Central Asian Kibitki

The Kibitka is one of the most advanced prefabricated and demountable dwelling ever to evolve in a traditional culture. Its form and construction are dominated by the requirements of demounting, transportation and erection. It consists of an external envelope supported on a sturdy frame assembled from standard elements.

There are two principal types of kibitka; the felt covered cylindro-conical type used by Mongol peoples and by some Turkish speaking tribes of Northern Central Asia and the cylindro-domical type found among Turkish speaking tribes of Western and Southern Siberia such as the Kirghiz Uzbeg and Turkmen.

For the past four hundred years, kibitkas have been built according to the same structural principles, using the same methods, and employed in much the same way. The circular geometry with the framing arranged radially allows the frame elements, except at the entrance, to be simplified into a few standard building components and this in turn makes for economies in their manufacture.

Several related forms occur about the periphery of the kibitka zone: in Iran the Yomut gotikme and the Shah Savan alachigh tents preserve the dome-shaped roof of the Turkic type but lack the lattice wall frame. These abbreviated kibitkas provide links with the Turkmen kibitka and the dome-shaped tents of Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria and reappears again in Northern Tibet among people of Mongolian background.

The kibitka might have developed from the covered waggons which served as the early homes of nomadic pastoralists. It was customary to transport the kibitkas of important Scythian persons on carts.

This transition from a settled to a nomadic pastoral mode must have been crucial for the emergence of a kibitka type of light portable dwelling. The early nomads probably lived in elaborate covered waggons sometimes with two or even three compartments, but at some later stage a lightweight portable tent came into being.

The roof ring is the most important distinguishing feature of the kibitka for it is not found in any other type. It also varies from one ethnic group to another. The roof ring is an ingeniouss constructional device which overcomes several deficiencies of the conical tent.

The roof ring admits light and air to the interior, allows smoke from the central fire to escape, and also serves as a chronometer. The smoke hole prevents great differences of air pressure and so reduces the wind load on the tent frame.

The number of layers used to cover the tent frame depends on temperature. During winter two or even three layers of felt may be added as protection against the cold, whereas in summer the side felts may be raised a half metre or so off the ground to ventilate the interior.

The arrangement of the kibitka's interior space expresses two principles. First, practical household and work activities are relegated to the front of the tent in the vicinity of the door, and second, social, ceremonial and symbolic functions take place towards the rear of the tent.

The kibitka sub-types are distinguished by differences in the shape of the roof-ring, the attachment of the roof poles, the material of the wall cover, the manner and sequence in which wall covers are applied, the disposition of the cover above the roof-ring, the kind of door and the base strip around the outside of the tent. The differentiation occurs along ethnological lines.

Among the Turkish tribes, the Kazaks of West Mongolia, the centrral and western groups of Khalkhas and the West Mongolian Oirats, and Buryats, the roof poles are inserted in holes around the outside of the roof-ring.

The form of the roof-ring is the most important distinguishing feature of sub-types within the family of kibitka tents. Eight types of roof-rings have been recorded in Western Mongolia alone and a further three in Southeastern Mongolia.

The latticed cylindrical tents of the Altai, Khakassi and Tuvintsi are related to the Mongol kibitka. The conical shape and construction of their roofs is similar to the Buryat yurt which follows the Mongol pattern.

The kibitka-like tent in which a simplified wall of vertical posts or extended roof- ribs replace the complicated lattice occurs in both the North Altai and upper Yenisei region, and in North Iran, North Afghanistan andTurkestan.

It is suggested that the latticed kibitka was adopted by the Turks of Southern Siberia from the Mongols.

It is likely that the unlatticed cylindrical tents derived fom the latticed ones.

The Sagaitsi unlatticed tent framework is an odd construction, having an enlarged roof-ring typical of the kibitka supported on a crude two-pole foundation which has one of the pole butts resting on top of the wall rail.

Modifications of the kibitka form arise in two ways, the complicated lattice system may be simplified, or alternatively it may be eliminated altogether.

The Kötük Gotikme and Götikme tents of the Yomut Turkmen, and the alachigh tents of the Shah Savan and their neighbours and Qaradagi of North Iran consist of a domical roof frame similar to that of the Turkmen kibitka, without the trellis wall.

Although the kibitka is well suited to the nomadic existence of the steppe pastoralist, it is far from being an ideal dwelling.

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