What is a tribal rug?

The term tribal rug is sometimes used to describe any rug or woven artefact that is essentially tribal in character and appearance, regardless of the function for which it was made or the ethnic origin or life style of the weavers. However, the term should perhaps be more properly applied only to those items that are produced by people living in tribal societies, in a limited number of weaving techniques, and that are primarily used as floor coverings or associated furnishings. 

In practice, however, there are exceptions to this precise definition, and some items that cannot properly be described as either tribal or rugs are nevertheless generally accepted as falling into the category of tribal rugs. For example, the term tribal is sometimes applied to all the items woven in the predominantly Kurdish town of Bidjar, Iran, although the vast majority of Kurds in the area live a settled existence as part of the general Iranian population, non-Kurds may have participated in the weaving, and the rugs made in the town have long since evolved their own distinctive regional, rather than tribal, character and appearance. 

Bidjar AL1339 404×320 cm

Similarly, the expression rug is frequently used by dealers as a collective term for a range of items that include tent partitions (purdahs), door-flaps (enssis), eating cloths (soufrehs), stove covers (rukorssis) and a variety of bags, animal trappings and other woven artefacts. The same is true of the blankets, ponchos, etc., produced in various parts of North, Central and South America, which, although not strictly rugs, are often considered to have a sufficiently close association with rug weaving to fall under the general umbrella of tribal rugs.

The term tribal rugs should therefore be viewed as a general, somewhat arbitrary, classification that includes not only items that can be regarded justifiably as both tribal (in origin) and rugs (in function), but also one that contains a number of other items that have traditionally fallen within the bracket of tribal rugs.