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Nogay trellis tents, cart tents and bow-top vans in the Volga Steppe
Nogay trellis tents, cart tents and bow-top vans in the Volga Steppe, late eighteenth century, by Geissler

Tents: Nomad Tents and Court Tents in 
the Middle East and Central Asia 


My research began in 1966 from Arthur Upham Pope’s remark that no one had ever considered tents seriously as architecture. I started, as an architect, with the simple but ambitious aim of making a survey of nomad tents throughout the Muslim world. It rapidly became obvious that if I were to understand the ethnological context, tribal history, technology and terminology in comparison, an architect’s training was insufficient. I had to set about acquiring an orientalist’s training, and an ethnographer’s, if not an ethnologist’s, skills. Fortunately, since that remark of Pope’s in 1938, a number of important, fundamental studies had been published, which established often admirable criteria for future work, and raised many of the questions the work should seek to answer.

Drawing I - Lak, Javanmard, Khurramabad, West Iran

   Now, forty years on, I have made complete surveys of nomad tents in Morocco, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar, and done fieldwork in Mongolia and Qirgizstan, all with the help of my wife. We have also studied almost all the tents available in museum collections in Europe and Russia, besides adding some more specimens. Meanwhile I have been able to gather almost everything worthwhile that has been published in any language on countries I have or have not visited, and have been fortunate in drawing on the expertise of colleagues to fill out my own knowledge. With this material, and the languages I have learned as tools of my trade, I have been able to start publishing the comparative work that I had in mind when I started.

Drawing II - Bega of Egypt and the Sudan, Hadendowa

   A simple criterion has governed this fieldwork: that my data should be accurate enough for anyone to be able to reconstruct the tents I studied. The means are measured drawings and sketches, photographs, tape recordings, specimens of materials, and field notes. The data range from the methods of spinning yarn to the layout and movement of camps.

Drawing III - Firuzkuhi of Afghanistan

   Now it is plain that my starting point, the belief that nomad cultures would be affected drastically by changes in society, was correct, and although the traditions have not all disappeared, very many have been so weakened that much of what we recorded can no longer be found. We are glad we began when we did, and that we interviewed old people who gave details the younger generation no longer know.

Dr Peter Alford Andrews
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