Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Navruz folk songs while making sumalak (Photo by SMI Group, Tashkent, Uzbekistan)

Agriculture Associated Rites in Boysun

Boysun district,1The cultural area of Boysun District was proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001. in southern Uzbekistan, has a beautiful natural landscape and is surrounded by a mountain range. The local environment and geographic isolation created favorable conditions for unique local intangible cultural heritage forms and expressions to form and be preserved over time. The same conditions also led to the existence of various types of labor activities, such as agriculture, cattle breeding, and handicrafts.

Local agriculture of Boysun is based on irrigation and non-irrigation farming activities. From very early on, everyday needs necessitated the development of various artisan workshops in Boysun. In this regard, metalsmithing was an essential craft for producing tools for farmers and breeders.

Homemade textile manufacturing (carpet weaving, felt making, and embroidery) and leather-craft (footwear) are highly developed in the Boysun district. Boysun textiles are particularly well known for their firmness and durability and have been renowned for centuries well beyond the region. Local potteries also supplied the local population with earthenware pots, vases, and plates of unusual beauty.

The core element of indigenous rites associated with labor activities, such as first plow, harvest, and crop processing, is connected with popular belief about the revival of nature, which provides the basis for well-being, prosperity and optimism among the people. Traditionally, folk songs represent the invocation of benevolence from nature and are performed by groups in recitative form in conjunction with rituals.

One of these rituals, called “Sus Hotin” (literally “the woman Sus who gives water”), illustrates one of the bright examples of the calendar rites associated with agricultural activity in spring and summer. This ritual calls for rain during a time of drought and is performed as rhythmic melodies by a group of villagers. The ritual starts with the consent of the village elders, who give their approval for the preparation and organization of a Sus Hotin ceremony.

Next, the villagers make the ritual doll which is similar to a scarecrow and is compulsory attribute of the ceremony. On the agreed day and time, the group starts the procession, carrying the doll dressed in old woman’s clothes. The group goes from one house of the village to another while singing the ceremonial song Sus Hotin. Usually one of the participants of the group carries the doll, after whom the rest of the participants follow. Residents of the village joyfully greet the participants of the rite, pour water over the doll, give flat cakes, sweets, grain, and meat, which are put into a hurjun (a special bag for keeping food).

At the end of the procession, participants of the rite gather on the edge of the village to arrange a collective meal. The song of Sus Hotin starts with the refrain and is performed by a women’s chorus. It contains the hopes for good crops and wishes of happiness for everybody:

O Woman Sus, O Sultana
The woman who is subordinate to no one
May there be a rich crop, Woman Sus
May the house of peasants be full, Woman Sus
Pour streams of rain, Woman Sus
The ritual ends when one of the participants throws the doll into a river or a well.

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1. The cultural area of Boysun District was proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.