etymology of the word, known in the past in the both Mokshanian and Erzyanian languages, goes back to the Mordovian word syalgoms that means «to pin». Now the word syulgam has practically disappeared from the Mordovian spoken language, as in modern clothes a national fibula is a great rarity. Once, a heavy syulgam decorated with beads and chains was simultaneously the main breast adornment and a clasp to pin together the edges of a cut for a collar in Mokshanian and Erzyanian costumes. This adornment was considered to be an amulet. In maiden costume the clasp with a pin, the basis of syulgam, was hidden from extraneous eyes under necklaces or collars of beads.
An abundance of coins, bells, glass and porcelain beads made various original adornments, which were means to show that a girl had dowry and was ready to get married. There were special holidays when girls went out to the street in their best clothes to show beautiful bought, spun, weaved, embroidered pieces of clothing.
Headdress was the most important part of girl wear. In spite of the fact that a good plait of hair was a synonym of the maiden beauty in many nations, Mordovian hair adornments: ribbons, frontlets, diadems and caps were rather original. They were a picturesque crown of national costume, «transform women into bright flowers». This figure of speech is not spontaneous: in the 20th century, bright handmade flowers came in fashion and enriched the decor of maiden headdresses.
The most responsible moment in the life of a woman, therefore in life of the whole clan, was a wedding. Clear for each person act of family formation was an important part in the complex ceremonial system of Mordovian people and the changes in this ritual manifested themselves in wedding dresses. Man ritual clothes were white shirts decorated with ornaments, embroideries, spangles and red calico strips. From olden times, the pride of menswear was a homespun belt received in a gift from beloved or bought at the fair. In later time, prestigious things were details of city costume: waistcoats, jackets, gloves, foppish caps.
However, woman costume played the most important semantic role in a wedding ceremony, especially dresses of two main heroines — a bride and a matchmaker kudava.
In a wedding ritual, a bride appears in three hypostases: girl, maiden, married woman. From the day of matchmaking on to a wedding ceremony, a girl was wearing the most beautiful girl dress symbolizing a rich life in the house of parents and carefree girlhood. Shortly before wedding, the dramatic ceremony of mourning over girlhood was performed; all participants of the ceremony worn mourning white clothes. The sense of this part of a wedding ceremony was more significant and symbolic than simple parting with a free life. It has its origins in deep layers of folk beliefs.
During this ceremony a bride was sorrowing over a symbolic death associated with the idea of the future reviving in a new hypostasis of a married woman. This ceremony has its parallels in the cultural traditions of Mordovian people. For example, on the holiday of Farewell to spring — Tundon’ Il’tyamo — the transition from spring into summer was celebrated in the similar way. The Spring-Girl or its symbols – a wreath of flowers, a birch decorated with ribbons were left in the field or at the cemetery or dropped down the river so that Mother Nature would return to people in all its woman fertility.
A bride made the similar transition. As a spring birch, her plait was decorated with ribbons, rings, bracelets. On changing her hairdress, a newly married maiden presented the hair adornments to the guests – girls and maidens. All inhabitants of the village came to admire the bride, to share in the happy of a new married couple.
The other important person of a wedding ceremony from the moment of bride’s transition into a new hypostasis was a matchmaker – «the general at a wedding table». The especial attention was paid to the choice of a matchmaker and her costume. A beautiful, healthy, young woman necessarily having children invited for a role of a matchmaker, she symbolized mature fertility. Her costume fused elements of smart maiden wear with details of married woman one. A bride put on her most beautiful dress on the second day of a wedding. In the olden time, it was a skillfully embroidered chemise, which was worn over a modestly decorated one. This costume had a special name, Erzyanians called it pokai, ozhakipokai, — Mokshanians and Erzyanians inTengushevo region — nangun ’panar, Mokshanians in Zubovo-Polyana region — langokayam shcham. A traditional set of adornments for festive clothes was completed with strips of cloth fastened to the sides of a dress and breast brackets. An obligatory detail of Erzyanian woman wear was an over linen chemise that opens down rutsya with dense embroideries on the front part.
