The unique demands and potentials of mobility have shaped all aspects of culture in Inner Asia, including material knowledge systems. This project will document practices surrounding the production, interpretation, use, and discard of textile and animal hide crafts among pastoralist Kazakh communities of Western Mongolia. Explicit sedentarization policies and mounting environmental pressures have drastically reduced the practice of mobile pastoralism worldwide. Nomadic communities in Western Mongolia, an ethnically diverse and environmentally sensitive region, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of outmigration and urbanization on traditional lifeways and cultural heritage.

Textile and animal hide crafting traditions are intimately tied to endangered mobile herding and hunting practices. Crafting skill is thus part of the larger framework of ecological, technical, and social knowledge that sustains mobile pastoralist families in an increasingly marginal environment. Craft objects designed for the unique context of the yurt will die out as more and more families adopt permanent housing structures. Perhaps most significant, the social contexts in which textile and hide objects are used to communicate identity, reinforce personal connections, or express cultural values will be lost as traditional mobility, residency, and subsistence patterns change.

We will produce comprehensive audiovisual documentation of Kazakh Mongolian hide and fiber craft practices and record object biographies informed by interviews with craft producers and their households. Our project will take the documentation of production techniques as a critical starting point in the documentation of the multivalent roles of material knowledge in pastoral nomadic society, linking craft production to practices of mobile animal husbandry. It is this integrated knowledge that is under threat even as professional cooperatives and vocational training programs disseminate a limited selection of craft making techniques to urban practitioners.


Kristen Pearson

Kundiz Byekbolat

Location of Research:
Western Mongolia

Host Institution:
Harvard University



Top Banner Image: Colorful woven tent bands atop a mosaic felt carpet. Photo: Kristen Pearson