Utensils

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Traditional utensils do not have much variety, which reflects the simplicity and practicality of the nomadic lifestyle. Materials used are mainly those that are locally available, including skin, wood, metals and bones. A utensil that stood in the middle of every nomadic yurt was the cast-iron kettle, called khyasn, of various volumes and mounted on tripods that were used for cooking meals, brewing tea, and distilling milk vodka. Utensils made of skin can be divided into two types according to their purpose: (1) Utensils used for eating food, and (2) for storing food and beverages. Cups, plates, spoons, containers and furniture were usually made from wood.

Today a complete set of traditional utensils can only be seen in museums. Many old and interesting utensils, especially those passed down the generations, are also kept by Kalmyk families as relics.

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  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Amulakova, Wooden Cups
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair
    Badma says that in the past the Kalmyks did not have many utensils. Neither did they have rich wardrobes. Since the number of clothes that a person could wear during his/her life was believed to be fixed, wearing ‘too many’ clothes was tantamount to shortening one’s life. There are several types of wooden cups in the Kalmyk household. When wooden cups were used on a daily basis, the elderly were keen on wider cups, for such cups are comfortable to hold. The type of wood used in cups were oak, hazelnut and maple trees (the maple was transported from Dzungaria). It was considered a bad sign to keep a broken cup at home. If the rim of a wooden cup crackled and a small bit fell off it, the cup was fixed by attaching a metal or silver ring around the rim. Each family kept no more than a couple of wooden cups that the members of the family used in turn. One cup was used by the elders who after eating their food passed on their leftovers to their grandchildren. The other cup was used between the husband and his wife.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Amulakova, Tulkh (Tripod)
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair
    Badma talks about the hearth in the yurt and relays a legend about a man who carried a heavy tripod on his shoulders. Tulkh is a tripod that supports a metal ring on which sits a pot (khyasn to cook meal). In the past when the Kalmyks lived in yurts, every family had a tulkh tripod. There is a legend about the tulkh tripod. Once upon a time there lived a man who carried a heavy tripod wherever he went. After 7 years of wondering, he returned home with his shoulders bleeding from carrying the metal tripod. He went to a fortune teller to ask about why he was carrying the tripod. The fortune teller replied: ‘See, you are doing this to repay your debt you owe to your mother’. The man enquired whether he had managed to do so, to which the fortune teller answered, ‘No, you repaid the debt of only one night. Bear in mind, there were countless sleepless nights that your mother endured to feed you and look after you’. No person can ever fully repay their mothers’ kindness.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Amulakova, Containers
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair
    Badma talks about 3 types of leather containers, including bortkh, tonkh and borv. Badma says that in the past the Kalmyks paid special attention to materials that they used to make utensils. It was important that utensils did not break during transportation. Utensils made from wood or leather satisfied this requirement. The only utensil in the yurt that was made from metal was the cooking pot. A container called bortkh was made from a horse’s or a camel’s skin. The technology is as follows: A pelt is left in sour mare’s milk (neke) for up to 8 days. During this period, the hair becomes loose and it is easy to detach it from the pelt with a wooden knife. The bortkh is made from 2 pieces of leather sewn together with a thick thread. After that, the bortkh is filled with wet mud and sand to give it the necessary shape. While it is wet, it is possible to carve decorations on it or to add one’s family’s stamps. Afterwards the bortkh is dried near the fire, by regularly turning its sides towards the source of heat. The dried bortkh is hung from the roof ring of the yurt to expose it to the smoke coming from the hearth. When it dries completely, the mud and sand is removed from the inside by shaking it. The neck of the bortkh is decorated with different metals. In the past, the wealthy people preferred silver or gold. The bortkh lid is made from wood and decorated with precious metals. When it was widely used in the past, the bortkh was carried on the saddle. Sometimes the bortkh had 2 compartments: one for chigyan (sour milk drink) and the other for vodka. It also has good heat-isolating properties. Besides the bortkh, the Kalmyks used tonkh and borv that were smaller in size. With a capacity of up to 2 liters, the tonkh is a leather container resembling the bortkh both in shape and in terms of decorations. In the past, people carried the tonkh either inside their coats or hung it around their neck. The borv is the smallest among the three containers. With a capacity of half a liter, it is made from skin derived from a camel’s leg. People usually used the borv to store milk vodka. The cork of the tonkh and the borv is made from the birch, maple or oak tree. In the video Badma shows several types of leather containers.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Amulakova, Arkhd
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair
    Badma talks about a bucket called arkhd to keep chigyan (sour milk). It holds 3 liters. It is made from the skin of a cattle or a camel. It has a wooden lid with a hole for a stick to go through. The stick is used to mix the contents. Every morning fresh milk from various animals, including cows, mares, camels and ewes, is poured into the arkhd bucket. Then women mix it with the stick for a long time. After an hour or so, it turns into butter. In the beginning the arkhd was made from leather. Later the Kalmyks learned to make it from wood. A smaller bucket for chigyan is called tashur. In the video Badma shows a tashur bucket carved from a piece of wood.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Badma Amulakova, A Legend About a Cooking Pot
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Babaev, Andrei; Babaev, Andrei; Kovaeva, Bair
    Badma recounts a Kalmyk legend about a cooking pot (khyasn). Once upon a time there lived a wealthy man who had so many livestock that there was no space left for people even to sit down on the land. Thinking about what to do with all his livestock, he went to see a lama. The lama said to him: ‘Go home, take your cooking pot by its handle and throw it into a corner’. When the wealthy man did as he had said, all his livestock disappeared. The idea behind the legend is that the Kalmyks have always valued their tableware and utensils. Every utensil had its designated place inside the yurt and it was a bad sign to through them out at will.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Alena Lidzhieva, About Traditional Utensils
    (2018-03-31) Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumova, Elvira; Terbish, Baasanjav; Churyumov, Anton; Dovurkaev, Karu
    A short interview with Alena about utensils that she saw in her childhood. Karu: What kind of utensils did you see when you were a child? Were they made from leather or wood? Alena: Everything was made from wood, cups, tea spoons. K: What did people produce from leather? A: Small bags called tulm that were closed by tying up with a string. They gave us, children, these tulm bags for collecting dung (for fuel) when we were looking after the calves out in the steppe. K: Did you use glassware? A: No, only wooden things. K: What about metalwork? A: We had a metal pot to cook meals. It had a wooden lid.
  • ItemOpen Access
    Aleksandr Koshevoi, Donzhik
    (2016-03-09) Kovaeva, Bair; Churyumov, Anton; Churyumov, Anton
    Donzhik is a vessel to keep water and other liquids. Aleksandr displays a donzhik from brass that he made for the occasion of the 550th anniversary of the epos Jangar. The donzhik is conical in shape, and it has various traditional signs and symbols engraved on it. The handle is made in the shape of a dragon. Aleksandr says that in the past donzhiks were made from wood or silver. It has a lid. The description of this vessel can be found in the diaries of Zhitetsky, at the Ethnographic Museum in St Petersburg, as well as in Mongolian sources.