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The Ak Kalpak

The Kalpak, properly called the "Ak Kalpak" (white Kalpak), is a hat usually made from four panels of white felt with traditional patterns stitched into them as decoration. It is worn by males of all ages especially in rural Kyrgyzstan, and is a symbol of the nation. (One writer has even written that "what the baseball cap is to the Americans, the Kalpak is totheKyrgyz")

There are different styles of kalpak. They can all be folded flat for storage or carrying when not being worn. In some cases the brim may be turned up all the way around, and in some cases there is a cut in the brim so that a two-pointed "peak" can be formed. Plain white ones are often reserved for festivals and special occasions. Those intended for everyday use may have a black'velvet' lining. The most common form of kalpak is thought to resemble the shape of KhanTengri.
Even if it looks a little strange to western eyes, this headgear is also a practical item of clothing keeping the head warm in winter and protecting from the heat in the summer.
In a region where hats are an important mark of "who you are" they identify the wearer as specifically Kyrgyz. In the troubled regions of the South, (for example in the Kyrgyz enclave of Barak situated on Uzbek territory), some men wear two hats ... one, a Kalpak, they wear at home and amongst their own people, and the other, the skull cap tjubiteka, when visiting predominantly Uzbek areas, s), they wear when they visit Uzbek dominated areas.
The kalpak is the most "sacred" of national clothing for the Kyrgyz. It has mystic qualities that many say they can feel when they wear it. This ancient style of hat seems to connect the man wearing it with the history of his forefathers and observe the very strict rules related to it such as

You must not kill a man wearing the kalpak; never put your Kalpak on the ground; at night, the Kalpaks is kept next to your head, never by your feet.

There are also many sayings connected with this headgear "you lose your kalpak - you lose your head"; "don't trade your kalpak or you'll trade your mind"; "wear a kalpak and you won't get sick, it is warm in winter, cool in summer "; A kalpak and a chapan are often given as presents at a 'toi', (or family celebration), either from the guests to the host, or from the host to guests of honour. Another hat is the "Arakchyn", which used to be worn under the "kalpak". Formerly there were other headgears too and often in the winter, when riding, men would wear fur hats covering their ears but the kalpak has assumed the role as an essential part of the Kyrgyz national costume.

Discovery Central Asia #17

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