There was a special ceremony of changing a maiden headdress for woman one. After changing a maiden hairdress for woman, a bride had to cover her hair but until elder daughters-in-law did not accepted young one in the family, she worn a headdress of a transition type of hairdress. This headdress had closed form typical for a woman headdress and decorative elements of a girl one: an abundance of ribbons, braids, spangles etc. In the 20th century on spreading manufactured silk fabrics and woolen scarves, a traditional headdress of a new married woman was changed for a fashionable shawl with a fringe and a smart frontlet with local ornaments. This novelty has appeared to be so popular that in the present the manner of wearing a shawl with a fringe around the head is an original element of modern national costume. While putting on headdresses, women have to help each other, as it is very difficult to put it on independently. Thus, a century later we can watch a performance of dressing for a wedding ceremony.
The culmination of developing national costume was the final change of a new married woman headdress for a woman one. According to the rules of a national ritual, this change took place not earlier than half a year later, or after a birth of the first-born. A young wife was embroidering a new headdress at husband’s home under the supervision of elder women. The headdress had a form and ornaments customary in the husband’s family. It is possible that a lime bast or wooden frame inside a headdress had both form-building and symbolical meanings.
The symbol of a tree, the tree of life, at a Mordovian wedding ceremony has its plot of developing: from a ceremonial apple tree twig shach umarina (a blossoming apple-tree) which was a decoration for a wedding pie and the ceremony of making a wedding tilt cart onava or ulema kudo (the house of life) of twigs up to the ritual of calling a new married woman her new name lemdema. M.E.Evsevyev describes this ritual: «One of participants of the ritual … climbs on the step of an oven and chopped up a chip from the third log from the ceiling. Then went down and put a chip on the head of a bride… saying a new name for a bride»2. Then the chip and twigs of a wedding tilt cart were burnt down. The scientist explains this ceremony as follows: «In order that a young wife can stop thinking of her native home and be attached to the new family, it was made fire on the hearth. Then a bride was brought to the fire and guests wished that memories of her native home would disappear from her mind as smoke left fire and disappeared in the air».
Later during the ceremony of changing a headdress, senior daughters-in-law dropped a woman headdress down through a chimney, to express that House Spirit agreed to accept a new mistress, as a member of family. If a wooden frame inside of a headdress did not bum down it meant goodwill of House Spirit. A young mistress wore this headdress as a sign of membership of the family for all her life. Practically all old-fashioned headdresses of Mordovian women have wooden or lime bast frame inside. The forehead part of a headdress has elaborate, possibly securing ornaments, which were covered with layers of decorative strips, ribbons, silk scarves folded diagonally, in her maturity, woman became a custodian of national traditions. She cared of children and exemplified aesthetic tastes. Clothes of reproductive-age women had a complete set of details and bright decorativeness. However, gradually smart clothes were changing for rational ones. The set of details was simplified. In this aspect, the changes in decorations of headdresses, which in the course of life were becoming simpler, are especially indicative. Expensive sewed-on pieces of braid, spangles, chains, were gradually being replaced with embroidery. At the age of 35—40, the most of women changed their bright smart headdresses for elderly woman ones.
Elderly people clothes had old-fashioned cut and details, paying homage to traditions for a longer time. On passing the reproductive age, women again changed elements of clothes. The time in a woman’s life, when she is no longer capable of getting pregnant was taken as clarification and manifested itself in the change of decorations on clothes. Chemises of elderly women were decorated like ones of girls, but colours of embroidery were darker and ornaments were less dense with empty space. In the 20th century, elderly women began to use manufactured fabrics of dark blue and black colours for aprons and decorating skirts and sleeves.
Elderly women had a minimal set of adornments: 1—3 strings of small beads and functionally necessary breast fibulae syulgam. Instead of decorative collars and bibs elderly women worn unbleached linen or white manufactured kerchiefs tied around a neck, or a modest bib made of cloth and decorated with stitches.
