Modernising traditional motifs – and a mystery for militaria buffs …


This is an example of a “war rug” adopting a pre-existing set of form-structures or motifs and replacing the previous (traditional) gazelle image with an image of a helicopter. There’s no irony intended here – there can’t be any greater contrast between the symbolism of the elegant motif of nature and innocence suggested by the gazelle with the lumbering alien threat represented by the helicopter.

Kevin Sudeith of has posted his version of the gazelle rug at his blog (where he notes that it has had a mild chemical wash):

Rug with Gazelles

And here is an image of the helicopter version, from the collection of Joyce C. Ware; it’s currently touring with the exhibition Weavings of War. We’ve brightened the image a little to make the comparison easier:

Joyce Ware's Helicopter rug

Joyce Ware’s helicopter rug and a gazelle rug similar to Kevin Sudeith’s were exhibited by our friend former Army Ordnance Officer Tatiana Divens in the 1993 exhibition she mounted with George O’Bannon (discussed here).

In the exhibition catalogue, Tatiana wondered whether the helicopter shown was one known as the Hind, the Soviet Mi-24. (That Wikipedia etnry tells us “the Soviet pilots called the aircraft ‘letayushiy tank’ or flying tank”; it also tells us that it was “a large combat helicopter gunship and low-capacity troop transport operated from 1976 by the Soviet Air Force, its successors, and over thirty other nations.”)

Given the parallels between the rugs, it’s interesting that that Mi-24 was known as a Hind, a female deer. We found out that the name is what’s called a “NATO reporting name”, titles created by NATO to describe Soviet (and Chinese) military equipment when the real name might be unknown; the reporting names used for helicopters started with the letter H.

However, we wonder whether the helicopter in the rug might actually be the Mi-26, the Halo, which became operational in 1983. The Halo is a heavy cargo transport, and much bigger than the Hind- 40 metres long as opposed to 17.5 metres, and carrying 80 troops to the Hind’s 8. It even seems to have the “smile” that Tatiana noted in her catalogue description. Compare this image of the Mi-24 Hind:


and the Mi-26 Halo:


with the detail from the rug:


Two other images from the book Russia’s War in Afghanistan, by Isby D. and Volstand R., 1986:
Mi-8 Hip-C helicopter

Mi-8 Hip-C helicopter, DRA Air Force.

Afghan Landscape with Hip

A typical scene of ‘Afghan pastoral’: ‘Landscape, with Hip’.

The Mi-8 transport helicopter is on final approach at the Communist outpost of Anawa in the Panjshir Valley in 1983. More recently, with the increased threat from SALs, Soviet helicopters make their approaches in a steep spiral, dropping heat-decoy flares. (Tim Cooper, via Afghanistan).

I guess we’re now favouring the Hip over the Halo over the Hind! This is supported by the argument that the Halo was rarer and later in the Soviet occupation era,  maybe post-dating this rug,  but we still think the  image on the rug looks more  Hip than Hind…


6 Responses to “Modernising traditional motifs – and a mystery for militaria buffs …”

  1. max allen Says:

    Hello Nigel – Can you explain to me what difference it makes exactly which helicopter is depicted on this rug? And after you do that, perhaps you can tell me how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It seems to me that some hard facts about who made this (and other) rugs, why they made them, what the rugs were intended to mean or to convey, who their intended audience was, and what market mechanisms brought them to us, would be really useful information.- Max

  2. Tatiana Says:

    It just might be a Mi-26 HALO. It will never be definative, but there is a way of narrowing it down, if the information is available. Go back to your phrase ‘became operational in 1983’. Just because it became operational in 1983 does not mean that the HALO was deployed to Afghanistan then, or ever. The Soviet leadership tended to keep many of their new weapons systems ‘home’ in the USSR. When the new system replaced the old system, the old system was deployed to Afghanistan. That may seem silly, but the Soviets had good reason. The HIND pilots knew how to fly the HIND. Spare parts were being produced in good numbers. Specific weight maintenace oils were in the supply chain. Mechanics knew how to repair them. In short, there was no deployment ‘lag’. To clinch your arguement, you need documentation:

  3. Tatiana Says:

    a actual photo of the HALO in Afghanistan, or some other kind of documentary proof. There are at least two ways of doing this: the Janes military group of London, You could also contact the Russian military attache there in Canberra.

  4. Zoe Bowman Says:

    Digging a little further, Tatiana, it appears less likely that it was a Halo although it seems that the Halo is in current use in Afghanistan – see There’s certainly plenty of evidence of Hinds being in Afghanistan, for instance in this Wikipedia list of Soviet helicopters which crashed there –

    And as for what difference it might make, Max, you’re quite right that it’s a subsidiary question. It arises from the real observation, the repetition of the traditional pattern with a new motif. However it’s not without substance, because identifying an object such as a helicopter and dating when it began to be seen in Afghanistan could potentially tell us something about when the rug was made, or about the level of abstraction or realism the weaver employed in creating their rug.

    On a more pragmatic note, the hard facts about your other questions – unlike this one – are not easily investigated with some internet searches. Of course, we are pursuing those questions – but through a more scholarly type of research than a blog post citing Wikipedia.

    (And apologies for the clumsy links, wordpress keeps adding a prefix making nicer ones unusable at the moment.)

  5. max allen Says:

    Hello friends – Identifying the various weapons on the rugs (a hobby of several collectors) would be a lot easier if we were dealing with photography instead of weaving. But we’re not. We’re dealing with a technique of representation that is inherently inexact. Worse: What does anybody think the relation is between the rug imagery and a weapon that the weaver has actually seen with his/her own eyes? I propose that there is NO such demonstrable relation. The weavers – like us – may as well have seen a copy of Janes (or a newpaper photo) as a real 3D helicopter. Zoe: I know what the theory behind this image-hunt is, but I’m not convinced the theory itself holds water.

  6. Graham Gower Says:

    From my collection of war rugs I note many variations and designs of helicopters, tanks, planes, grenades, guns, lorries etc. Naturally, one likes to be able to make some identification as to what the woven war machines are – it is part of the academic process. At times this can be done with a degree of accuracy with some of the quality rugs, particularly the early ones produced during the Russian invasion period. However, it must not be forgotten that we are dealing a form of folk art, which is usually subjective, with design and pattern considerations being uppermost in the creators mind. Nonetheless, as Afghan War Rugs can be seen as a tourist product, as well as attracting a collectors market, there is no reason why the more astute weaver would not take a little more time a weave, as far as possible, an accurate representation of an item of military hardware.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: