SILK TRADITION PROSPERS IN AZERBAIJAN - (+FOTO)

SILK TRADITION PROSPERS IN AZERBAIJAN (+FOTO)

ALONG THE SILK ROAD

Silk manufacturing is as an ancient tradition in Azerbaijan, and spring is silkworm season. The Otharashvili family in Gakh region have a long, enclosed porch that they dedicate to the care and feeding of these distinctive white larvae. Care means maintaining the right temperature and humidity in the room. Feeding means never, ever running out of mulberry branches.

 

RAVENOUS EATERS

Silkworms are actually larvae from the eggs of the silk moth. These chubby white worms dine nonstop on mulberry leaves for about 30 days. During this time, they grow and moult several times. Cultivating silkworms may be profitable, but for this family it would be difficult to expand their silkworm operation. Why? Because they cannot guarantee an adequate supply of fresh mulberry branches.

 

 

COCOON STAGE

Eventually, the silkworms climb a branch that is placed near them, and spin their cocoons. The silk filament is formed from the larva's saliva, which solidifies when it comes into contact with air. When fully formed, a single cocoon weighs about two grams.

 

NEXT STEPS

The cocoons are then boiled to kill the pupae inside, dried, and bagged for sale to processors. The silk filament of a single cocoon may be up to 1.6 kilometers in length.

 

 

A POLICY OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Azerbaijan is encouraging sericulture, which keeps alive an ancient tradition while employing rural people. Silkworms are imported from China while still eggs. They are incubated for 10-15 days in a regional center and then distributed to farmers at no cost. Some 30 regions of the country are involved, with 72 farms in the Gakh region alone.

 

 

A CENTURIES-OLD TRADITION

Azerbaijani silk know-how doesn't stop with larvae and cocoons. Processors reel the silk filament of cocoons onto spools. Producing high-quality silk cloth for the national headscarves known as kelagai is another whole industry. To this day, many stages of production are done by hand – including printing with traditional patterns and soaking in brilliant dyes. Historically, kelagai were created in Sheki and Baskal by men – usually elders. According to tradition, a woman throwing the kelagai between fighting men can stop the bloodshed, and a girl accepts a proposal of marriage by giving her kelagai to the boy.

 

 

 

SHEKI: SILK SHOPPING EPICENTER

The village of Sheki is known for its silk shops and outlets. Stepping into one of these colorful shops is easy. Leaving empty-handed is all but impossible.




 

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES: All photos: ©FAO / Tofiq Babayev. Story by Sharon Lee Cowan, FAO Senior Communication Officer for Europe and Central Asia. 

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