Coming to the end of a life, a woman prepared a «mortal packet». It was a costume of traditional style: a chemise with a uncut collar – in order that none of alive could not try on it -, a belt, a headdress, onuchas and abbs, bast shoes and a shroud, and cloth to cover a body and hands. It was the last ritual dress, the finish in the history of costume and the life of a person. However, the history repeated from generation to generation, following traditions of Mordovian national culture.
The place of the Mordovian nation genesis was the land between the Oka and Sura rivers. Until now Mokshanians and Erzyanians inhabit the lands where Mordovian tribes lived in the past: central and southern areas of Nizhniy Novgorod region, the territory of the Republic Mordovia, Penza region and the northern areas of Saratov region. There many traditional forms of material and spiritual culture have been saved.
The changes in the history of Russia affected ethnic situation in the country. Serfdom and converting to Christianity forced people to leave their villages and move to other places developing new territories. Since the 17th century Mordvinians have settled on the left bank of the Volga.
The immigration affected the development of folk creativity. In particular, national clothes reacted sensitively to the changes in life of people by generating variety of local variants of national costume. Each local group had its laws and concepts of ideal.
They depended on some unknown natural or economic impulses dictating choice of a form, colour, materials and purchased details that centuries later would be a canon. In the middle of the 20th century, researchers made the exact classification of twelve local groups of Mordovian clothes and determined their geographical borders. These data are very convenient for acquainting with the theme of national costume. The geography of costume does not coincide with the administrative borders. Some local kinds of national costume can be found in different regions, the others — only within one.
Erzyanian costume was worn in the east areas of modern Mordovia and boundary areas of Chuvashiya and Ulyanovsk region. This land is inmost treasury of Erzyanian national traditions that have manifested themselves in the national costume of the eastern group. The especial type of costume was worn in the southern areas of Nizhniy Novgorod region, (to the north of Mordovia); it is the national costume of the northern group. The Erzyanian population of the northern areas of ancient Mordovian lands was affected by Russian culture. Nevertheless, national costume has some old-fashioned forms and details. The ethnic history has generated the culture of a small group of national costume in the northwest of Mordovia. It has been called the northwest group, given group of national costume has the traces of the culture of the ancient Finno-Ugric tribes occupied the lands along the Oka river and its inflows and the traces of contacts with Mokshanians, Russians and Tatars. It is possible that the costume of the terryushevskaya group of Russified Mordvinians who have settled in Dalnekonstantinovsk area of Nizhniy Novgorod region also has Erzyanian origins.
Despite of a compact arrangement of Mokshanian villages in Mordovia and in the neighbour areas of Penza region, there are original local groups of national costume there: northern, western, southern, central demonstrating national cultural traditions. The group of national costume, which was worn in the southwest areas of Mordovia and Belinsky area of Penza region, has specific features.
Mokshanians and Erzyanians resided compactly on the eastern territories of Penza province. Mordvinians, living in Peza and Saratov provinces, videlicet in Gorod- nishchenski and Kuznetski uyezds, worn Erzyanians costumes of the Gorodnishchenskaya and Kuznetskaya groups. Erzyanian costume occurred in the Volga region is of originality. It has features of cultures from the different areas of native Mordovian territory.
Variety of material culture forms is unique property of the Mordovian people. It is remarkable that in the present the inhabitants of villages have an interest in historic traditions. They zealously obey the rules of selecting details for a costume. The main aesthetic standard is the costume of the native village. A remarkable disparity in types and styles of national costume, ornaments and decorations points to the fact that Mordvinians were the people of different tribes who have managed to save unique culture of their ancestors. Due to Mordovian costume we can learn the history Mokshanians and Erzyanians, feel the power of their aesthetic ideals.
At the beginning of the 21st century, attentive custodians of rural traditions can find many differences between their national clothes and the costume from a neighbour village. Incomprehensibly, but also today successors of culture are able «to read» costume, its ornaments and embroideries. At festivals, they are veiy natural in their national costumes, which are consonant with an independent, open, cheerful and creative spirit of the nation.