Turkish Tamgas

Tamga is a property mark, a necessity when your property has four legs and is grazing in unfenced pastures, hundreds and thousands of them commingling with other hundreds and thousands belonging to hundreds of families that live together and exploit the same grazing range. A brand mark for the chattel, the tamga found a myriad of other uses, identifying the owner as much as the property. Like the graffiti now tagging the territory under control in today’s metropolis, it found a use as a boundary marker. Like a graffiti on the Glacier Point in Yosemite, tamgas mark prominent points for “I was here” remembrance. Like the today’s condolence cards, tamgas mark a personal sign of respect and grief. Like today’s family name, tamgas marked gravestone balbals and wooden monuments over the burial kurgans, and for a permanent glory marked the balbals depicting the fallen enemy. Tamgas reached into the royal ranks, clearly identifying the ruler even when the legend on the coins was in a foreign language written with foreign characters, incomprehensible to the user. With time, it became a mark of dignity, separating the plebs from the nobles. As a mark of a clan, tamgas offer a posterity, passed from the elder to the younger and rejuvenating in each generation. As a matter of the historical record, tamgas allow tracing of the clan branches, visible in the geographical and temporal stratification. As an identifying marker, tamgas show an amazing permanence, documented in the last millennium from the Arab conquest to the present, and showing up in various relicts from the 6th century BC well into the documented periods of the history.

With disintegration of the nomadic society tamgas were gradually fading away, finding utilization in more specialized applications like craft branding, today’s trademark symbols and coats of arms. In these specialized applications tamgas continued their life, popping out everywhere where the Türks had a significant presence. In the Hellenized colonies of the Pontic, in Persia, Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Russia, India, Mongolia, Finnish and Ugro-Finnish lands at some time sprang a culture of tamga, brought in by a Türkic segment of the population, a Türkic ruling elite, or at least immitated by a ruling caste. In favor that tamga was a unique Türkic invention points the fact that every sedentary or nomadic Türkic people on record had and used tamgas, while in the neighboring areas tamgas were used in or around the areas populated by Türks, or predominantly by the Türkic ruling elite, and remained foreign to the unmingled local populations. It is a fact that what continues to live in the life or in the memories of any of the Türkic peoples does not even have a residual trace in the populace of the non-Türkic people, like Hindi, Baluchi, Pashto, Urdu, Chinese, Slavic, Romance, German, Persian, Finnish, and on and on. At the same time, the closer the population is to the traditional Türkic area, the more familiar with the concept of tamga that part of the population is, even if at no time those people adopted themselves a use of tamga. Over millenniums, the unique mobility of the nomadic culture managed to fan tamgas far and wide, from the Far East to Visla and Danube, and from the Arctic to the Persian Gulf and well into the center of the Indian peninsula.



About this entry